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How To Love Somebody With Abandonment Issues: 12 Key Tips

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Abandonment issues can be incredibly difficult to navigate in relationships.

A person who has these issues may display challenging and frustrating behaviors, which often result in relationship breakdown—which is exactly what they’re afraid of.

This article will provide you with a comprehensive guide to communicating with, loving, and supporting someone who is struggling with these issues.

Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you deal with a partner who has abandonment issues. You may want to try speaking to someone via for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.

What are abandonment issues?

Abandonment issues are trauma-related personal difficulties that create a state of constant fear and anxiety in individuals who have experienced significant losses or separations in their lives.

If a person has been deserted by someone very close to them, or they didn’t receive the care they needed during a time of vulnerability, then they may develop a deep fear of not having their needs met by those who claim to love them.

They may have such a deep fear of being abandoned that they exhibit unhealthy behaviors in their relationships—both consciously and unconsciously—in order to avoid experiencing that kind of trauma again.

Understanding your partner’s abandonment issues.

If you have a partner with abandonment issues, you may have difficulty understanding why they behave the way they do. This is particularly true if you’ve never experienced abandonment-based trauma firsthand.

When you were a small child, did you ever experience a wave of panic when you couldn’t find your mother or father at the grocery store and were afraid that they left you there alone?

Chances are high that they were in the next aisle over and that wave of gut-wrenching fear was not only unwarranted but dissipated as soon as you realized they were still there.

Now imagine how you might have felt if you didn’t find Mom or Dad in the next aisle: if, when your panicked little heart was pounding in your chest, you didn’t have your fears allayed because they really did leave you there by yourself.

You ended up feeling immensely confused and vulnerable, not knowing where they went, why they left you alone, why they didn’t love you enough to stay or take you with them, and so on.

A person suffering from abandonment issues has experienced exactly this kind of scenario. Maybe they had a parent who left or died when they were young, or a partner who shattered their trust or ghosted them without warning or just cause.

As a result, they’re so terrified of being betrayed or abandoned ever again that they put an extraordinary amount of effort into protecting themselves.

This can make having healthy relationships difficult, as there’s always going to be a push-pull dynamic of allowing themselves to get close, then withdrawing into safety for self-preservation.

If you’re dating someone with abandonment issues, it’s vital to understand that they’re dealing with the emotional and mental equivalent of a stab wound to the heart that may never heal completely.

That said, healing can take place if they’re given patience, compassion, and support, and if the ones who love them believe they’re worth the effort it’ll take to make them feel secure, and truly loved.

How Abandonment Issues Show In Relationships

If you want to know how to help someone with abandonment issues, the key is to understand the causes behind their behaviors. A person’s abandonment issues may manifest in different ways, based on what they experienced.

By observing each behavior—and learning to understand its origins—you’ll have a better idea of how to navigate or counteract it.

Constantly needing reassurance.

People who have lost or been abandoned by those close to them often have intense anxiety. They fret about what may happen in any given situation so they’re prepared for any potentiality, and need constant reassurance that you care about them and aren’t going to leave them.

Situations that roll off another person like water off a duck’s back may spin them into a full-on panic attack, such as if you don’t text them back quickly or if you’re late coming home.

Overthinking and overanalysis.

People who have lived through traumatic experiences often develop hypervigilance as a form of self-protection. As such, they’re constantly reading into situations and conversations to determine whether potential threats are looming.

Your partner may ask what you mean by a particular phrase or tense up as though bracing for impact.

Expect your partner to pick apart conversations word by word looking for subtext, or overanalyzing body language and tone for cues that they may be in imminent danger.

Emotional overreacting.

Your partner may respond with emotion that’s disproportionate to the severity of an incident. If this occurs, it’s likely that their reaction springs from a past trauma that was never healed or resolved, rather than responding to what’s occurring in the present moment in a reasonable manner.

Let’s say you finished the last bit of cereal in the box and your partner breaks down crying. It’s unlikely they’re that upset about what’s going on right then and there, and are instead remembering what it was like to go hungry as a child or have food taken from them by an abusive former partner.

Note: if you’re an empath or prone to anxiety, you may run the risk of emotional enmeshment in situations like this. One person’s emotions will cause the other’s to escalate, and things might snowball from there. If you find yourself dealing with a disproportionate emotional response, remove yourself from the situation. Go walk the dog or pick up some snacks, and let things calm down at home before you take any other action.

Discomfort with emotion—their own, as well as those of others.

On the other end of the scale from those who overreact emotionally are those who barely react at all.

Many people with abandonment issues learned how to shut down their emotions so they wouldn’t get hurt, and as such may have difficulty tapping into them.

