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The bonds we form with other people, whether romantic or platonic, are driven by several compounding factors that help direct the way we connect with them.
Attachment styles are a way that mental health professionals explain this. There are four types in the attachment style framework: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.
These attachment styles are meant to help explain the safety and availability we feel toward other people.
Though we will focus on avoidant attachment styles for the purpose of this article, we will take a brief look at the other attachment styles so you can better understand the whole picture.
Why does that matter?
Because of a common, mistaken belief that attachment styles are black and white, something forged in childhood that sticks with you for the rest of your life. This is simply not true.
Though some groundwork is laid with how a parent or guardian interacts with their child, that person will continue to evolve from the experiences they have as they grow older.
Furthermore, a person may have multiple attachment styles in the same relationship or have different attachment styles with different people.
Attachment styles can change and evolve. That change may be a subconscious response to the experiences that we have as we get older. It may also be a conscious choice to change the way we conduct our relationships. It’s not an easy thing to do. Unlearning old habits and creating new ones takes time.
The Four Adult Attachment Styles
A person with a secure attachment style is typically viewed as the healthiest. This is a person who desires but does not crave their relationship partner to provide fulfillment.
They tend to be mentally and emotionally resilient, comfortable with intimacy without fear of codependency, and care for their partner, who they want to be cared for by.
The securely attached romantic partner is often a good communicator about their feelings, forgives quickly, and avoids manipulation.
An anxious-preoccupied person seeks high levels of interaction, responsiveness, and intimacy from their partner, often venturing into overly dependent behavior.
They may have low self-esteem, trust issues, and worry more about their relationships. The anxious-preoccupied partner may over-analyze their interactions with their partner, finding fault and worries where none exist.
These individuals may find that their worries become self-fulfilling prophecies because of self-sabotage.
People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style often appear to avoid attachment and intimate relationships with other people.
They tend to view people as unreliable, untrustworthy, and unable to provide the kind of emotional fulfillment they require.
They may also be the type of person to feed their ego and self-esteem through accomplishments and achievements, sometimes to an unhealthy level.
They tend to have a favorable view of themselves through their own accomplishments and generally do not seek approval or acceptance from others.
Independence is a strongly correlated characteristic. The dismissive-avoidant person may go as far as to reject any potential relationships or intimacy if they feel like they are too close.
The fearful-avoidant attachment style usually features mixed feelings about relationships.
On the one hand, they crave the closeness and intimacy of a relationship. On the other hand, they are deeply fearful of losing intimacy and may feel unworthy of being loved.
Thus, they tend to suppress their emotions and not initiate intimacy with other people.
How Do I Know If I’m Dating An Avoidant Partner?
You can look for some signs that will help you determine whether or not you are dating a person with an avoidant attachment style.
1. They have difficulty with negative emotions.
An avoidant partner will often use strategies like distancing to keep away from your negative emotions. This may come off as passive-aggressive or even anger as they seek to create some space.
The behavior may seem like they are not interested in having those difficult conversations with you, but that’s usually not the case. What is actually happening is the negative emotions are triggering their anxiety and fear and evoking a defensive response.
2. Communication and emotions are complicated.
Avoidant partners have a hard time communicating about emotions. And the more stressed they are, the worse they do at reading their partner because of their own anxiety and fear.
They may step away from difficult conversations altogether or quickly move on after arguments, whether they are resolved or not.
3. They may suppress their grief and loss.
Grief and loss have a distinct effect on a person’s mental and physiological state. People with an avoidant attachment style are exceptionally good at squashing and denying those feelings.
It’s not that they don’t feel them. Instead, they avoid mentally acknowledging them as other people do, and they will generally avoid talking about them.
This can give the appearance of a person who handles grief and loss exceptionally well. Still, in reality, they are avoiding their negative emotions.
4. They never ask for help.
To ask for help is to in-debt oneself to another person. This is not something that an avoidant partner wants to do.
Asking for help makes their independence and autonomy feel threatened to the point where they will likely refuse any help and just suffer through whatever the problem may be.
They may also not offer help when it’s clear that it’s needed for the same reason – they don’t want to foster or encourage dependence on them so they won’t feel constrained.
5. They may float in relationship limbo to avoid commitment.
People who have avoidant attachment styles crave intimacy and connection as much as anyone else. They just don’t have healthy mechanisms for navigating those relationships.
Thus they may choose not to navigate them at all. They may be fine spending time with someone they are enamored with but don’t want to put a label on it or discuss the relationship’s more significant ramifications.
The reason is that defining the relationship can be viewed as becoming more dependent on that partner, which leaves them vulnerable to the pain of relationships and possible rejection.
