Stop Running from Love: Three Steps to Overcoming Emotional Distancing and Fear of Intimacy

Dusty Miller’s gentle, wise approach to women and men who distance from love offers a unique guide to finding real connection. This breakthough approach will change the lives of men and women who struggle with the challenges of intimacy.

—Terrence Real, director of the Relational Life Institute in Newton, MA, and author of the national best-sellers I Don’t Want to Talk About It and How Can I Get Through to You?, as well as the recently published New Rules of Marriage

Stop Running from Love offers a unique approach to problems of distance in intimate relationships. Miller’s three-step model guides the reader to understand the past in order to revitalize existing relationships, and gently guides women and men to risk deeper connections in all their relationships.

—Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Leaving the Enchanted Forest and A Woman’s Way Through the Twelve Steps

Publisher’s Note

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books

Copyright © 2008 by Dusty Miller

New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

5674 Shattuck Avenue

Oakland, CA 94609

www.newharbinger.com

Cover design by Amy Shoup

Text design by Michele Waters-Kermes

Acquired by Melissa Kirk

Edited by Kayla Sussell

All Rights Reserved

epub ISBN: 9781608821204

___________________

Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as:

Miller, Dusty, 1944-

Stop running from love : overcome emotional distancing and fear of intimacy and embrace love in your life / Dusty Miller.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN-13: 978-1-57224-518-1 (pbk. : alk. paper)

ISBN-10: 1-57224-518-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Intimacy (Psychology) 2. Love. I. Title.

BF575.I5M53 2007

158.2--dc22

2007047451

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to my editors at New Harbinger Publications: Melissa Kirk for her ongoing enthusiasm and support for this project; Jess Beebe and Kayla Sussell for their creative, intelligent suggestions and improvements.

I could not have continued writing over the past few years without the compassionate friendship and vision of my agent, Susan Lee Cohen. Thanks, Susan, for your guidance and good company through the dry spells and floods of the past few years. Thanks also to my writing group brothers Jonathan Diamond and Roget Lockhard whose faith and good humor kept me chugging along.

To those who have participated in the distancer dance with me—you know who you are—thank you for all I have learned from you, and thanks to Laura Curran for the “group.”

Thanks to Marcelle and Tim Morgan for showing me how the generosity of your love for each other and for your family extends many life-giving roots and branches, and to Savanna Ouellette and Katie Tolles, whose power of example makes me believe in lasting partnerships.

Introduction: Meet the Distancer

Distancers. Who are they? What are they? They are men and women. They are those who completely avoid romantic relationships, or those who keep their partners at an emotional arm’s length. They can be young, middle-aged, or old. They may either end their romantic relationships when things start getting serious, or they keep changing partners, looking for the perfect mate. Many distancers are in committed relationships but they still distance themselves from their partners emotionally or sexually. Some distancers make themselves too busy with work, family, friends, or activities to be available to their partner. But in spite of their many forms, all distancers have two things in common: they all have a great longing for intimacy and an equally great fear of intimacy.

If you are wondering whether you might be a distancer, try answering the questions on the following page.

Test Yourself

  • Are you lonely or dissatisfied even though you’re in a couple relationship?
  • Do you feel there’s a wall between your partner and yourself?
  • Do you often move toward a new love but then run away?
  • Does your relationship with food, drugs, work, or your computer feel more important to you than a relationship with another human being?
  • Do you have trouble opening up emotionally or sexually?
  • Have all your friends found partners while you are still wondering when your soul mate will show up?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then this book is for you!

Deep down, most of us continue to hope for and believe in a lasting love. There is no single theory to explain why this is so, but the desire for love seems to be basic to human nature. Love transcends the biological need to have sex or the economic motive to team up to run the family farm or business. For most people, it would seem that love is a force more powerful even than greed or envy. Whether we choose love or it chooses us, we incorporate it into our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual life and value it as among the most precious conditions of being human.

For better or for worse, we might as well learn to make the best of it.

My Story

Like a multitude of other men and women, I felt desire for something I could not name. It took me a long time to understand that when it came to couple relationships, I was a distancer. I was astonished when I finally realized that I had been distancing myself from love for a long, long time.

