If you’re dating someone who repeatedly pulls away, or freaks out with jealousy because you might be interested in someone else, or has jokingly said on numerous occasions that they’re just waiting for you to leave them for somebody “better,” then you’re likely dealing with a person who has some serious abandonment issues.
These issues are usually caused in childhood, either from being rejected by a parent or caregiver, or even from losing someone close to them through illness or injury.
Some people develop abandonment issues after being betrayed or ghosted by a partner they cared about deeply, and experiences like these can cause some pretty deep wounds that can take a long time to heal.
That doesn’t mean that a person with these issues isn’t worthy of love: it just means that it takes a bit of extra care to break through their protective shield and show them that you truly care about them, and plan to stick around in their life.
Be Patient With Them, And Communicate With Them
This is a person whose personal walls would put the Bastille to shame. They don’t trust easily, and their guard will go up at the first hint that they might get hurt. Be prepared for this so it doesn’t catch you off guard or offend you when it happens.
They usually bolt at the slightest whisper of uncertainty in a relationship, especially if they think that there are things going on that they’re not aware of, so it’s incredibly important to cultivate open communication.
Even if said communication is awkward or difficult, it’ll go a long way to making them realize that they can indeed trust you, and that’s worth both time and effort.
Realize That It’s Not About You
If they’re being withdrawn or overly jealous, please understand that you haven’t done anything to cause this behavior: they’re likely seeing some kind of parallel between a current situation and something they experienced years ago, and they’re reacting to the emotions being drummed up by that, rather than what’s happening now.
They might freak out and behave really poorly, leaving you sitting there dazed, wondering what the hell you might have done to have elicited such a reaction, when in reality it’s just them remembering what it was like to be hurt beyond measure and doing everything in their power to avoid hurting that much again.
Again, if you can, please be patient with them. Encourage them to talk to you about what they’re feeling once they’ve calmed down. After they’ve had their panic attack and possible outburst, they’ll likely feel very ashamed of their behavior. If you work together, they can grow from the experience, and your support and reassurance may in fact stop that kind of thing from happening too often again.
Always Be Honest About Your Feelings
Please don’t feel that you have to walk on eggshells or swallow your own emotions in an attempt to avoid setting them off. They might seem very fragile and delicate at times, but that’s mostly because they overthink everything and are constantly on high alert, trying to read “between the lines” to see if you’re going to hurt them or leave them outright.
If this behavior is upsetting or frustrating to you, talk to them about it instead of bottling it up and either remaining silent, or trying to convince them that nothing is wrong. By doing that, they’ll become even more insecure because they’ll feel that you’re hiding things from them, and that you’re halfway out the door, walking away.
Don’t hesitate to over-communicate, seriously. These people would prefer that you tell them about the minutiae going on in your life so they feel like they’re an integral part thereof. The more you can do to reassure them that they’re important, the better. They need that, and when they feel safe and secure in the relationship, they’ll be able to open up to you and be the partner you need in turn.
One major difficulty in loving someone with abandonment issues is that many of them have been damaged repeatedly by the same type of people, over and over again. They’ll expect you to hurt them the same way, and will brace for the shoe to drop, so to speak.
Consider this scenario: Imagine a dog that’s being cared for by an abusive owner.
The owner behaves kindly to the dog for a little while, then kicks it, causing it pain… but then is kind again for a little while. Until they kick it again, and the pattern repeats itself. Then the dog is adopted by another caregiver… who is kind to the dog for a little while, until they decide to kick it as well.
After a few rounds with a few different people, that dog will have learned the lesson that any small kindness will inevitably be followed by a painful kick. It would take a lot of time, effort, patience, and reassurance to convince that dog that this time, it’ll be different. It may never fully trust that a kick won’t come, that it won’t be hurt again, but over time it may relax enough to be cared for and loved more than it has been in the past.
Same goes for the person you’re involved with. It’s a lot more difficult to earn the trust of one who has been damaged badly by others, but if you can break through their defenses and prove to them that you’re not like those who hurt them before, you’ll watch this person you love blossom into the amazing being they’ve always had the potential to become.
Don’t Enable Their Negative Self-Talk
If they put themselves down, talking about how stupid they are for feeling the way they do, or apologizing for how “broken” they are, try not to enable them by just telling them that no, they’re wrong. That’ll just invalidate how they’re feeling, and they’ll end up saying the same things the next time they break down a little bit.
Instead, try an approach in which you’re listening actively, but trying to get them to see the situation from different perspectives.
Understand That They Aren’t Behaving This Way On Purpose
They aren’t. They really, really aren’t.
They would love nothing more than to just fall into your arms with complete trust in the fact that you are who you seem to be and they can be perfectly happy and safe in a relationship with you, but their own experiences have taught them otherwise, time and time again.
Remind Them Why You Love Them
Instead of just a blanket “I love you,” tell them exactly what it is about them that you care about and appreciate. They’ve undoubtedly been told by others that they were loved, and those words turned out to be hollow and meaningless when they ended up getting hurt… but focusing on very tangible things that you’ve noticed about them makes them realize that you pay attention to who they are: to what they do.
A few examples could be things like:
I really admire how kind you are to animals.
I appreciate the effort you put into making ___ for me, because you know I like it.
You have a beautiful smile: it’s wonderful to see you shine so brightly when you’re happy.
The book you recommended to me was perfect. You really have solid insights as to what I like, and I appreciate that.
Being seen and heard is unbelievably important, and having their efforts recognized can make a world of difference to them. These are often very kind, giving people who have loved deeply and been taken advantage of, so to be appreciated for what they do is massive for showing them that you care.
Loving someone with these issues can be frustrating at times, but once you have helped them work through their fears, you’ll undoubtedly have the most loving, giving partner imaginable, simply because you proved to them that you care, and that you’ll stay.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.