Have you ever started dating someone, and after a romantic weekend together, POOF he disappears?
Or perhaps you meet someone, and it starts off hot and heavy. You’re texting daily and can’t wait to see each other again. But suddenly, the communication starts to fade, and you find yourself chasing, yearning and waiting for their attention?
If these scenarios sound familiar to you, this might be an indication that you dated or are dating someone with an avoidant attachment style.
Our attachment system is a mechanism in our brain responsible for tracking and monitoring the safety and availability of our attachment figures. Many attachment theorists believe that by the age of five, we develop a primary attachment style that will more or less define the way we emotionally bond and attach to others in our adult lives. There are three primary attachment styles: secure, avoidant and anxious.
People with an avoidant attachment style have a deep-rooted fear of losing their autonomy and freedom in a relationship.
People with an avoidant attachment style have a deep-rooted fear of losing their autonomy and freedom in a relationship. Subconsciously, they equate intimacy with a loss of independence and when someone gets too close, they turn to deactivating strategies – tactics used to squelch intimacy. Deactivating strategies include: pulling away when things are going well, focusing on small imperfections in their partner as a way out, forming relationships with an impossible future, and/or waiting for the perfect unicorn – the “one” that exists only exists in fantasy, not reality.
Avoidants have built a defensive stance and subconsciously suppress their attachment system. While they can get into relationships, they have a tendency to keep an emotional distance with their partner.
Our attachment style is on a spectrum, and can change over time and shift based on the person you are dating. Some people can bring out the anxious or avoidant in you, swaying you further on one side of the spectrum.
If you are dating someone with an avoidant attachment style, relationship bliss isn’t necessarily doomed. You just have to understand that their wiring is different from yours, and that they require lower levels of intimacy and closeness than people with secure/anxious attachment styles. If you’re more anxious, you likely need consistent, constant communication, however, someone with an avoidant attachment style is comfortable with minimal communication. Their minimal needs for constant connection doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of interest, it indicates that their needs are just different.
Avoidants make up approximately 25 percent of the population, so the chances of finding and dating one is high. If both partners have the determination to work together to become more secure, it can be an extremely enriching, loving relationship—though it will take a little bit more work upfront. You can learn what your avoidant partner’s triggers are, and how to best respond to make them feel loved without feeling suffocated.
Here are some tips on how to date, and love an avoidant type:
Communicate with words, not tantrums
Maybe it drives you nuts when he doesn’t contact you for an entire day. The tension may build up for you as you’re counting down the minutes until he responds, causing you to blow up his phone (triple dip text anyone?) or send a passive aggressive message. When you’re in this anxious, resentful state – do not engage!
Get yourself into a calm state by meditating, or exercising to shake off the angst and stress chemicals. Whatever you do, don’t keep messaging while you’re in an anxious, low-vibe state. This energy is felt, you’re not fooling anyone with a happy face emoticon. When you self-soothe and get yourself in a positive state, find time to communicate your needs and preferences to your partner. Communicating in a healthy, adult way means not making demands, trying to control or enforce behavior with ultimatums (that’s a sure way to get an avoidant to run the opposite direction).
When you express your need for connection and communication without attacking, you can both come up with action items that will meet your needs for connection, and his needs for space and freedom. For example, the next time he feels an inclination to “go poof” into his mancave, he can give you a heads up that he’s taking some space and will reply the next day. Because you’ve negotiated this ahead of time, you’ll know that it’s nothing personal, or a threat to the relationship. Of course, he won’t be able to change his behavior to accommodate all your emotional triggers if you sway more anxious. But the more secure you are in your attachment, the less you’ll take it personally when he’s taking space.
Practice patience when he pushes you away.
Avoidants feel safe when their autonomy or independence is not threatened, so when he withdraws, know that it’s not necessarily a sign of rejection. For a while, he may go through cycles of getting close and then stepping back. A pursue-withdraw dynamic is when one person pursues the other’s feelings and the other withdraws out of fear that they will only make the situation worse. If this dynamic continues for an extended amount of time, it can be very toxic for a relationship. But this dynamic can be fixed by identifying one another’s underlying needs in conflict situations. If your avoidant partner is not ready to talk about his or her feelings and needs personal space, be patient and give it to them, as pushing or pressuring them will only make them more likely to withdraw.
Look at his intentions.
Especially if you are an anxious type, you may feel hyper-vigilant, intensely monitoring the emotions of your partner and extremely sensitive to cues that your partner may be pulling away. But quickly jumping to conclusions causes you to misinterpret each other’s emotional state, which can cause conflict and strife for no reason. Before you react, take a moment to look at your partner’s intentions. Then, gather more information and evidence before making a judgment. You’ll be surprised by how much easier it will be to accurately understand the situation when you delay your initial fear-based reaction. Learn how to separate your interpretations and assumptions from the facts of the situation. Perhaps he’s focused on work and in that zone he’s not thinking of communication. This doesn’t mean the relationship is in jeopardy. Looking at the facts and his intentions can help provide perspective so your assumptions don’t pull you into an emotional spiral.
Pick activities as dates.
Avoidants have the tendency to get lost in their head and overthink things. So opt for quality time while doing activities—such as a hike or run, or even trying out a new sport together. This way, he’s present and in the moment while you bond and connect—and he’ll be more likely to relax and show you affection. The more you bond, the more oxytocin and vasopressin is developed – the bonding chemicals that create trust and rapport.
Support, Not Fix
One of the greatest struggles avoidants have is a difficulty recognizing their own emotions, let alone talking about them. However, significant research shows that simply naming our feelings is key in diffusing and managing them. Psychologist Dan Siegel refers to this practice as “name it to tame it.” He says, “Emotions are just a form of energy, forever seeking expression.” And finding the right words is the first step in expressing them. Encourage your partner to journal, which will help him get in touch with emotions, rather than disassociating from them. However, be careful to not want your partner’s growth more than he does. If he’s not invested in growing, and working together to move forward, you will either need to accept him as is, or move on. If his avoidant attachment style is causing you too much pain, you’ll need to decide if a more secure partner is a better fit for you in the long run.
Avoidants need and want love, just as much as you do
A significant amount of research suggests that an avoidant attachment is the outcome of parents who were overly controlling, smothering or mis-attuned to their child’s needs. Do not judge or shame someone with an avoidant attachment style – their early childhood experiences wired their relationship to intimacy in a way that often causes them great loneliness. They subconsciously suppress their attachment system – this is often something they’re unaware that they’re doing.
While it may sound challenging to date someone with an avoidant attachment style, the good news is, through support from their partner and their own self-work, they can move from avoidant to secure. Once they realize that they are safe and intimacy will not control or cause them the same pain they experienced as a child, a healthier narrative becomes reaffirmed through time and experience, and they gradually rewire their baseline.