I knew that my close relationships had been affected by the childhood abuse I had experienced. Wise teachers, compassionate therapists, and loving friends had helped me analyze how the betrayals of my childhood had shaped me. But it took a long time for me to learn who I really was in a couple relationship. I didn’t want to face the truth: my childhood experiences had caused me to distance myself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually from genuine closeness with intimate companions.

It took the loss of several potentially golden opportunities before I could finally recognize and acknowledge that I kept my partners at a distance. Even though I understood that childhood violations and betrayals had had a powerful impact on my ability to form close relationships, insight alone could not help me change. I danced away from lasting love, protecting myself from opening up and risking the vulnerability of deep connection. I had many close friends and a series of loving partners, but I was lonely. I wanted to escape the pervasive sense of loneliness I felt, but I didn’t know how. I became increasingly despairing about the hand that life had dealt me, doubting that I would ever experience genuine openness and trust.

When I became a psychotherapist, I had wanted to help others who had similar emotional scars caused by fear, betrayal, and mistrust. I had been taught to align myself with the “pursuer” in the couple, that is, the person who had the most invested in making the relationship work. Because women were usually the ones who sought professional help for the couple, they were viewed as the pursuers. So my job was to help the woman to skillfully negotiate the pitfalls of love, to accept that she needed to gently maneuver her partner without appearing to push him. Although I had my doubts about it always being the woman’s responsibility to coax the uncommunicative male partner out of his cave, I hadn’t yet fully understood that women could be distancers too. I certainly had not yet identified myself as a distancer.

Perhaps the most helpful lesson I learned when working with couples was to involve their families, friends, and community, no matter which half of the couple was distancing her- or himself from love. My experience taught me that it really does “take a village” to help transform couple relationships and to guide those who are still searching for love. It was through my own involvement in various forms of community that I was finally able to recognize and begin to change my own distancer identity.

You Are Not Alone

Perhaps, like me, you’ve tried for a long time to ignore the longing deep within you, the small voice that tells you you’re missing out on something essential to your happiness. Maybe you’ve pushed your disappointments so far back into your unconscious mind that you barely know you are lonely. Perhaps you’ve tried to put your past behind you and move on, yet you keep wondering why there’s still an invisible wall between you and your partner or why the partner you’re still hoping to find hasn’t appeared yet.

Maybe you are someone who reads everything you can find about love and intimacy. Maybe you’ve tried to figure out how to make love work through the advice of therapists, friends, even talk shows. And yet, in spite of all the searching that you’ve been doing, you are still feeling shut down or unsatisfied in some deep place. You may have assumed that the problem was your partner’s inability to get to a deeper level of intimacy.

Love’s landscape can open up for you—trust me on this. Something compelled you to pick up this book. Something within you wanted to explore the story of the distancer. You are willing to try something new, and that’s all you need—willingness, and a map of the territory you are about to explore. You will discover that you can leave loneliness behind, and become a successful participant in satisfying, lasting, joyful relationships. You are fully capable of becoming more connected and emotionally open without risking total heartbreak. I know. This is my story too.

Risking Hope

Even with the promise that you can survive the vulnerability of opening to love, you may feel skeptical about trying something new. You may believe there’s nothing new for you to learn about finding and keeping the love and intimacy you want. Here’s why reading this book will provide you with something you aren’t likely to have encountered before:

  • You will learn to identify a broad spectrum of distancing styles and relationship scenarios. You will not have to choose a fixed identity or label. You won’t have to decide whether you are love-addicted or love-avoidant. You don’t even have to make a definitive decision about whether you’re a distancer or a pursuer.
  • You will discover there is a variety of distancer profiles. For example, you may identify as a distancer who stays within the couple relationship. Or maybe you’ll recognize yourself as someone who creates distance by keeping one foot out the door. Perhaps you’ll find yourself among the distancers who completely avoid couple relationships.
  • You will learn that, in some relationships, you may be more likely to be vulnerable, open, and committed than you are in others.
  • You are likely to see yourself as having been in different places along the distancing spectrum depending on the various relationships you’ve had. Or you may distance yourself more or less depending on the different stages of the same relationship.
  • You won’t have to be typecast by gender. Buying into gender stereotypes can cause women and men to become seriously disconnected in their couple relationships, without ever getting to the root of their unhappiness. Oversimplified assumptions about gender differences disempower both men and women.
  • Whether you are a male or a female distancer, you may find it liberating to discover that there are many women who are distancers. Men who are labeled “commitment phobic” or “love-avoidant” are caught in the glare of floodlights while women who distance get lost in the shadows. Just as it took a long time to become public knowledge that men as well as women can be victims of childhood abuse and violence, so too it has been long overlooked that both men and women distance themselves from intimacy.

