Marriage Love Styles and How to Demystify Them

couple in an abusive relationship

I have found myself often explaining to couples that marriage difficulties are not necessarily the fault of the marriage. A lot of what we experience in our relationships is actually a result of our early years and how emotions and needs were imprinted into us by those we attached to.

This thinking is based on a theory called attachment. Milan and Kay Yerkovich, therapists, and authors of How We Love have done a lot of work around attachment theory and marriage. I find their work to be very helpful with many of my clients, particularly those experiencing relationship roadblocks.

Over the next couple of months, I will unroll a short series on attachment and some common love styles that play into all of our marriage relationships.

Perhaps the most common type of love style is the pleaser.  Typically, the pleaser is viewed as amiable, accommodating, and the family peacemaker.  However, like in all of us, there is a shadow side. The pleaser usually is anxious and fearful of being rejected.  He/she will construct a type of superficial peace by pleasing others. Unfortunately, peace is usually a false peace. The pleaser suffers from anxiety resulting from not addressing personal feelings and the mate’s concerns are often minimized.  The pleaser can bruise a relationship by valuing a sense of calm over an authentic relationship.

Here is a portion Yerkovich’s love style assessment:

  • I am usually the giver in relationships.
  • I am good at keeping the peace.
  • Sometimes I am dishonest in order to avoid conflict.
  • I am afraid of making my spouse upset or angry.
  • When there is conflict, I’ll give in just to get it over with.
  • It really upsets me when I feel someone is mad at me.
  • Sometimes I get mad, but I usually don’t show it.

Sometimes marriage relationships become stuck in repeated patterns. Couples become frustrated and marriages grow strained. With many clients, I have found that introducing love styles can be a powerful tool to deal with relationship obstacles.

Love styles is a concept that therapists Milan and Kay Yerkovich grew out of attachment theory. This means that how we relate is often a result of how we were imprinted in love in early life.

Knowing our personal stories and how we love can be a game changer in understanding our self and our mate in marriage.

The end result can be a more successful and satisfying relationship.

There are five different love styles: the controller, victim, pleaser, vacillator, and avoider.

Each is very different and has strengths and weaknesses. This month, I will highlight the characteristics of the avoider.

Of all the types, avoiders are the most independent. They have learned to be self-sufficient in many ways, but particularly emotionally. Typically, the avoider’s emotions were not addressed as a child, and the young avoider dulled the role of emotions in his/her life by diminishing or detaching feelings. Unfortunately, this behavior can transfer onto others. The avoider’s spouse might complain of a lack of vulnerability and empathy, and the relationship can become bruised.

Maybe this pattern seems familiar. Here are some common traits to help identify if your love style is that of an avoider.

  • It seems as if my spouse has a lot more emotional needs than I do.
  • Events, remarks, and interactions with people that are upsetting to my spouse seem like no big deal to me.
  • I would describe myself as an independent, self-reliant person.
  • When something bad happens, I get over it and move on.
  • I have siblings with whom I have little to no contact today.
  • I rarely cry.

If you’re wrestling in the ambivalence of deeply wanting a steady connection with your spouse or thinking your marriage can’t improve, this blog may be for you. Often this type of thinking is characteristic of a vacillator love style.

My previous blogs show how love styles are another way of talking about our early attachments or emotional imprints that form a pattern of how we love. Unpacking couples love style can add some healing to a bruised relationship and generally improve how one relates.

The vacillator is a passionate love style. Vacillators idealize marriage and romance.

Interestingly, early in a relationship the vacillators’ propensity to idealize often blinds them to any flaws in a mate. However, when relationship reality sets in, the vacillator is hurt, discouraged, and negatively fixated on the mate’s imperfections.

Typically, the vacillator experiences anger and bitterness and often blames.  As the name suggests, the vacillator can vacillate from being extremely loving to seemingly disproportionately angry, leaving the spouse confused and hurt.

Milan and Kay Yerkovich explain the driving force behind this behavior in their book How We Love:

“Vacillators grow up looking for constant attention and are often devastated when the passion connection is lost.”

Helping vacillators to know themselves and practicing a more balanced connection of reality to emotional response can aid in rebooting a struggling relationship.

The following statements offer an introductory look at determining whether or not “I” might be a vacillator:

  • Feel like no one has ever really understood what I need.
  • Was instantly attracted to my spouse, and our early relationship was intense and passionate.
  • Hope for more in my relationships than I get; I am often disappointed as time goes on.
  • Am a very passionate person and feel things deeply.
  • Make it obvious when I’m hurt, and when my spouse doesn’t pursue me and ask what’s wrong, I hurt more.

If three or more of these statements are true for you, you may want to look further into your love style. Personal awareness is the beginning of better relationships!

Written By: Sheri Schulze, LAPC

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