7 Ways To Manage A Relationship With A Person With Avoidant Attachment Style
It may seem like a relationship with a person with an avoidant attachment style is difficult or impossible.
A good relationship with an avoidant partner is possible by understanding how they function in relationships and working to accommodate their needs.
That approach requires some balance because there is a point where the scales can tip too far in their direction.
Both parties will need to work at making the relationship healthy and fulfilling. The avoidant partner will need to correct some of their relationship behaviors, and their partner will need to offer patience and some accommodation.
1. Avoidant partners typically require less communication and intimacy.
Of the different attachment styles, avoidant partners typically require less communication and intimacy to feel that they are maintaining their relationships.
That may mean not getting a message for a day or two as they go about their lives. It doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking of their partner or value them less than people who require more communication. They just have a lower threshold of need.
Too much communication and intimacy can make them feel suffocated or restricted in the relationship, resulting in conflict.
There is a balance to be struck. A day of no communication isn’t that big of a deal. Multiple days or weeks is a significant problem that may indicate a lack of interest.
It is reasonable to set a time-frame for communication with an avoidant partner. Like, “Can we check in at least once a day?” It’s also reasonable to want to have individual time to oneself, like taking a weekend by yourself to unwind.
Communication is important. If the avoidant partner wants some time to themselves, they can be expected to tell you so that you know what’s going on.
2. Offer patience when the person pulls away.
An avoidant partner feels threatened when their independence and autonomy is threatened. They may pull away periodically because of those feelings of discomfort.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing so long as it doesn’t become a default game of withdrawing and pursuing.
You don’t want to spend your time chasing after someone who purposefully pulls away as a means of control or manipulation. This behavior can be controlled by the avoidant partner if they are aware of it and willing to try to stay engaged and present.
However, the other side of this is that sometimes the avoidant partner will just need time to recalibrate. They may need personal space to sort out their feelings or feel ready to come to the table to discuss a problem.
Pursuing is not a good idea. Pursuit generally makes the avoidant partner feel more threatened, so they withdraw further to create distance.
3. Activities are better for bonding.
Physical activities are typically better for bonding with an avoidant partner because they can easily get lost in themselves and their emotions.
An activity like painting, hiking, or trying something new can help develop and forge a bond better than activities that require a lot of mental investment.
These bonding activities will help create greater trust and intimacy in the relationship.
4. Use compromise and bargaining tactfully.
An avoidant partner will feel like their independence is being threatened if they have to agree to do things that they’d rather not do.
This might include how you spend your time together, the choices you make regarding vacation destinations, or which restaurant you go to.
To help them feel less like they are losing out on the things they want to do, you can compromise and agree to some of their wishes, but you can do so by making a clear bargain that allows some of your preferences to be met too.
For instance, if they really want to go see a particular movie and you have a different one in mind, you can agree to their movie on the understanding that you visit a restaurant of your choosing before or after.
Or if you want them to come with you to see your family whereas they would prefer to stay at home, you can tell them that they can spend the rest of the weekend doing whatever they like – with or without you.
If something is really important to you, you should feel able to tell them that, but even then, you can make them feel more enthusiastic about it by promising to fulfill their wishes another time.
5. Examine the intentions of your partner.
The avoidant partner’s behavior and distance can create fear for an anxious partner. An anxious partner tends to be more sensitive and overthink more than an avoidant partner.
But you can cut through that initial fear-based response by looking at your partner’s intentions and checking to see if they align with their statements.
Suppose the avoidant partner was going on a weekend solo-hiking trip. In that case, it’s reasonable that they will be out of communication range for a little while.
Furthermore, suppose they decided to just stay in and have an evening to themselves. In that case, your partner may not be paying attention to their phone if you decide to message.
Try to avoid assuming your avoidant partner’s intentions and see them as they are.
6. Support your partner as they work on themselves.
Tackling an avoidant attachment style is a large project, but do understand that it is self-improvement.
You can’t fix your avoidant partner’s problems for them, particularly if they don’t view the way they function as a problem. Offer support and patience where you can, but don’t get hung up on the end result.
7. Adjust your expectations of your partner.
If your attachment style is more closely aligned with the secure or anxious-preoccupied styles (remember, it can be mixed and fluid), then you and your partner will have some quite different preferences when it comes to intimacy, communication, and even lifestyle.
It is important to note that neither approach is right or wrong.
But if you and your partner’s preferences differ, you will have to consider whether your expectations of them and what you believe a relationship should be like are realistic in this instance.
Again, don’t confuse this with bowing to their wants and needs 100% of the time. There does have to be an element of effort from both parties to accommodate the other and how they wish to exist and express themselves in the partnership you seek to forge.
Still not sure how best to cope with an avoidant partner and make the relationship a success? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
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