Does your mate hear even minor feedback as if it’s an attack? And respond by going on the full out attack of you? Does he block your efforts to discuss relationship problems by blame shifting? Do you walk away not only frustrated that your needs weren’t heard but somehow confused about whether you are the problem?
The intimacy anorexic-love avoidant is an expert at the blame game. In basketball, an aggressive defense wears the opponent down and puts the defensive team in control of the game. The intimacy anorexic uses this same strategy to remain in control of his primary relationship partner.
Relationship expert John Gottman considers defensiveness and blaming to be components of what he refers to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Gottman’s research has consistently shown that these relationship patterns (defensiveness/blaming, criticism, stonewalling, contempt) are so destabilizing to marriages that they predict divorce.
My experience with intimacy anorexics, however, suggests that the anorexic uses blame to stabilize the relationship at a low level of intimacy he is comfortable with. The blame puts road blocks in the closeness the intimacy deprived partner is seeking in her attempts to resolve relational problems.
Additionally, the blame, which is often accompanied by a wall of anger, allows the intimacy anorexic to avoid responsibility for change. Since the intimacy anorexic will be comfortable with the greater distance that results, the ball is then in the partner’s court and it is her level of tolerance for the blame game that often determines the ultimate relationship outcome.
Most importantly, the blame serves to protect the intimacy anorexic’s self-image. The intimacy anorexic needs to see himself as all good. When the intimacy deprived partner attempts to discuss problems, or ask for change, or provide even minor feedback (e.g., “Honey, styrofoam isn’t recyclable”), it is perceived as a challenge to his ‘goodness’ that cannot be tolerated.
The intimacy anorexic’s reasoning goes like this: If I’m not ‘all good’, I must be ‘all bad’. And if I will not be all bad, then you must be the all bad one. And if you are the bad one, then I’m being victimized by you; therefore, that justifies me going to a full out verbal assault to shut you down. For the intimacy anorexic, the goal is to preserve the ego; consequently, the end justifies the means.
If you are in a relationship with an intimacy anorexic, be aware that the typical relationship advice doesn’t work because the anorexic wants to create and maintain emotional distance with his partner, not resolve it. Don’t overlook the impact of intimacy deprivation to your own spirit. The American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy (AASAT) trains counselors to identify and treat intimacy anorexia. Contact the AASAT to locate a Married & Alone therapy group or therapist trained in intimacy anorexia near you.
Dr. Janice Caudill is the founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery. MCR offers individual, couples, group therapy and multi-day intensives for partners of sex addicts and wounded hearts struggling with sex addiction, infidelity, love addiction or love avoidance, intimacy anorexia, or relational trauma in the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Richardson, Frisco, Carrollton, Lewisville, Dallas and surrounding areas.
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