They may repress emotions like fear or grief so they don’t appear weak or vulnerable in front of others, and are quick to either change the conversation away from topics that make them uncomfortable or find excuses to remove themselves from emotionally charged situations.

If any of these seem familiar to you, then you’re probably dealing with an avoidant partner who prefers to ignore emotions rather than work through them.

Alternatively, your partner may simply be unable to feel most emotions because they’ve repressed them so fiercely. They may have been called “frigid” or “robot-like” because of their emotional detachment, when in reality they’re actually incapable of feeling the spectrum of emotions that others do.

In fact, some people with complex PTSD from childhood trauma are misdiagnosed with autism because of the similarities in emotional dysregulation and social interactions shared between the two disorders. Additionally, they may have been labeled as “emotionally unavailable,” when in fact they’re just severely damaged.

“Hot and cold” behavior.

This is the “push-pull” type of behavior that we mentioned earlier. They might be incredibly loving and affectionate one day, then aloof and withdrawn the next.

It’s a behavior that often happens when they start to feel too vulnerable in their relationship because they’ve lowered their defensive walls enough to allow someone close.

They may want to be cuddly and verbally demonstrative, but their natural self-defense mechanisms leap up and bring those walls back up to full power.

Clingy neediness.

A person with abandonment issues may suffer from separation anxiety and thus need to constantly be close to—or even in physical contact with—their loved one(s).

This is often the case if someone’s needs weren’t met in very early childhood; a time when physical reassurance and nurturing are the cornerstones of development.

As a result, you may end up feeling smothered or overwhelmed by constant demands on your time, as well as physical intimacy.

They might even seem childish or inappropriate with their behavior, such as sitting in a chair outside your home office while you’re working just to be close to you.

Difficulty or hesitation in expressing their needs.

People with abandonment issues often have problems expressing desires or needs because they’re afraid of how others may respond.

They may have been rejected or mocked for even having needs in the past, or pushed away for being “too needy,” even if said needs were completely basic, such as needing to be cared for during a childhood illness.

As a result, your partner may lash out or withdraw because their needs aren’t being met, but they have no idea how to express them in a healthy manner. They may also behave in manners that confuse you or make you uncomfortable.

Your partner might not know how to initiate sexual intimacy or tell you how they like to be touched, which can be frustrating for both of you.

Furthermore, they may neglect their health or tolerate things they dislike so as not to seem demanding, nor potentially make you upset.

Lack of trust.

We learn via our life experiences, and if your partner has learned that they’ll be mistreated, betrayed, and abandoned by those closest to them, then they’ll have difficulty trusting anyone—yourself included.

They may not be able to sleep soundly next to you because they’re hypervigilant, or because they’ve been hurt in the past during moments of vulnerability.

Alternatively, they may not believe you when you say that you’ll do something because they’ve been repeatedly let down by others and thus expect you to do the same.

Additionally, they may have problems with object constancy in relationships— believing you’ll stay loyal even when you aren’t in each other’s company. They assume that out of sight is out of mind, and that unless they’re consistently reminding you of their love and affection, you’ll simply walk away.


This goes hand in hand with the lack of trust mentioned above, especially if they developed abandonment issues after being cheated on or ghosted.

They may develop intense jealousy over your friendships—especially with those of the same gender as themselves—and may insist on transparency to reassure them that nothing’s going on behind their back, such as shared email or social media accounts.

If this transparency is denied to them, they may take action to find out why, like using your phone to look something up and then checking to see who’s texting you.

Fear of commitment.

One of the most common long-term effects of abandonment is an intense fear of commitment.

As a result, many people who have dealt with loss, abandonment, and/or betrayal try to avoid locking themselves into anything.

Some may insist on only calling their partner their “friend” despite dating for several months, while others may reiterate to their lover that they want to keep things “chill” or not have any strings attached.

In other cases, a person might want the closeness of a safe, loving relationship, but feel safer and more secure if there’s always an escape route for them.

This type of behavior can manifest in serial monogamy (i.e. intense relationships that last for about three years and are then abandoned for the next), or cases in which they get engaged very quickly, then find excuses to end the relationship when there’s any pressure to actually marry.


A person who has a deep-seated terror of abandonment or betrayal may try to find any excuse to push someone away before they can abandon them.

As a result, they may pick a fight or seek out a reason to break up—especially when things are going well.

They’re so terrified of having their heart broken when they finally allow themselves to be vulnerable and feel love again that the only way they can keep themselves “safe” is to run away.

Usually, before they try to end things completely, you’ll see signs that they’re sabotaging the relationship so they have a solid excuse to end it.

