What is a connection disorder? It has been defined as “an emotional dysfunction that prevents the forming of caring or intimate bonds with another person.” I have always referred to it as “Love Avoidant, Attachment Resistant, and Commitment Sidestepping.”

It is a condition that leaves that person surrounded by a trail of devastation, and floods of tears … which the connection disordered person is blinded to. I call it three things because through the years, I have seen the connection disorder manifest in a variety of ways that normally fit into three groups. Let’s look at the symptoms and causes of each.


Symptoms of Being Love Avoidant:

  • Craving love, but running when love is received
  • Avoiding situations where intimate connection may occur
  • Pursuing or responding to being pursued but when reciprocated, becoming totally different/indifferent
  • Using distancing strategies (not responding to texts/calls, going into “funks”, lashing out, accusing their partner of doing what they are actually doing)
  • Showing narcissistic traits (lack of empathy; wanting things from their partner they aren’t willing to give; frequent blaming of partner for things, but rarely willing to admit their own mistakes or taking responsibility for how their behaviors/choices affect their partner)
  • Believing that if the relationship requires work they should just “move on”

What is the Wounding that Leads to Becoming Love Avoidant (one or more of the below):

  • Experiencing conditional love in early years
  • Being required to perform above developmental ability in order to receive love
  • Being overexposed to the worries and concerns of caregiving adults
  • Growing up in a “business” or “anger drenched” environment with few displays of love, kindness, and caring
  • Experiencing attacking words and raised voices as a child


Symptoms of Being Attachment Resistant:

  • Giving unfair criticism to partner in a combative manner
  • Becoming angry in manners out of proportion with the situation
  • Expecting more from partner than willing to give back
  • Provoking partner
  • Displaying jealousy
  • Being possessive, but refusing to be “possessed”
  • Demanding perfection of the relationship and the partner, but does not require the same of self
  • Having a different set of standards and rules for themselves and their partners
  • Keeping options open in case someone better comes along

What is the Wounding that Leads to Becoming Attachment Resistant?” (One or more of the below):

  • Early loss of a parent (death, divorce without consistent contact after divorce)
  • Addicted parent (alcohol, drugs, etc)
  • Parent who had “partners” (girlfriend, boyfriend, etc) but parent did not commit
  • Growing up in a situation without consistent displays of love, or being told “I love you” regularly by major caregivers
  • Hearing ongoing verbal abuse (even if not directed toward the child)


Symptoms of Being A Commitment Sidestepper:

  • Presenting with great charm, but withdrawing as soon as they feel adored
  • Ending of relationships with little or limited emotion, leaving partners distraught
  • Having a trail of relationships that ended because they were “not the right one”, but assuring new partner this one will be different
  • Making references to “love” and “marriage” early on, but then going long periods of time with no verbal intimacy (and sometimes never saying such things even after years!)
  • Refusing to make commitments on any level (as boy/girlfriend, exclusivity, or engagement, etc)
  • Seeking perfection and always believing it is always somewhere else

What is the Wounding that Leads to Becoming A Commitment Sidestepper (one or more of the below):

  • Smothering parent or caregiver
  • Living with expectations of perfection
  • Seeing a parent who is unfaithful or in and out of relationships
  • Living with a parent who divorced and had relationships, but with no stated commitment
  • Being yelled at or spoken to harshly fairly regularly


         I know more about this than I wish I did. I have seen scores of men and women in my office who have been in a relationship with a person that is connection disordered. Here are those things that often portray the affect on the partner:

“I feel like I am not ever going to be enough …”

         So many times the criticisms, the demands, the harsh words wear on the partner. They turn themselves into pretzels trying to meet needs, be enough, and come away feeling worthless, deficient, and broken.

“I am so devastated much of the time …”

         Unfortunately, the connection disordered person can often be an “ice man/woman” and be totally ignorant and uncaring about damage done. A few times, the partner may bounce back and hope for the best. But after months and years, their resiliency begins to waiver, and real emotional damage begins to occur. There is often hope the connection disordered person will notice, and care, and commit to doing better, but often to no avail.

“I feel like I have given everything, and gotten nothing but further criticism about who I am, what I do …”

         Often, the best defense of the connection disordered person is to raise the bar, and ask for/demand more and more and more. And when some things are checked off the list, the list of criticism grows at an exponential rate, insuring the safety of the connection disordered partner.

“I feel crazy when I try to talk to her/him …”

         The connection disordered person is often quite adept at turning everything back on the partner. If what they said was not ridiculous, the way the said it was ridiculous! They twist everything said to make the partner look crazy, and they do often indeed feel crazy.

