Intimate relationships have the potential to bring out the most raw, uncensored versions of ourselves. You might notice how you are typically unbothered by most people, but your significant other has the ability to push your buttons in the most frustrating way.
When we are in close relationships with others where we want to feel loved, our attachment system becomes activated. The attachment system is the part of you that seeks close proximity to others you care about to feel safe and cared for, create meaning, and even to survive.
Attachment theory explains that everyone has a different way of communicating with others in intimate relationships which were learned early in life. More specifically, the ways we try to get close to others and the way we manage getting disconnected from others.
Did you ever notice how you panic and say things you never thought you would when you think your partner might be abandoning you? Or the way you shut down when your partner starts criticizing you again, even though you know disengaging further won’t help?
These reactions are the attachment system at work.
Learning your partner’s attachment style, or the ways they communicate when the sense a threat of disconnection, can help you understand quirks, build a healthy relationship together, and feel more connected to them.
This post is dedicated to providing some tips for dating an avoidant attachment style so you can understand how to view and navigate their communication style.
How to date an avoidant attachment style
Attachment styles depend on a person’s past experiences (click here for a free quiz to discover your own attachment style) and on how an individual learned to find connection with their caregivers growing up.
Attachment is all about connection to people who we care about and who care about us. Healthy attachments are based on the trust that you can access someone you care about when you need them. That they will be engaged with you, and that they will be responsive to your needs.
Children learn early in life how to respond when they can’t access their caregivers. Typically, they unconsciously keep using these strategies in adulthood. They may develop a dismissive avoidant and fearful avoidant attached, anxious, or a secure attachment style.
- Avoidant- they weren’t able to reach their caregiver and learned not to trust others
- Anxious- they received inconsistent response from caregivers and learned not to trust themselves
- Secure- they reasonably received responses from their caregivers as they were needed
Understanding the avoidant attachment style will completely change the way you understand an avoidant partner. It will transform what you see when they show a lack of interest, act passive aggressive, or disengage in personal space.
Once you better understand the framework, you can support and love your partner, help create a new pattern, and improve your own mental health.
What is an avoidant attachment style?
An avoidant attachment style is developed when someone experiences fairly consistent neglect or rejection from caregivers growing up. They do not find a consistent, reliable way to reach their caregivers when they are needed.
These children learned to suppress or deactivate their attachment system to protect from the pain of further disconnection. This is often correlated with a fear of intimacy and the overarching fear of being rejected.
This experience leads to certain tendencies:
- Beliefs– Others cannot be trusted to be there for me, I must take care of myself
- Emotions– Shame, frustration
- Actions– Withdraw, defend, retreat, pushes their partners away
Insight of the avoidant attachment system can completely transform the way you see your partner and create space for empathy.
When a fight or moment of disconnection happens, and your partner starts to disengage, you can presume the attachment system has been activated.
Activation of the system means that this is an emotionally significant event (i.e., the threat of losing you is stressful and upsetting for them).
How to date someone with avoidant attachment style
The first piece of wisdom when working in attachment cycles is to try not to react. This can be incredibly challenging, especially if an avoidant partner’s withdrawal or apparent lack of interest is triggering for you.
However, if you react in the ways you always do, you are working in the same cycle. You probably know how it will end.
Instead, pause. Take a moment of space and quality time with yourself to get grounded so that you can respond from an emotionally aware place. A 30-minute time out when you realize you are both activated can help you to see more clearly.
Don’t take reactions personally
When an avoidant partner pulls away, defends, or withdraws, their attachment system is activated. The activation means that they are impacted by the fight or the threat of getting disconnected from you. It means they care about you, even though their actions do not look like it on the surface.
The reaction is more about their own experiences and the past that is triggered by your present dynamic. They are often pulling away because they do not believe that anything they do will help the situation. And they want to protect you both from further pain.
Try to see the attachment system at work and avoid taking reactions personally to mean anything about your own worth.
Validate their experience
A person with an avoidant attachment usually has not been told in their life that their feelings are valid. When they receive messages that they are doing something wrong in their reaction, they are only going to pull away and defend themselves even more.
Instead of criticizing, see if you can genuinely validate their experience. This will ease their fears, help them feel safe, and calm the reaction to pull away.
Validating a partner could sound like: “I get how hard it is when we fight. It makes sense that you feel overwhelmed when I get angry. You are so important to me. And I want to talk about this in a way that works for both of us.”
Working with attachment styles can be complex, nuanced work. It can also be nearly impossible to see these dynamics clearly when you are part of it.
A therapist will also help you to uncover your cycle of communication rooted in your individual attachment styles and understand how to develop secure attachment for both of you to each other and to yourselves.
In addition to learning about yourselves and your relationship, an EFT therapist will actually help you in spending time practicing new communication patterns so that you replace old reactions with new, effective responses. This will help reduce damage that is done when partners are activated and keep you connected to each other.
(If you are located in Florida, we offer Marriage Counseling in Naples, FL– virtual services- reach out to inquire about availability.)
Thank you for reading! Be sure to pin this post for future reference.