couples therapy

Many of us take the idea of love for granted. We think we want it (love, that is). We try to get it. We imagine the form we want it in, and we imagine how happy we’d be if only we could find another to meet our expectations in love. So, you may be surprised to know how many ways people find to avoid or sabotage possibilities for loving connection. Yes, the very same people who believe they want love so badly, who fantasize about it, who try to pursue it, often push away the very love they believe they’re after. I’m Mirel Goldstein, a licensed professional counselor in New Jersey, and I have seen this situation far too many times. Keep reading to learn more about the five defenses against closeness and how telehealth individual or couples counseling sessions can help.

Why We Build Defenses Against Closeness

Love is scary. It’s vulnerable, it’s raw, it’s intimate, and it exposes to us to just how deeply needy we are, how dependent we are on others to give us what we cannot give ourselves, and how little we actually know about the another person no matter how much we think we know. Love puts us completely on the line.

Love is often conflicted too. We learn who we’re supposed to love, what we’re allowed to love, from messages absorbed from our parents, society, and friends, we learn what and who they desire for themselves. We idealize things like money, beauty, and power because we’re taught to do so. Our parents let us know in more ways than one just what they think is love-worthy. Yet, desire itself doesn’t always conform to what others think its object should be. Desire puts our own subjectivity at odds with external objective ideas about what it’s supposed to be.

So, as you can see, love is more complicated than it seems! Because of this complexity, many people find themselves (consciously or unconsciously) creating defenses against closeness in their relationships. The five most common defenses against closeness (described in more detail below) are love triangles, picking fights, making yourself unlovable, seeking people who are unavailable, and refusing to translate the other person’s love language

1 – Love Triangles

Some people split their love between more than one person or thing. To quote Freud, “Where one loves, one does not desire, and where one desires, one does not love.” This type of split shows up when a person feels attracted to someone who they can’t actually have a committed relationship with (for example, someone married to someone else), and unattracted to, but committed to and comfortable with, the person they are actually with or can have a relationship with. The chemistry might be great with someone personality-wise, but the physical attraction is just not there. That being said, it can be challenging to find one person who satisfies us emotionally and physically to the same extent, so being able to love fully, be committed, comfortable, and excited within the same relationship can truly be a huge achievement!

2 – Picking Fights to Keep People at a Distance

Many couples don’t realize just how uncanny the timing of their fights is. Arguments, anger, and contempt are very convenient ways to put the brakes on potential or budding intimacy. You may pick a fight to reassure yourself there is still a boundary between yourself and the other in a relationship or protect yourself against the threat of acknowledging just how dependent you are on the other person’s love, especially when it feels love is not returned in the same measure.

3 – Making Yourself “Unlovable”

Doing the exact things you know, from numerous repetitions, will annoy your partner, push them away, or turn them off, is a sure way to sabotage love. While you shouldn’t have to change who you are to please someone else, common courtesy is a bare minimum to show respect to your partner, and if you repeatedly engage in behaviors that will bother someone who you love, this is more likely to be about self-sabotage than self-acceptance.

4 – Always Going for the Unattainable

If the only people you manage to love or desire are those who come with a built-in barrier, you might just be sabotaging your chances at love. For example:

  • You always go for someone who just happens to live in another city, state, or country, and you aren’t planning to move there.
  • You always fall for someone who wants a big family when you’re not sure you even want kids.
  • You are attracted to people you think you could love if only some elusive X,Y, or Z factor were present, but clearly, it isn’t.
  • The types of people you’re attracted to are not attracted to you in return.

5 – Refusing to Translate Other Person’s Love Language

Many of you have probably heard of Gary Chapman’s 5 Languages of Love, which talks about the different love languages people have. (I personally love his quiz: One of the prerequisites for experiencing love in a relationship is to be able to accept that another person’s way of expressing love may not come in the form we want, know, or trust. Love is an internal state, and learning to decode love in a relationship means understanding how your partner says, “I love you,” in their own idiosyncratic way, as well as feeling the vibe that tells you it’s there. Words and specific actions (like the birthday present you feel you must have to know you’re loved or being told “I love you” verbally) don’t necessarily reassure us we are loved as much as knowing what love feels like. Expecting love to come in the form we want may be a way of depriving ourselves of the feelings of love actually available to us!

Is Couples Counseling Available During COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place Orders?

If you’re in a committed relationship and you truly want to feel and accept love with your partner, scheduling online couples therapy for New Jersey residents may be a good start. If you’re single, always feel like your relationships go wrong, and you’re ready to make some changes, I’m here for you too. While the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is challenging in many ways, there are some advantages for many individuals. Specifically, more time. If you want to use this extra time to your advantage while maintaining social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, I’m offering telehealth sessions for couples and individuals, so you can stay safe and healthy and still work on yourself.

Still have some questions or want to discuss your options for therapy in New Jersey? Need help with your love behaviors? Have some thoughts you want to share? Feel free to drop me a line!