Women and men both yearn for intimacy and deeper connection, and both genders can create disabling distancing patterns in their couple relationships. Without adequate information to help them name, tame, and transform the runaway self, both male and female distancers often convince themselves that the love they have is as good as it’s going to get. You will learn that it takes a village to create a healthy couple relationship. One of the major mistakes in trying to solve intimacy problems happens when the focus is exclusively on the couple. No couple is ever really alone on a desert island. Too often, everyone tries to fix the couple as if they exist in isolation. Friends, family, and helping professionals often fail to give enough attention to the importance of the big picture. There are many ways that a couple is a part of their “village.”

You will learn how to integrate all the aspects of community that help to create and nurture a healthy couple. You will also learn the importance of your own social and cultural roots, the significance of religious or spiritual communities, and the value of workplaces, extended families, neighborhoods, friendship networks, and the larger geographical community.

How It Works: Creating Change

Here is a preview of how the work we will do together will guide you through this new journey away from loneliness. In this book we will be using a three-step approach called the ARC model. ARC is an abbreviation for Awareness, Remembering, and Connecting.

Step One: Awareness

The first step involves developing your awareness about the many ways that people distance. You will be given the necessary tools and questionnaires to help you identify how you see yourself in a couple, and you’ll read about a variety of other distancers so that you can locate yourself—or someone you care for—among the profiles of distancers.

You will begin doing the first step by learning about the most common forms of distancing. A series of exercises in Step One will help you relate your own patterns of distancing to the examples of other distancers. You will also be guided to see the strengths within your vulnerabilities. Awareness becomes transforming only when you understand and honor your strengths and gifts in addition to those difficult areas that need to change.

Step Two: Remembering

Going back to the roots of how you have developed your beliefs, fears, and hopes about intimate relationships can be both very exciting and illuminating. It can also stir up old memories and emotions that many distancers would prefer to avoid. The ARC model is based in a strong commitment to safety, so you will be guided very carefully through the process of remembering. The goal is not to go backwards to relive old painful experiences, but to examine your formative relationships to study how they shaped you to become the person you are.

You will trace the various influences that combined to create your distancer patterns. You will, of course, be examining the close relationships you had in the family you grew up in. You’ll also review the prevailing beliefs about love and intimacy at the time you grew up, and how your cultural roots shaped you. That is, you will look at your race, ethnicity, class, geographical home, neighborhood, religion, schooling, and even how the media influenced you. You will also take a good look at the relationships you’ve experienced in your adult life to see how your fears, hopes, longings, and even aversions have been determined.

Step Three: Connection

The third step moves you into the action phase. This step will guide you to begin developing your abilities to create many levels of deepening connection. You will begin to target the changes you may feel ready to undertake. You will practice new activities and ways of thinking that will gradually help you to experience deeper connections with others. The way we will approach change involves a gentle, gradual process of engaging with others at a new level of intimacy. This work allows the wary distancer to proceed at a safe pace while avoiding slipping back into the all-too-familiar patterns of running and hiding.

In Step Three, you will try out new skills that will help you to make good connections with others in a variety of settings. You’ll practice new skills in your friendships, at your workplace, in support groups and other communities, and new skills for relating to your family, both the one you grew up in, and, when relevant, your current family.

You will also learn how to revitalize and make new connections in the various communities that support you and your partner (or potential partner). This could mean getting involved in new recreational activities, participating more actively in groups that make a difference in the well-being of others, finding a community that supports you spiritually, engaging more completely in support groups, or joining with other parents to make a better life for your children (if that is relevant). Or perhaps you may want to go back to school or engage in other learning experiences that will allow you to connect in new ways.

Finally, you will practice new ways of connecting with your current partner or someone with whom you might just be starting a relationship. These activities and exercises will offer gentle, nonthreatening ways to make changes in your approach to intimate relationships. If you are single, you will learn new ways to approach potential significant others. You are going to change your way of approaching intimacy at exactly the right pace for yourself. You will know intuitively when to push yourself and when to slow down. You will learn to trust yourself to make the best changes for yourself at the right pace and with the right people.

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