For example, they may pick fights over insignificant things that never used to bother them and start talking about how different you two are, potentially incompatible, and so on. This is often accompanied by lessened physical intimacy, as well as criticism and irritability.

Essentially, they’re poisoning the well to convince themselves that it’s unsafe to drink from.

Testing boundaries.

Children often test boundaries by pushing their parents’ buttons to see how much their unconditional love will tolerate. Similarly, people with abandonment issues often test their partner’s love by pushing their boundaries or behaving poorly to see whether their lover cares enough to put up with their crap.

It’s rather childish behavior, but those who faced trauma in their youth often experience arrested emotional development around the age at which the trauma occurred.

Your partner may intentionally use things you said were off limits, break things that are important to you, go no-contact for protracted periods of time, or even threaten to leave, just to see how you’ll react.

If you break up with them because of their poor behavior, it’ll be a case of a self-fulfilled prophecy: they knew you’d break up with them eventually anyway.

In contrast, if you reinforce your boundaries while reiterating that you still love them, that shows them that you do in fact care, but that you won’t tolerate being disrespected.

12 Tips For Dating Someone With Abandonment Issues

Although it may be difficult to figure out how to love someone with abandonment issues, it’s important to focus on who they are, rather than the issues that plague them.

Their trauma doesn’t define them, but their experiences will affect the way they react or behave in various situations. The tips below can help your relationship run more smoothly, especially over time.

1. Be patient with them and communicate with them.

This is a person who has built strong emotional walls. 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 things are 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 trust you.

2. Realize that it’s not about you.

If they’re being withdrawn or overly jealous, it’s unlikely you’ve done anything to cause this behavior. Instead, 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 poorly, leaving you sitting there dazed, wondering what the hell you did 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.

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 their 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 help stop that kind of thing from happening too often again.

3. 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 fragile and delicate at times, but that’s 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. 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 of it.

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.

4. Be prepared to prove yourself.

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.

5. 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 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. Help them challenge these negative thoughts by working with them to ask if they’re true.

Furthermore, seek to re-frame them positively. If they insult their body for being too weak, remind them that they are getting stronger every day. Or if they make a mistake, remind them that every misstep is a learning experience.

6. Understand that they aren’t behaving this way on purpose.

They aren’t. They really, really aren’t. This is absolutely key to understanding someone with abandonment issues.

They would love nothing more than to 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.

There’s not much that you can say or do to improve this, but know that it will improve over time as they peel back personal defensive layers and let you in.

7. 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.

And so on.

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.

8. Emphasize their worth.

Since most people with abandonment issues have intensely low self-esteem, it’s important to emphasize their many positive attributes.

Although you may get frustrated with their clinginess or need for reassurance at times, you can alleviate those behaviors by letting them know how worthy they are in your eyes.

For example, if you find that they need more physical affection than usual, let them know how much you appreciate how loved they make you feel. Make sure their efforts are seen and appreciated rather than being taken for granted, and call them out positively whenever they do something you admire.

9. Take actions to reassure them and allay their anxieties.

If you know that your partner will freak out if you’re late with text responses or if you’re late for a planned activity, you can take action to reassure them however possible.

For example, if you know that you won’t be able to respond to their texts for a while because you have a meeting at work, let them know in advance. Say something like: “I have a two-hour board meeting at 1pm and I won’t be able to answer my phone. It may go longer than scheduled, but I will message you as soon as I’m available. I love you.” They’ll be less anxious if they know in advance what will happen and can prepare themselves accordingly.

Similarly, stay in regular communication if and when plans don’t go as expected. Whether you’re stuck in traffic or contending with a malfunctioning printer, let them know.

If you know that they’ll have a meltdown if the unexpected occurs, aim to keep them informed about everything that unfolds.

10. Flow with their hot-cold behavior and don’t take it personally.

Although it may be frustrating to deal with someone who’s affectionate one day and withdrawn the next, this type of behavior is more positive than you may think. It shows that your partner cares a lot about you—may even love you fiercely—and thus is terrified of losing you or being hurt by you.

This is where their withdrawal comes from. If they didn’t care about you, they’d have no problem being more cuddly or sexually demanding all the time: there would be no threat of potential hurt because there’s no attachment.

In contrast, if they’re being loving and tender one day and cool the next, that’s a surefire sign that they’re fighting to get close despite their intimacy issues.

The person you love is dealing with an internal battle against their innate fight-or-flight instinct for self-preservation. You’re dealing with the human equivalent of a half-feral animal who desperately wants love and affection but is afraid that your hand will deal them damage the same way another’s has.

As such, try to remain consistent and reassuring without trying to push or demand affection. Give them space when they withdraw, and echo their affection when they show it.

