Why You Push Love Away + 3 Steps To Stop, From A Psychotherapist

Psychotherapist By Ken Page, LCSW
Psychotherapist
Ken Page, LCSW received a degree in social work from Columbia University and works as a psychotherapist in New York, specializing in love and relationships.
An image of a couple ending a casual relationship.
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Fear of intimacy isn't a character flaw that makes us unfit for love. In fact, it's at the very heart of the human experience. We have fear of intimacy because love is the most valuable thing in the world, and losing it is perhaps life's greatest pain.

It's what we do with our fear that shapes our lives. 

In my Deeper Dating podcast, I discuss this fear of intimacy. Specifically, how when we pathologize our fear, we feel fundamentally flawed. But when we learn to listen to our fear with compassion, we can move on to the real work and begin changing any patterns of avoidance.

The Harvard Grant Study—one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies of human development—gives us an extraordinary jump-start in understanding intimacy. Director of the study George Vaillant, M.D., found the most important personality characteristic for finding love and happiness is a mature coping style that does not push love away.

I think it's safe to assume that we all need some help around that one. I know I do. 

How do we stop pushing love away?

We can't correct all the ways we flee intimacy—it would take until the end of time. But we can start by tackling just one primary pattern we use to push love away.

But to do this, you first have to identify that pattern. Here is a powerful 10-minute exercise to help you do so:

  • Sit down with paper and a pen and ask yourself the following question five times (or more): What do I do that pushes love away?
  • Write down whatever answer comes to you each time. 
  • Take a moment to look at what you wrote. 
  • Pick the one that feels the most true, the most important, the most immediate. That is the pattern you need to break.

Finally, acknowledge yourself for having done a brave act in the service of your entire future. In my experience, most people don't have the courage or commitment to take the step you've just taken. 

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Why do we create unhealthy patterns?

In his book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman explored why, after having bypass surgery, nine out of 10 cardiac patients were unable to create lasting change in their diets. In further research, he discovered that those odds were almost universal. In other words, as much as we might want to change an entrenched behavior, the chances are nine to one that we'll fail. 

Deutschman began to explore the 10% of bypass survivors who actually changed their diet and maintained that change. He distilled his findings about this extraordinary group into simple three steps that create lasting change. 

These are the steps:

1. Relate. 

When it comes to deeply entrenched habits, willpower is not enough to make changes, so don't go it alone. Forming new, emotionally important relationships with people, groups, or communities helps inspire hope and change.

People who love you, have your best interest at heart, and are trustworthy and reliable—these are the people you should turn to in times of change. Therapy, coaching, and 12-step programs are also wonderful supports. 

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2. Repeat.

It's so important that we get to fall short again and again. We have to fail, miss the mark, and extract insight from our messy missteps—but we have to do this in caring and safe company.

Remember, fear of intimacy is not pathology. It is humanity. Addressing our fear of intimacy is a lifelong task. 

3. Reframe.

New relationships will open you up to new ways of thinking. As you learn these skills, you'll open new channels that bring love into your life and help it stay.

Little by little, you'll come to understand yourself and your loved ones in deeper, wiser, and more compassionate ways.

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Why does this matter?

Evolving past our fear of intimacy is a necessary part of love. As the Harvard Grant study revealed so powerfully, in order to lead a happy life, we must develop coping styles that don't push love away. 

For me, it will always be both humbling and challenging to embrace this task. But looking at my life today—which is rich with love (and of course, challenges)—I know it's the only path that could have worked. 

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