I have been in a relationship for about six months with my girlfriend. I enjoyed the initial period of courtship. However, when she gets too affectionate I’m beginning to feel repelled by her. I prefer it when she is cold and distant. Is there something wrong with me?
Ans: You are an ‘island’. An ‘island’ is someone who is independent in the relationship, someone who appreciates low maintenance and gives the most when given space. Stan Tatkin coined the term islands to normalise and de-stigmatise people often defined as avoidant. Many attachment theory commentators call islands ‘people with avoidant attachment style’ because Islands are those who often avoid and fear intimacy in relationships. That doesn’t mean that islands don’t want to be in a relationship or that they don’t feel love or attraction towards their partners. It just means that they enjoy intimacy more when there are no signs that the partner might want to engulf them into something. They might be more susceptible to displays of affection and run away from them, just like you. This is not because they are repulsed by partners but because when they were growing up they learned that seeking closeness with their caregivers was not an option, for whatever reason. Your intimacy and affection needs are minimised because of that. You are more self-reliant and less expressive than your girlfriend but that doesn’t mean you don’t care. When you are repulsed you are just externalising fear of being intruded upon and losing your sense of self. You can start communicating this to her and find a middle path where you decide how you want to be approached emotionally and when. Also, remember that your attachment style is a survival strategy to your earlier environment. It was learned and it can be unlearned, if you want to. Get in touch with a professional who can help you with the unlearning process.
The writer is an Intimacy and Relationship Coach, Founder of The Intimacy Curator, an organisation promoting self-discovery through emotional and sexual well-being (www.theintimacycurator.com). (Have a query? Send it on firstname.lastname@example.org)
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