Oedipus in Brooklyn: Stop Avoiding Relationships - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

avoidance-in-relationshipsAvoidance in relationships can be an unconscious pushing away for reasons unknown. Being aware means you’ll be able to move toward a positive relationship.

We all know the cliche about how our relationships can reflect our parents. The idea is that a person seeks out someone like their mother or father. It’s the biggest cliche about psychology, right? The story of Oedipus.

Just a recap for those for whom it’s been a while since high school English class:

King and Queen give birth to a son and there’s a prophesy that the son will kill dad and marry mom. (Spoiler alert: in Greek tragedy when there’s a prophesy, you can bet it’s going to come true.) King and Queen send that son away to be killed. Son escapes being killed. Son grows up not knowing who his parents are and ends up killing a king of a far off land (who happens to be his dad) and marrying that king’s widow (yikes, his mom). Prophesy attained. Son and Queen discover what happened a little too late, she kills herself, he blinds himself. The end.

Just why is this such a bedrock of Freudians everywhere? Well, you’ll have to talk to them.

What I take away from this are two tendencies we often have with regard to difficult emotions. Coincidentally I feel this is where therapy can be most helpful: being unaware and avoidance.


Some similarities, but it’s worth separating the two.

There’s a lot of information in the world and we couldn’t possibly take it all in. I know people who regularly–sometimes proudly–go on “news fasts” where they decide that they’re not going to read or listen to current events for a while.


Yes, there’s lots of bad news out there and if you don’t take it all to heart, all the better. You may find that you are happier, lighter, even.

But what you would be missing is Joseph Campbell‘s advice to “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”

If you avoid, then ignorance is bliss.

This avoiding can also be done for ourselves and our feelings. Many of us don’t take the step of looking and examining things we are afraid of, things that make us anxious, or sad, or depressed.

These are things that we understandably try to avoid.

We can get away with avoiding them for some amount of time, but eventually all the sit-coms, loud music, and sex will give way and those feelings will push themselves out. Sometimes they’ll do it in physical ways, sometimes in emotional ways, but they can only stay dormant for so long.

It’s like gas as a young client reminded me. Suppress it and hold it in all you want, but you’re going to fart and it’ll be when you least want too.

Avoiding can be a healthy adaptation at times, especially in the short run. If you easily get sucked in to a Netflix series when you want to be working on your writing you might find it easier on yourself to cancel your subscription. If you are trying to get fit you might work to keep potato chips out of your pantry. But if you hope to stay OITNB or trans fat free the avoidance is not enough. You need to be aware of what feeling is underneath that.

What are the busying things allowing you to avoid—consciously or not? Once the remote is out of your hands, what else comes up to help you avoid what you want to do? What is the feeling that you are avoiding? I’ve written elsewhere about how over-thinking leads to an avoidance of emotion. 

But how does this relate back to our partners?

Let’s take avoidance and raise it to the next power of not being aware.

Being Unaware

One of the reasons that Ignorance is Bliss is because there’s the belief that if we don’t know something we can’t be held accountable for it. And if we’re not accountable and don’t have responsibility then we are not in trouble with it all goes downhill. Politicians call it “plausible deniability.” Some therapists may call it “denial,” (which many people avoid by not going to therapy so they don’t have a snarky therapist call them out in this way.) Many of us just see it as a coping strategy that works…until it doesn’t anymore.

Denial plays an important function for people and I want to stress that true denial is unconscious. This is not the boy who stole the cookie right in front of you and says, “I didn’t do it.” (That’s probably a lie, coupled nicely with magical thinking, an important developmental stage so don’t get too angry with him). With denial, you really have no sense of that connection.

If you take a look at your relationship and can see parallels with your partner and a parent you are then able to relate to your partner differently. Of course people replicate aspects of their parents’ relationship in their own relationship because that is usually the strongest model for how two intimates relate to each other.

What’s important is to recognize it, because once you do you can then consciously choose to relate to your partner more fully as your partner and not as a version of your parent.

See, it doesn’t have to be all that weird.

Note when you’re avoiding feelings in a relationship and don’t run away from qualities in your partner that remind you of a parent. They may be informing you of a dynamic that is positive or negative, but you want to have your eyes fully open–unlike King Oeddie.


If you’re in a relationship, or working toward one, and know that you you are really good and finding ways to end it, feel free to drop me a line and perhaps we can uncover together whatever is getting in your way. If you’re a guy and wondering whether talking to someone is for you, take this test   “Should I Talk to Someone?”     to find out!

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.