Want to learn how to communicate with an avoidant partner?
If your partner has avoidant attachment, you know just how confusing their behavior can feel. One minute they’re hot, the next they’re cold. And you’re not sure how to avoid triggering them or get them to open up.
How do you communicate with an avoidant individual? Here’s what you need to know!
What is avoidant attachment?
Let’s start from the beginning:
Basics of attachment styles
Attachment styles are based on attachment theory, which explains our relationship patterns. Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby first defined this concept in the 1970s and 1980s.
Our attachment styles are formed in childhood and they determine how we form different relationships; romantic relationships, friendships, work relationships, and more.
There are four attachment styles:
- Secure attachment (a healthy way to attach to others; roughly 50% are securely attached)
- Anxious attachment (anxious-preoccupied attachment style; those with anxious attachment tend to have a negative view of themselves and want a lot of emotional intimacy, but find that their partners don’t want to get as close)
- Avoidant attachment (dismissive-avoidant attachment style; avoidantly attached people want a lot of independence to the extent that they might be seen to shun attachment altogether)
- Disorganized attachment (fearful-avoidant attachment style; wants and fears emotional intimacy at the same time)
Roughly 40% of children are insecurely attached (anxious, avoidant, or disorganized).
Now, let’s look more closely at avoidant attachment.
Avoidant attachment style
Those with avoidant attachment want a lot of independence and don’t want to depend on others. To illustrate this, Mary Ainsworth’s “Strange Situations” experiment measured how children reacted to their parent’s temporary absence.
In the experiment, mothers and their children were put in a room with interesting toys. A stranger would talk to the mother and child and then the mother would temporarily leave the room.
Researchers looked at how the children explored the room and how they reacted when their mothers returned. Those with secure attachment would explore the room and seek comfort from their caregiver when they felt anxious or distressed.
Those with avoidant attachment would not explore much and they didn’t prefer their mothers over strangers. When their mothers returned, they avoided or ignored her.
Those with avoidant attachment carry these behavioral patterns to adulthood.
How do you know if someone is avoidantly attached, then? Here are a few telltale signs:
- Avoidant partners tend to enter relationships quickly, but after 3-6 months they start focusing on the flaws
- They are sensitive to even simple requests
- They have a fear of commitment (a symptom of the fact that they take commitment incredibly seriously)
- They often feel that they get the blame for things that don’t work in the relationship and will try to avoid too much responsibility
- They feel emotionally distant
- They might struggle with perfectionism or fears of failure
- They often have addictions, like work, drugs, alcohol, or gambling
Unfortunately, avoidant individuals often end up in the “anxious-avoidant trap.” Here’s what this means.
Avoidant and anxious relationships
Those with insecure attachment styles (avoidant, anxious, and dismissive attachment) tend to pair with people who confirm their pre-existing beliefs.
In other words, those with avoidant attachment and anxious attachment often end up in relationships.
Anxiously attached individuals are eager to get close to their partners and seek high levels of approval and intimacy from them, but this behavior makes avoidants feel smothered and they will typically start to withdraw. Which will make the anxious partner try to get even closer to their avoidant partner.
This way, both partners reaffirm their pre-existing beliefs about romantic relationships and stay stuck in the “anxious-avoidant trap.”
So, the question is:
How do you know if an avoidantly attached partner likes you? And how do you communicate with them?
That’s what we’ll look at next.
How does an avoidant partner show love?
Avoidantly attached partners often swing from wanting to be with their partner and feeling love to thinking it isn’t enough for them and what they want. Or they might think things like, “I’m bored of this person” or “I don’t know what I liked about them anyway.”
This is an unconscious defense mechanism. If love has been demonstrated in their life through conflict, they might have a tendency to generate conflict in their relationships, to test if it’s “true” love or to simply recreate what feels familiar.
An avoidantly attached partner may also mask feelings of unworthiness by telling themselves that they don’t want this relationship, in order to push you away before you can push them away.
This could manifest in several different ways:
Maybe your partner initiates enough contact to be polite and sustain the connection, but not enough for you to feel secure in the relationship.
Maybe they don’t respond right away to your text messages, but they do eventually respond, and with a perfectly reasonable reply.
They make time for you once or twice a week, but you can’t tell if it’s because they are excited to see you, or they just don’t have anything else going on, and they find you companionable enough.
The thing is:
If they DO like you on a level where they themselves are ready to admit to their own feelings, they will show it. For example, an avoidant who likes you might…
- Introduce you to their family
- Make plans to travel with you
- Invite you to the more intimate parts of their life; for instance, they might leave you alone in their apartment, which is a highly private space for them
I talk about a few more signs here:
But if they do show some affection (say, they sometimes suggest dates or they show you some physical affection), but at the same time they back off, the truth is that there is a contradiction in their feelings. They’re in conflict over it.
