How To Love Someone Who’s Guarded
What to do with love avoidants
When someone is emotionally guarded or doesn’t “open up,” it can feel very anxious not knowing where their head is at.
Here’s how to build a relationship with that person. But I’ll be perfectly honest at the onset: it’s not about forcing them to “open up.”
Step 1. Breathe
The first step is always that we need to take responsibility for our own emotions. It’s not okay to just put every hiccup and anxiety on others — a lot of this is ours to resolve.
So breathe. And self-soothe. And manage.
We all have to manage our own emotional needs first. It is not your partner’s job to serve yours.
Step 2. Understand where they’re coming from
Everyone wants things to feel okay. And everyone wants to get their needs met.
The only difference is: what they are, and how we go about them.
Some people need clear and definite validation from others, while others are accustomed to depending on themselves.
“INTIMACY” vs. “INDEPENDENCE”
Are both only cover-up demands; the way our needs manifest by way of explanation on the surface.
Nobody actually needs intimacy or independence — they are both just tools to get our real needs met; comfort zones where we feel most reassured that things are okay.
So it’s not that some people value “space” and “independence” in and of itself (though we may), but rather that we’ve learned to lean on ourselves, and space allows us the domain in which to do that.
The goal isn’t to strip away that person’s space and independence. (It’s also not to push intimacy on them.) The goal is to build out a moat of meeting their actual needs so that they no longer crave independence and instead trust intimacy (both of which continue to be byproducts.)
“FEAR” OF INTIMACY
Is not real.
An aversion to “intimacy” is not an aversion to closeness — all people want connection as much as the next guy. It’s actually an aversion to:
1. Being emotionally drained — which is a very real, not imagined, risk
What happens when others do not have enough self-love, and instead demand it from others and become an energy suck on those around them.
2. Being left high and dry
Because when people let others in, they’re choosing to trust. And their greatest (learned) fear is that when they rely on others, they let them down.
Some people’s primary fear isn’t intimacy — it’s being fucked over. They may have a very low tolerance for clinginess, but their real deal is with “bullshit.”
Because while they may consider clinginess to be a deal-breaker, dodging it is simply a “deactivation” strategy — doing so is emotionless, with little negative impact on them beyond irritation.
What really hurts them, however, is when they make themselves vulnerable and their partner drops the ball: letting them down, being toxic, dragging them through the mud, or bullshitting (including exaggerating their own feelings, especially to themselves.) That’s an actual aversion (with a lot of potential emotion), so they have far less chill for “fuckery” than they have for “neediness.”
They don’t need to know that they’re okay. They already know that. They need to be reassured that you’re okay — without always being the one to reassure you.
A WORD ON “SEFLISHNESS”
Distant people get the bad rep for selfishness, but the reality is that those who want intimacy are just as guilty of it. It’s just that “intimacy” is a more socially-acceptable demand.
But both of them encroach on or violate the comfort zone of their partner to prioritize their own interests.
Don’t just try to get your needs met, or project and pretend a love avoidant should want the same thing. You may crave intimacy, but this doesn’t mean the avoidant ever will. They may learn to appreciate or enjoy it, but they will never need it like a love addict believes they do. Again, intimacy (and independence) are merely manifestations and channels; personal preferences — and prerogatives.
Step 2.) How to behave
How to demand someone who’s “guarded” to open up
Remember: your real goal isn’t “to get them to open up.” Your real goal is to feel okay. You want them to reassure you; they want to not feel drained.
Love isn’t focusing on your wants — it’s focusing on your partner’s. And it’s about understanding your needs enough to state them clearly, within that framework.
People want to know that you’re “safe” to let into their space. (And this is their idea of “safe;” not yours.) Show them that by giving (demonstrating sanity, consistency, composure, and reliability) — not by taking or making demands — and they will.
Don’t demand communication. (This includes everything from “daily texts” to “tell me what you’re thinking” and “don’t you love me?”) Don’t push intimacy on them (again, that’s your thing and not theirs.)
What you want is reassurance that we’re thinking about you and care — that everything’s okay. But all you get when you make demands is obligation and resentment. If you want genuine love, let it happen organically.
Don’t just allow them independence and All Of The Space — because again, that’s just their excuse on the surface. Focus on and satisfy their (real) needs — and they’ll oblige you on yours.
How to respond when they do open up
Rule #1: Don’t grab more than what’s offered (see above)
Don’t make sudden claim to an area of their life just because they shared.
This feels intimate to you, but to others it feels pushy. Imagine a situation where someone made you feel uncomfortable, realize that unwelcomed advances always read as “oblivious” at best (and “selfish” at worst), and avoid it or reap the fallout of other peoples subsequent avoidance.
People may start with low-risk things. Even small, seemingly “un-intimate” things — letting you help with everyday errands and other acts of service — can feel vulnerable to others, so take care with them. If they allow you to help us, always follow through. Lighten their load rather than piling more on.
When they start sharing bigger stuff: Listen, be calm, don’t drain, demand more than they’re giving, or add more to their plate. Don’t interrupt when they’re sharing. Don’t say they feel something different than they say. Don’t express more emotion than they do. Don’t demand reassurance on their shit. Don’t use their shit against them in a fight. Don’t make their shit your insecurity. Don’t share their shit with your friends. Don’t pile more on to their shit. Be calm.
Create a positive experience: when they give you what you want (talking, texting, opening up), you have to give them what they want in response. Create space rather than crowd; respond lightly or not at all. When you do, they’ll develop comfort in doing it more on their own, and you’ll get what you wanted (love) in an actual genuine way.
If you want intimacy, you can’t sell others on intimacy in and of itself (and you shouldn’t be selling yourself on this, either.) You have to use intimacy, when others allow it, to a.) help them meet their real needs and b.) demonstrate that you’re trustworthy and won’t violate that space (by clawing their emotional “eyes” out.)
Or clap or follow!