Abandonment issues, symptoms of which can take a variety of forms, are probably one of the single most common causes of unhealthy relationships and breakups. On one hand, they can lead to jealousy, pushiness and verbal and physical abuse. On the other hand, they can lead to distancing and coldness.

What are the symptoms of abandonment issues and how can we recognize them?

It is helpful to divide abandonment issues symptoms into two categories. These categories are based on the two main categories of defensive styles identified by Harville Hendrix in his books Keeping the Love You Find and Getting the Love You Want.

The first category is called maximizing. Maximizing takes place when a person responds to a failure to get their needs met by becoming overly aggressive and reactive in coping with the resulting wound.

So, for example, if a person’s parents or other significant caregivers are not sufficiently present physically and/or emotionally for them at some formative stage in life, they may, later in life, act in an excessively forward manner trying to fill the void. They also may become very upset or angry at even the perception that someone they care about is not or may soon not be as close to them as they wish.

Abandonment issues symptoms that take this maximizing form can include:

  • Frequent complaints about their partner’s distance
  • Attempts to guilt their partner into being present more often
  • Refusing to accept reasonable boundaries
  • Hints and accusations that their partner has been unfaithful
  • Insistence on being involved in every aspect of their partner’s life


The second category of abandonment issues symptoms is called minimizing. Minimizing takes place when a person responds to a failure to get their needs met by trying to simply cut off awareness of those needs in an attempt to numb the pain of the resulting wound.

So, for example, if a person’s parents or other significant caregivers are not sufficiently present physically and/or emotionally for them at some formative stage in life, they may, later in life, act very stoically and independently, refusing to fully admit their need for healthy attachments or to participate in relationships that could involve the risks associated with intimacy.

Abandonment issues symptoms that take this minimizing form can include:

  • Frequent attempts to cut off emotional discussions, either by changing the subject or physically leaving the situation
  • Refusal to actively show affection
  • Putting down those that openly display vulnerability, painting them as weak
  • Long periods of consistent behavior periodically interrupted by emotional explosions when tensions build to the boiling point.

In most relationships, each partner falls more or less into one of these categories. And understanding these dynamics is especially important since, typically, a maximizer and minimizer attract each other.

So look for these abandonment issues symptoms in your relationships and, when you recognize them, remember that these behaviors are rooted in deep pains from the past. Luckily, with the right techniques, such as those championed in Imago Relationship Therapy, abandonment issues can be resolved when partners work together to do so. And this can lead to a very powerful connection and lasting love.

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