And while you might think that they are just not admitting to the “truth” of their feelings because of their defense mechanisms, you have to realize that the conflict they are experiencing is the WHOLE “truth”; not just the part of the truth that you WISH they would entertain more often.
The best you can do is to meet them with emotional honesty and hope that they do the same. In the next few sections, we’ll look at how to communicate with an avoidant partner so that you can do just that.
How do you communicate with an avoidant partner?
The problem with communicating with an avoidant partner is that when you bring up a triggering issue with them, they tend to clam up, joke it off, change the subject, or ignore you.
Knowing that your partner has avoidant attachment can help you avoid specific verbal statements in conversations and turn arguments into much more productive discussions.
First, let’s look at why avoidant partners miscommunicate.
Why avoidant partners miscommunicate
When most people say they struggle with communication, it is usually that they struggle to communicate what it is that they mean. Or they struggle to understand what their partner actually means.
And this results because we are often communicating from a defensive position or with words that mean one thing to us, but something else to our partners.
Either way, we don’t want to appear too vulnerable. And we also don’t want to appear incompetent or incapable. If we struggle to understand and express feelings accurately, talking about the relationship and how you feel about it is going to feel like an invitation to go stomping around a minefield.
So we disguise our meaning with these coded messages that we send to one another, and this is largely unconscious. We don’t realize that’s what we’re doing. In fact, defense mechanisms are defined by their unconscious characteristics.
These defenses also obscure from our own conscious mind, that which it is defending.
Of course, miscommunication isn’t limited to just avoidantly attached folks. But this is the basis for why those with avoidant attachment communicate in a certain way.
For instance, they will feel triggered by certain phrases. And if you’re aware of those phrases, it’ll become much easier to communicate with your partner.
Some of the phrases that might feel particularly annoying to those with avoidant attachment are:
“I know you better than you know yourself.”
“You wouldn’t say/need/do that, if you really loved me.”
“Nothing is wrong, I’m fine.”
“If I have to ask, then it doesn’t count.”
“Keeping [insert anything] private means you’re lying/cheating on me.”
“If you can’t figure that out, then you don’t know me at all.”
How do you overcome these communication barriers, though? The best way to accurately assess what someone else means is to be clear yourself.
This boils down to an ability to decode surface versus deep structure communications. And the deeper structure of communication always points towards a core emotional response. That core emotional response is usually reacting to a need or desire, and our fears around the possibilities of getting those needs and desires met.
Next, we’ll look at how to use surface versus deep structure communications.
The difference between surface structure and deep structure communication
What’s the difference between surface structure and deep structure communication?
Deep structure communications are the “essence” of what someone is trying to communicate. Surface structure communications would be a literal interpretation of the words.
It’s essentially expressing feelings versus expressing information.
For example, Sally, who is anxiously attached, says “I feel like you never listen to me.” First of all, it is not really a feeling statement, but a criticism. Most likely, she does not expect the word ‘never’ to be taken literally, what she is trying to express is the frustration she feels in the moment and the fear that her avoidant partner John is losing interest in her.
So, a deep structured way of saying this would be,
“I feel frustrated and hurt, and I am worried you are losing interest in me.”
Now, this is not bad, but it could be improved. I recommend pre-framing your statement, and including a repair option with your deep structure communications, so your partner has somewhere to go. So, we might add to this statement,
“I don’t want to make assumptions, but I love you so much, and I am feeling frustrated and hurt, because I am worried you are losing interest in me. I am also wondering how you are feeling, and if together we might be able to sort this out.”
A few other examples include…
|Deep Structure||Surface Structure|
|“I love you and I have fun with you. Let’s spend more time together.”||“We never go out.”|
|“I am feeling unappreciated and unimportant. I would really love a gesture of love from you.”||“You always ignore me.”|
|“I feel a deep responsibility to our family and my obligations. It’s hard for me to attend to my own self-care and give myself some ‘me-time.”||“I’m too tired.”|
|“I want to relax but my environment accuses me of falling down on the job. I feel defeated and I am worried you will judge me for it, when I need your support.”||“This house is always a mess.”|
By shifting to a deep structured way of communicating, you are enabling much more productive conversations. Your avoidant partner will have an easier time understanding that what you’re saying isn’t a criticism of them but a reaction to your own feelings.
Want to learn more about deep structured communication? Watch this quick video:
What to do when an avoidant partner pulls away
But what happens when your avoidant partner starts to pull away?
