Everyone knows about the commitment-phobic guy, but what's not talked about is the woman who shies away from real connection. Not long ago, "Marin" asked me how to handle her avoidance of relationships. Witnessing her parents' divorce and experiencing the resulting trauma in the family, she'd made a conscious decision to make sure she never found herself trapped in a bad relationship. Like so many in her shoes, she was confusing the issues, and making choices based on the wrong criteria.
Dealing with your own parents' divorce isn't easy. Like Marin, you may conclude that if they divorced after decades, someone stayed way too long, so you'll make sure you jump ship before it sinks. The reality is that long term married couples often throw in the towel because they don't realize there is a way out of chronic marital issues. Since poor communication is often at the root, learning a new way to speak and listen to one another can make a world of difference. Research shows that it is normal to have one to three issues that you never resolve over decades of marriage; the key is that you understand how to respectfully discuss them.
Tool number one for anyone who is shying away from relationships is to develop great communication skills. That leads to a new model of love – one of love, forgiveness, and healthy re-connection. It also leads to deeper understanding of your mutual needs and how to align on meeting them as much as possible.
Next, Marin and others like her need to understand when it’s appropriate to stay and when it’s appropriate to leave a relationship. When two people date for years and then break up, that tells me they stayed too long. Why? Because it is usually fundamental differences in values and lifestyle that cause long-term dating relationships to end. Or, it is a lack of sufficient love and commitment on the part of one or both. You succumbed to the temptation to "settle" up front. The answer is better boundaries - know yourself and what you want; desire a relationship but never NEED it.
Tool number two is this: date with a strong intention to meet your right partner and move forward into marriage. Don't give in to the temptation to deny your true desires. Be proud that you want the real thing - commitment, marriage, and family. If the relationship doesn’t meet your basic criteria early on, move on! Remember, intention draws people in, desperation pushes them away.
The other huge issue is independence. Marin shared that as soon as a guy gets close, she "pulls up her independence socks" and leaves, fearful that he will not respect her independent nature. Then there's the flip side: If you are strong and you date someone who is looking for a caretaker, you may have a need to be with someone who “needs” you. That can feel like false security – if he needs you, he’s less likely to leave you.
Insecurity is the real issue with the commitment avoidant. You are fearful of settling, fearful of rejection (for being who you are – independent), and fearful of making a big mistake. The “independent socks” you are pulling up are really the socks you put on with your running shoes. F.E.A.R. is driving you away from new men – false evidence appearing real – “he won’t like my independence” and other self-created assumptions.
Strong women often interpret a man’s reluctance to move forward with her in this way: “men are intimidated by strong women like me.” The truth is that some men are uncomfortable with strong women. But sometimes the deeper truth is that he can’t see how to contribute to your life. You have it ALL together to the point that you reveal no vulnerability. Yet the way we best connect emotionally is by being vulnerable. Intimacy is created that way – “into me see.” It’s wonderful to share successes, but we really get to know people by understanding their challenges.
The healing for anyone experiencing these dynamics is finding the courage to stay until you really know what you have or do not have with someone. It is trusting yourself to know when something is unhealthy and to leave when it is truly appropriate, not out of the fear of rejection.
Be strong and don’t be apologetic for being strong. But remember that anything you overplay becomes a weakness. Be willing to peel back the “I’m strong” part of you and reveal the insecure parts as well. Be willing to let a man add value to your life, contribute in some way.
Tool number three is to develop and trust your “inner compass” – that part of you that knows, deep down, when something is right for you, or not. Look for strong men to date, and be willing to take the risk that it might not work out. By taking the risk of dating someone who is your equal, and hanging in there, you will find your own emotional security, and that will lead you into a healthy, loving connection. Get coaching to help you make these discernments along the way and support to stay in the game.
Nina Atwood, M.Ed., LPC, is a licensed therapist, published author, and host of the hit Web site, Singlescoach®. Nina has been featured in national magazines, newspapers, on radio and television. She is the author of four self-help books, including her newest book, Temptations of the Single Girl: The Ten Dating Traps You Must Avoid. Listen live or via downloadable podcasts to "Love Strategies" with Nina weekly at www.blogtalkradio.com/nina-atwood. Nina is an award-winning CEO Coach for Vistage and does one-on-one coaching with key level executives.