“Falling in love is like learning a whole new language and the culture that goes along with it. When you fall out of love it can be hard to pick up where you left off and start anew.”
― Isabella Poretsis
Last week I spoke about the pillars of love languages, and this week we will look at how these love language pillars are formed. Generally, secure lovers regularly have their needs met as infants. They grew up feeling competent among their peers but were also comfortable with their shortcomings to a degree. As a result, they exhibit healthy, strong boundaries as adults, can communicate their needs well in their relationships and aren’t afraid to leave a bad one if they think they need to.
Anxious lovers, on the other hand, receive love and care with unpredictable sufficiency as infants. Growing up, they have positive views of their peers, but negative views of themselves. Their romantic relationships are often overly idealised and they rely too heavily on them for self-esteem. Hence the 36 calls in one night when you don’t pick up your phone.
Avoidant lovers would have got only some of their needs met as infants, while the rest were neglected (for instance, Norman might have gotten fed regularly, but wasn’t held enough). So Norman grows up holding a negative view of others but a positive view of himself. He hasn’t depended too much on his romantic relationships for his needs and feels like he doesn’t need others for emotional support.
Anxious-avoidant lovers, though, would have had an abusive or terribly negligent childhood. Growing up having a hard time relating to peers. So as an adult, they seek both intimacy and independence in romantic interactions, sometimes simultaneously, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t really go well.
Different love languages tend to configure themselves into intimate relationships in predictable ways. I’m sure most of us are familiar with William Marston’s DISC Assessment. Love languages are similar in how they pair us together. Secure lovers are capable of dating (or handling, depending on your perspective) both anxious and avoidant types. They’re comfortable enough with themselves to give anxious types all of the reassurance they need and to give avoidant types the space they need without feeling threatened themselves.
Anxious and avoidant lovers frequently end up in relationships with one another more often than they end up in relationships with their own types. That may seem counter-intuitive, but there’s order behind the madness. Avoidant lovers are so good at putting others off that oftentimes it’s only the anxious lovers who are willing to stick around and put in the extra effort to get them to open up.
For instance, Avoidant Norman may be able to successfully shirk Secure Sarah’s pushes for increased intimacy. After which, Secure Sarah will accept the rejection and move on. But Anxious Anna will only become more determined by a man who pushes her away. She’ll resort to calling him for weeks or months on end until he finally caves and commits to her. This gives Avoidant Norman the reassurance he needs that he can behave independently and Anxious Anna will wait around for him.
Often these relationships produce some degree of dysfunctional equilibrium as they fall into a pattern of chaser-chasee, which are both roles the anxious and avoidant lovers need in order to feel comfortable with intimacy. Let’s go deeper down the rabbit hole!
Anxious-avoidant lovers only date each other or the least secure of the anxious types or avoidant types. These relationships are very messy, if not downright abusive or negligent. What all of this adds up to is that in relationships, insecurity finds insecurity and security finds security. Even if those insecurities don’t always look the same. To put it bluntly, to everyone complaining that all of the people they meet are insecure, or have trust issues, or are needy and manipulative… well, let’s just say I have some bad news for you. Look in the mirror…
What’s Your Love Language Pillar
If you don’t have an idea of what your love language pillar is yet and want to take a test, you can take this one. It’s a great resource that will give you an idea of your love language pillar across different relationships—parents, friends, and lovers.
I also really like it because you can track how various aspects of your pillar change over time.
If you don’t want to take the test though (because you have to create an account etc), the gist of it is this: if you’re consistently avoiding commitment, avoiding your romantic partners, shutting them out, or not sharing things with them, then you’re probably pretty avoidant.
Or if you’re constantly worrying about your partners, feel like they don’t like you as much as you like them, want to see them 24/7, need constant reassurance from them, then you’re probably anxious.
If you’re comfortable dating people, being intimate with them, and are able to draw clear boundaries in your relationships, but also don’t mind being alone, then you’re probably secure.
Note, however, that there are some individual differences in how strongly we might identify with each love language pillar. For example, you might be securely attached in most areas but have some anxious or avoidant tendencies in other situations.