This will reiterate to them that their heart is safe in your hands, and the push-pull effect will lessen bit by bit over time until it eventually stops.

11. Help them, but don’t try to fix them.

If you’re dating someone with abandonment issues, you might feel a sense of responsibility to somehow “cure” or “fix” them of their pain and hurt.

Whilst you may feel this way out of kindness and a desire to see them live a happier life, remember that this is their life, not yours. As such, you can’t put the weight of their healing on your shoulders, for it is not yours to bear.

When learning how to help a partner with abandonment issues, keep in mind that there’s a world of difference between helping someone and fixing them.

Your role is to aid and accommodate their own healing journey whilst giving them the freedom to go at their own pace, to go backward at times, to try different things, to fail, to get up and try again.

You can’t take away their abandonment issues—you can only stick by them and follow the other tips in this article to provide reassurance.

12. Encourage them to get therapy.

Many abandonment issues can improve significantly over time, but they aren’t going to go away on their own.

Few people can heal from this kind of trauma on their own, and those dealing with abandonment and betrayal will benefit immensely from approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy with a trained psychotherapist.

A trained professional can help them unpack the damage that was caused so long ago and teach them how to communicate effectively and work through difficult emotions instead of running from them.

How To Talk To Someone With Abandonment Issues

Knowing how to talk to someone with abandonment issues can be difficult because each person will respond differently to various topics and phrases.

Remember that abandonment issues in adults spring from a wide variety of circumstances, so you’ll need to tailor your approaches and responses to the individual you’re dealing with.

Learn the triggers that set your partner off, as well as the best phrases and tones to use to reassure them.

What to say to someone with abandonment issues:

“How can I support you?”

There isn’t a specific guide on how to support someone with abandonment issues because every individual is different. As a result, it’s important to ask, since what works for one person may be anathema to another. Find out what your partner would prefer, and then do that instead of assuming you know what will work for them.

“We can work through this together.”

If they’re struggling with something, let them know that you’re willing to stand by them. Hold their hands, make eye contact, and reiterate that they’re not alone: you’re with them, and they’re safe. When learning how to reassure someone with abandonment issues, remember that physical contact reinforces verbal expression, so be generous with hugs and the like.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

One of the best things you can say to someone with abandonment issues is that you aren’t going to leave them. Their biggest fear is losing the person they’ve allowed into their safe inner sanctum, so reassuring them that you’re there to stay will be hugely beneficial.

What NOT to say to someone with abandonment issues:

“That’s not true at all.”

We touched upon how telling someone with abandonment issues that they’re wrong can be immensely invalidating to them. What they’re feeling is very real to them, but stating that they’re being overdramatic or that their feelings aren’t grounded in reality may be devastating.

A better approach is to say that you understand why they’re feeling that way right now, that their feelings are valid (even if they aren’t shared), and you’re there if they need or want to talk about them.

“You’re just being dramatic.”

Remember that your partner is a person who has dealt with very real, traumatic experiences: they’re not being histrionic without good cause. If something occurs that reminds them of what they’ve been through, it’s only natural that they’ll freak out. You wouldn’t call an earthquake survivor dramatic for worrying if they felt the house shake.

“I’m not {insert name or role of the person who hurt them—e.g. your mother, your ex}.”

Your partner is patently aware that you aren’t the same person as the one who hurt them, so snapping at them when they’re having a flashback emotional reaction isn’t going to do any good. It’ll come across as condescending.

“Why can’t you just trust me?”

You may be the most open, loving, and trustworthy person in the world, and thus may get frustrated or offended when your partner doesn’t seem to trust you. Remember that their mistrust has absolutely nothing to do with you, and everything to do with past experiences.

Final thoughts: be prepared for the long haul.

Learning how to deal with someone with abandonment issues isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, one of the main reasons why people with these issues are afraid of being abandoned is because they know all too well how difficult they can be to deal with at times.

Most deal with great amounts of shame at emotions they can’t control, or fears that they know aren’t founded in reality.

There’s nothing “wrong” with a person who has abandonment issues—they’ve simply been through hell and are protecting themselves with good cause.

These are often brilliant, amazing people who have an extraordinary amount of love to give, but simply need some extra patience and reassurance so they can feel safe and secure enough to do so.

If you can prove to them that you’re worth opening up to, you’ll end up with one of the most loving, devoted partners imaginable.

Still not sure what to do about your partner’s fear of abandonment? You don’t have to figure everything out by yourself with articles like this. You can get the guidance you need from a trained relationship counselor. They will be able to help you navigate the challenges such a relationship may pose. Chat online to an expert from Relationship Hero who can walk you through everything and answer any questions you might have.

About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.