“I feel so ashamed that I want to feel loved …”

         The connection disordered partner is often expert at presenting a reality where the need/desire for connection is somehow dysfunctional. Somehow they can make expecting the very least basics of love as something that is totally over the top and very “needy.” They say say things like, “Why can’t you just be satisfied with the way things are? What’s wrong with you?” When they really mean, why can’t you just keep loving and adoring me and stop expecting anything in return? The partner is dismayed and may be deeply damaged emotionally.


ABSOLUTELY! But the challenge is getting them to a place where they WANT help. Although those who receive help later on admit that their lives were “lonely, little, and miserable” internally, their greater concern was SAFETY! Hiding behind indifference was really not all that satisfying, but SAFETY was more important than anything else.

Usually, when they emerge from the shadows and seek help, it’s due to:   

  • Love breaking through the prison bars, and then losing that relationship that shared love that somehow inadvertently snuck in against their better judgment
  • Realizing their relationships with their adult children are suffering (connection disorder is not selective … if you keep love and connection at bay to partners, it is also at bay for adult children)
  • Great loss where they find themselves needing support and find themselves all alone
  • An unexpected “ah-ha” moment
  • Seeking personal growth/development and realizing they were born to be more

When they emerge seeking help, the hope is that they will find someone qualified to deal with the connection disorder with a balance of straightforward truths and delicacy so as not to send them on a sprint back behind their wall of ice and bravado!

Not to oversimplify the process, but they must accomplish and complete three milestones:

  1. Identify the early childhood wounding and complete a healing process around that.
  2. Complete a thorough personal relationship inventory to determine how their connection disorder has damaged others, and make amends as is appropriate.
  3. Learn what connection means and looks like, and master the behaviors that go with it. (They are often like “bulls in an emotional china cabinet” or complete “icemen/icewomen”, and have no clue how to care about others). They often learn new behaviors quickly because the reward of practicing them is profound.

They are not bad people. They are wounded people who have built fortresses around themselves to protect themselves from further damage. You would never guess they were wounded because of their cold fronts and hurtful behaviors. Not to mention their judgmental criticisms when they are not fulfilled by adequate adoration.

It looks like a mess. It often feels horrible in relationship with them, except in the moments when they “turn on the charm.” This makes it challenging to keep the adoration going, and can cause great damage to both parties.

But when the connection disordered person determines to step up and step out, they become different almost overnight. I worked with a man about six months back. He came in saying that his adult son told him that having a relationship with him “required way too much work for far too little benefit.” He came in furious with his “arrogant son,” and wanted to prove him wrong. After a delicate, but straightforward conversation, he looked at me with an almost frightened little boy expression on his face and said, “If you think losing my mama is affecting my relationship with my boy and working on that will fix it, let’s get going.”

Get going we did. In his last session, he brought in his “boy,” a burly, 37 year old young man. There were tears, there were hugs, there was CONNECTION! His “boy” told me that this was the dad he’d been looking for his whole life.

Connection disorder is rampant. It is damaging. It is time we wrestle it to the ground so that those who struggle with it (or actually, behind it), and those that are damaged by it can get to REAL CONNECTION!

I love to dance progressive double two-step. One night a song came on that was the perfect song of the connection disordered person and I was so choked up I almost had to leave the dance floor … The lyrics were:

I am insensitive, I have a tendency

To pay more attention to the things that I need

Sometimes I drink too much, sometimes I test your trust,

Sometimes I don’t know why you’re staying with me

I’m hard to love, hard to love

Oh I don’t make it easy.

I couldn’t do it if I stood where you stood.

I’m hard to love, hard to love

You say that you need me

I don’t deserve it but I love that you love me good.

I am a short fuse, I am a wrecking ball

Crashing into your heart like I do

You’re like a Sunday morning, full of grace and full of Jesus

I wish I could be more like you.

You’ve given me a million second chances

And I don’t ever wanna take you for granted.

I’m hard to love, hard to love

Oh I don’t make it easy.

I couldn’t do it if I stood where you stood.

I’m hard to love, hard to love

You say that you need me

I don’t deserve it but I love that you love me good.

It sealed my resolve to work with connection disordered people, and do my best to make sure that those being damaged would no longer be ripped up; and that those who were connection disordered could come out of their dark  prison and into the light of love and connection!

Don’t give up if you know or are in relationship with someone who is connection disordered. Keep encouraging them. For goodness sake, say a prayer for them. And reach for the awesome person who is locked inside his or her own prison walls of SECURITY and woundedness. Always, always, always, there is someone loveable and awesome in there!