That said, most people typically have a predominant pillar they tend to fall back on in their close relationships.
Can Your Love Language Pillar Change?
The good news is that your pillar can change over time—although it’s slow and difficult.
Research shows that an anxious or avoidant who enters a long-term relationship with a secure can be “raised up” to the level of the secure over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, an anxious or avoidant is also capable of “bringing down” a secure to their level of insecurity if they’re not careful.
Also, extreme negative life events, such as divorce, death of child, serious accident, etc., can cause a secure attachment type to fall into a more insecure attachment type.
For instance, a random man may be more or less secure, get married to Anxious Anna, bring her up to a more secure level. But when they run into money trouble she falls back to her anxious level, cheats on him, and then divorces him for all of his money, sending him into a tailspin of avoidance. Random goes on to ignore intimacy and pump-and-dump women for the next 10 years, afraid to become intimate with any of them.
Our love language pillars are intimately connected with our confidence in ourselves and others. Psychologists Bartholomew and Horowitz have hypothesised a model showing that one’s attachment strategy corresponds to the degree of positive/negative self-image, and the positive/negative image of others. Secures exhibit both positive self-images and positive perceptions of others. Anxious lovers exhibit negative self-images, but positive perceptions of others (hence their needy behavior).
Avoidants exhibit positive self-images and negative perceptions of others (hence their arrogance and fear of commitment), and anxious-avoidants exhibit negative perceptions of just about everything and everyone (hence their inability to function in relationships).
Using this model as a roadmap, one can begin to navigate oneself to a more secure love language pillar.
Anxious lovers can work on developing themselves, creating healthy boundaries, and fostering a healthy self-image. Instead of constantly looking for “the one” who will magically solve all their problems (and then calling them 36 times in one night). They can look for things that will make them a better, healthier person both in body and mind.
One of the most important pieces of dating advice I was ever told was for men to find something they’re passionate about and good at and make that a focal point of their life rather than women. Needless to say, the same goes for women as well.
Once they’re content with who they are, anxious lovers can then work to become more aware of their tendency to seek partners that reaffirm their negative self-image.
Remember what I said about insecurity finding insecurity? Anxious lovers will do well to break out of that cycle and surround themselves with people, friends and lovers alike, who lift them up, rather than knock them down. And to deepen those relationships. The positive emotional experiences they get from healthy relationships, especially profound ones like with a spouse, will re-shape their view of the world, reduce their anxieties, and help mold them into more secure types.
Avoidant lovers can work on opening themselves up to others and enrich their relationships by sharing themselves more. Research shows that simply not avoiding relationships can help avoidants move away from their avoidant tendency. And similar to anxious lovers, avoidants should stop seeking to reaffirm their view of the world with every single person they meet—not everyone is untrustworthy or clingy.
Another one of my most favourite pieces of advice is that it’s your responsibility to find something great in everyone you meet. It’s not their responsibility to show you. Become curious. Stop being judgmental, observe, and enjoy.
For the unlucky few who find themselves both anxious and avoidant, they can follow the advice for both types above. Focus on getting to know themselves. Know their fears and insecurities, embrace them, and learn to work with them, rather than against them. A few simple tools to help them do this are journaling and meditation. Professional therapy can also be effective.
And of course, some of you may be reading this and thinking, “I like being alone and being able to sleep with whoever I want. I wouldn’t change a thing.” And it’s true—many people lead happy, successful lives as avoidant or anxious lovers. Some even have successful long-term relationships as an anxious or avoidant.
But research shows secures are consistently more happy and feel more supported. Are less likely to become depressed, are healthier. Retain more stable relationships, and become more successful than the other pillar types.
And I can tell you from my personal experience. I’ve felt myself drift out of a strong avoidant (and slightly anxious) pillar to a more pillar over the past six years of working on myself in this area. And I can unequivocally say that I’m happier and more fulfilled in my relationships than I ever was back then. I wouldn’t trade it back for anything.
As always, hope you and yours are safe! Take time to figure out what your pillar is and what kind of lover are you. With this post, we wrap up the love bites series for February, hope it was informative and fun. Let’s Go!