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Your Partner Has An Avoidant Attachment Style, Now What?

avoidant attachment

Midlife & Beyond Dating: Illa Lynn

Unlocking the fascinating world of attachment styles will change the way you view relationships forever.

My previous articles might have helped you identify your attachment style, as well as that of your partner. Now you might be wondering, how do I navigate being together with someone who identifies as an avoidant?

Of the four attachment styles discussed previously, the Avoidant attachment brings up most questions and is most challenging for most couples. It is also a vastly misunderstood attachment style – in my personal and professional experience. As a former avoidant, I will help you understand how we think. Why do we behave the way we do? And what we need from our partners to feel safe in our relationship.

Avoidant Attachment:

We will address the three common avoidant behaviors. Then we will go over strategies essential to cultivate trust and safety long-term. You can also benefit from this article, if you identify as an avoidant. Understanding yourself better will enable you to share with your partner what you need and be less afraid of losing autonomy and safety in your relationship.

“When things get intense or too overwhelming, this usually manifests as pulling away.”

1. Emotional Distance:

Avoidants often isolate their emotions, creating a sense of emotional distance among their partners. When things get intense or too overwhelming, this usually manifests as pulling away – making it challenging to have a meaningful conversation. This is rooted in their inability to set healthy boundaries and ask for space in a constructive way. A term used to describe this behavior is deactivation and it can last from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the individual.

This naturally causes the other partner to feel anxious, abandoned, or unsafe, which may be expressed through frustration or blaming the avoidant. Alternatively, you may want to discuss things, as most relationship experts advise you to do; however, traditional relationship advice often backfires instead of improving your situation. 

In this scenario, the more you lean in, the more they lean out and even run away. Instead, try this.

Create A Safe Space:

Objectively approaching the situation is crucial to breaking down this emotional wall, brick by brick. Be curious to understand the avoidant’s feelings and create a safe space for them to express themselves without judgment.

This will take time and adjustment on your part, so be patient and let them know their emotions are valid. Many avoidant attached individuals are incapable of opening up and becoming close, however when they notice that their partner is letting them have the space they need, they become less reluctant to try. 

Here you might ask, so why is it that I have to be the bigger person here? That’s unfair. And rightfully so. Being in this relationship is not for the faint hearted and as a partner it is important to set gentle boundaries for yourself and for them. Just because they behave this way, does not mean that you need to put up with this behavior. Use discernment for yourself as you decide if investing in the person is something you have capacity to do and if they are willing to work on becoming secure.

“Just because they behave this way, does not mean that you need to put up with this behavior.”

Less Is More:

2. Hyper-Indepence Is The Word:

Avoidants value their independence to a very high degree. In certain aspects of their lives, they may prefer to take on life and decisions alone, leaving their partner feeling excluded or unimportant. They don’t do it on purpose, as one might think. In this way, they protect themselves from judgment and feeling inadequate in their partner’s eyes.

Growing up, they may have been left to fend for themselves, so they have developed a belief that they need to do it all alone. Since they flexed their independence muscles so early on, hyper-independence has become their value by default. 

They will perceive anything that makes them feel confined as a threat, even if their partner genuinely wants to spend quality time with them often, or asks to receive daily texts for reassurance that everything is ok and they have nothing to worry about.

Less is more in this case.

Insecurities In The Avoidant:

Giving each other space is a healthy way to flourish in a relationship. Avoid saying things like “You never, or you always…” as they are seen as an attack and will trigger insecurities in the avoidant. It is important to understand that their behavior is rooted in fear. The fear of being engulfed, the fear of being inadequate, the fear of being perceived as less worthy by their partner, and lastly fear of abandonment. 

Engage in activities together that honor independence and togetherness. Set aside “me time” for each partner while also exploring shared interests and activities. The first few months will be a period of trying and failing, so be patient with each other and work on understanding what each of your needs are. The key to long-term connection is cultivating a learner mindset and working on yourself intentionally and consistently. Weekly check-ins might be a good way to start, if they are willing to take action and have become aware of their insecure attachment.

“Set aside “me time” for each partner while also exploring shared interests and activities.”

If at any point you feel like this person might not be reciprocating the effort and is wasting your time, it is ok to call them out on it. This has a potential to shake them up a little and make them reassess their lack of action. If they are afraid to lose you they will show effort in meeting you halfway. This will take courage and acceptance,  they might choose to walk away from you. Therefore make certain you are prepared for it when you make the discussion.

Early Stages Of Dating:

3. Dodging Vulnerability:

Avoidants are skilled at avoiding vulnerability like seasoned escape artists. Their conversation might be surface level and they might change topics when it gets too deep for comfort. While couples rely on emotional connection and intimacy to foster a relationship, avoidants do the exact opposite.

The best approach is to let them come to you rather than chase after them full force. However it is important to display interest and show them that you have the capacity to see life through their eyes. In this way, you will demonstrate to them that you are a person who gets them. You might be inclined to ask them  “why do you do this?” which can be extremely triggering for them.

They will not be able to explain why, as when they pull away it is not intentional, it is their nervous system dysregulation that makes them freeze. Your desire for explanation can feel suffocating, and that makes it very difficult for them to open up, especially in the early stages of dating.

Building Trust And Intimacy With An Avoidant:

Many couples who find themselves in Situationships might be with someone who has an avoidant attachment. They might say: ”I am not really ready for a relationship, or let’s not use any labels.” This can translate to “I am afraid to commit, because I will lose my independence.” or “Keeping you at distance is safer, in case you decide to break my heart.” 

Building trust and intimacy gradually is ideal. It is possible to learn how to speak in a non-threatening manner and get them to open up. Share your vulnerabilities and create a safe space for them to reciprocate. It’s important not to push vulnerability, but rather to let it happen organically.

Your attachment style and where you stand in this partnership will determine how easy or difficult it is for you to navigate being with someone who shows avoidant behavior. People with anxiety often find this kind of dynamic very challenging and are left confused and heartbroken, while people with secure attachments are better equipped emotionally to handle these inconsistencies. 

“Share your vulnerabilities and create a safe space for them to reciprocate.”

Conclusion:

Relationships with someone who has an avoidant attachment style require patience, understanding, and commitment to growth. 

It is important to recognize common behaviors like emotional distance, independence, and avoidance, so that partners can put in place proactive strategies for long-term safety and trust. Keeping communication open, understanding triggers, and seeking professional guidance when needed, are all important elements of fostering a healthy relationship with an avoidant partner. It can get better, and avoidants can become secure, but it is up to the individual to do the work.

Love is a journey, and with the right map, any couple can find their way to a stronger and more connected future with the right guidance, information, and means to invest in each other.

Next time we will discuss the anxious attachment style. Post mark this article to come back to, and share it with a friend who might benefit from learning about the topic as well. 

And feel free to use the article comment section if you have any questions you would like me to answer.

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About the Author:

Illa Lynn is a former corporate health care leader turned Life Coach who specializes in Relationship Coaching for women. In addition to her ten years of academic and professional training, she specializes in dating after 40. Specifically dating after divorce, or toxic love. Using her psychology background and intuitive nature, Illa helps women open up to love again. In three steps, Illa guides women to create lasting, authentic relationships founded on transparency, respect, and trust. Follow Illa on LinkedIN for more tips and tricks on dating.