Fear of Abandonment
Childhood Losses Leave Marks on Your Love Life
“How could he cheat on me?” Rage filled Connie’s face as she winced and clenched her fists.
Joe responded, “She called me a faggot, a loser, that I was old, that no one would want me so…”
“So you found someone who would want you.” I finished his sentence.
Thumbing his hands through his salt and pepper hair, he retorted, “You could say that”.
Between sobs, Courtney moaned, “You didn’t desire me Joey, so that’s why I called you a faggot. I always came on to you and you were too tired or you had a headache. And you didn’t like my family or my friends. I was miserable, but I didn’t cheat, you did.”
Turning to me and raising his voice, Joe said, “I told her a million times that I’m sorry but she won’t even talk to me.”
Sobs aside, Courtney addressed Joe in an accusatory voice, “I think you’re still seeing Stacy.”
Taking off his glasses as though they he did not want to see too clearly, Joe seethed, “That’s ridiculous. She’s checking on me all the time and I can’t stand it.”
I intervened and clarified, “You hurt her and so she’s suspicious. It takes patience and if you love her and feel guilty you’ll do everything to make amends.’
“I try to make amends, but she put up a wall between us and I can’t penetrate it.” Joe said.
“I put up a wall that you can’t penetrate? What do you call your affair with Stacy, an easy penetration?” Not waiting for a response, Courtney stood up, looked Joe square in the face and said in a matter of fact tone of finality, “I’m done. I’m leaving with Ashley.”
I had not heard the name before and so I asked Courtney, “Who’s Ashley?”
“She’s my daughter.” She said.
Joe shouted, “Your daughter? She’s mine also. I raised her and she calls me daddy.”
Instantly, Courtney said, “She’s my biological child, not yours.”
Joe fidgeted and addressed Courtney, “What’s the difference? The guy who knocked you up, knocked up another woman, so he double dealt you. It was me who took you in and raised Ashley.”
Not a happy story so far. Courtney, a long legged, long blonde haired, shapely beauty spoke English with a foreign accent. She came to America from Serbia at age 15, completed her high school education, and she worked her way through college and law school, and was presently employed as an assistant District Attorney. Despite success in her career goals she was struggling in her love life. So far she had struck out twice.
Her first boyfriend Stan drove a fancy car, dressed well and introduced her to some of the finer things in life. Love making was paradise, but all was not so fine in paradise. Stan was living with another woman. He kept promising Courtney that he would leave his live-in-lover, and she wanted to believe it, so she continued to see him. That is, till the day Courtney found out she was pregnant. Stan wanted her to abort as he was committed to this other woman. Heartbroken, Courtney finally saw the light. She ended it with Stan and decided to have the baby.
During her pregnancy, when she was at college, she became friendly with the Financial Aid assistant, Joe. Twenty years her senior, Joe’s friendship with Courtney ripened into a romance. He wanted to take care of her and her baby. Before she gave birth to Ashley, Courtney moved in with Joe. True to his word, Joe was there for her and Ashley. Not so true to his word, he had an affair with another woman.
To understand why Courtney chooses men who end up abandoning her, let us take a peek into her childhood. Courtney was born in Serbia where she and her family lived in terror and in poverty. Her father had abandoned her mother when she was two and Courtney lived with her mother and grandmother. In order to achieve a better life, her mother came to America and left her with her grandmother in Serbia: at age six, Courtney endured her second abandonment. Once her mother established some financial security, she sent for Courtney who left Serbia. In doing so, Courtney left her grandmother with whom she had formed a strong attachment; hence the third abandonment.
Her fear of abandonment played a major role in her love life. Stan was safe as he was unavailable to her, so she had half a relationship but never the whole thing or true intimacy. She put him to the test by getting pregnant and as expected, he remained faithful to the woman he was living with. And so he abandoned her and his baby.
Joe seemed safe as he was 20 years older than her, not as vibrant or youthful. And again, she put him to the test and lost. When they fought, she demanded constant attention and financial help, berated him, insulted and demeaned him. She pushed him away so that he finally abandoned her for another woman.
The case of Courtney is one of many cases I see. If, like Courtney, you fear abandonment, you may choose unavailable lovers so you can’t fall totally in love with them and not feel destroyed if they leave you. In this way, you play it safe.
On the other hand you may repeat the original trauma of abandonment because it is familiar or because you hope that this time the person will not abandon you and you get it right. The unconscious fantasy is that no matter how poorly you behave, and try to push your partner away, he or she does not leave you.
Then again, you may try to control your partner so that you will swallow him or her up and your partner is not able to leave. The irony is that when you swallow someone up, he or she does indeed abandon you. You have no one outside of you to discuss things with, no one to help expand you or to help you grow, and so you are more alone than ever..
To learn more about how abandonment issues play out in your love life, read my book The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain’s Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011). In this primer on love, you will learn about the power of mirror neurons on your marriage, how love comes, goes, and how you can bring it back.