Avoidant partners want more space because it helps them preserve their connections. So to avoid triggering them, which will only result in them pulling back even more, use these tips on how to communicate with an avoidant partner to help them reconnect with their authentic self:
- Ask if they can express themselves and their needs more clearly, while staying in a loving mindset
- Find common ground around the issue or situation at hand
- Show respect and acknowledge their behavior
- Understand that they feel unloved or rejected in some way
- Follow up with them, but don’t chase them because too many messages can keep them frozen
- Assure them that you understand it can be hard for them to be in a relationship, that the issue isn’t about you, and that they should do what they feel they need to do
- If they need space, tell them you’re there for them and it’s no big deal; you have your own passions and pursuits as well
- Show them that you’re not trying to control them by pointing out specific things you appreciate about them, instead of criticizing what they could be doing better
- Try to express your loving feelings in a unique manner that is specific to your relationship, and not a sweeping romantic FANTASY of love in general. In other words: express love without using the “L” word directly (most avoidant partners think you’re just in love with the idea of being in love, if you pop the “L” word too quickly.)
If you use deep structure communication and you come from a place of trying to communicate in a compassionate way, that’s all you can do. You can’t control how the person responds.
If they still don’t meet you where you’re at, you need to look at your values and beliefs and decide from a scale of 1-10 how essential it is for you that your partner meets this particular need in order to feel fulfilled in your relationship.
Maybe it’s just one of the things you disagree on in the relationship. But if it’s something that’s preventing you from residing in the fullest circumference of your spirit,, you might be faced with an incurable incompatibility issue.
How to get an avoidant partner to chase you
One question I hear from time to time is this…
“Is there a way to get your partner to chase you?”
The thing is:
The fact that you’re asking this question might reveal something about yourself, and why you may feel stuck chasing them.
Let me explain:
What an avoidant partner gets out of a relationship is the same thing that everyone does…a sense of connection, validation, inspiration, and comfort. They are just as excited as anyone else to see themselves reflected in your gaze, and feel the regard they have for you in return.
However, the problem is that they have often created an illusion for what will get them what they crave; someone who magically helps them overcome their attachment issues.
And as anxiously attached individuals, (who typically pair up with avoidant folks), are hypervigilant about the needs of those around them, they might subconsciously start to model what they perceive their partner wants.
So, an illusion gets created in the relationship. But as the relationship isn’t built on solid ground, it will start to crumble within a few months.
And the partners have to create real connections; the anxiously attached partner has to know what they want, whereas the avoidantly attached partner needs to let go of their fantasy.
Oftentimes, those with anxious attachment might have a much clearer way of connecting, while avoidant partners don’t have the same capacity for emotional intimacy right now.
And so the real question is…
Why do you want your partner to chase you?
Perhaps you want proof of your lovableness and desirability.
But begging after someone to love you who doesn’t have the same capacity to love you back, is a recipe for resentment, and it is only going to lead to perpetually feeling not good enough or not worthy enough.
What you’re really asking is, “How can I inspire my partner to be somebody other than they are; someone that ticks off all my boxes?”
The answer is you need to release your attachment to this specific person, and realize that what you want is perfectly reasonable and entirely possible, with a more compatible partner!
And what is or is not meant for this person romantically speaking, is not a barometer for YOUR inherent value or worth.
Figure out what YOU want instead of focusing on what your partner wants. Ultimately, your desire to get someone to chase you is likely an ego-based desire, not your true, authentic needs and wants talking.
I talk more about it here:
The six traits that make partners feel attracted
In my private Facebook group for attachment in adult relationships, at this time, we have over 25k members of every attachment style, and when I asked folks to share what made them feel attracted to a partner, there were six primary traits they seemed to look for.
It’s important to note that most of these are not about what the partner is giving them, or even how a partner might respond to them, but rather how the partner shows up with a sense of themselves.
It was less about what they were doing–which was more often than not perceived as a triggering way of trying to fix, dismiss, or maneuver them– and it was more about how they simply felt in this partner’s presence, and what made them implicitly trust this ideal partner’s consistency.
That leads me to the first trait, #1, which is consistency.
To explain what this means, I am going to quote a member from my group:
“Consistency means, you know what you want and don’t wait for me to say what I want, first. And you don’t change what you think or feel because I think or feel something else.
It degrades my trust in your judgement and makes me feel like you don’t know who you really are, or what you really want, so how can you know if you really love and want me, or just someone that fits your fantasy of romance.
I’m not interested in being with someone who’s just in love with the idea of being in love.”
2. Self Possession
This boils down to knowing your value and avoiding seeking too much external validation for it: When you have been taught your whole life to suppress your needs because they are a burden, or because they are deemed secondary to the concerns of other people around you, you can have a habit of looking to the outside world to validate your right to have your feelings or your needs.
“He won’t listen to me or validate my concerns” you say, “so now what do I do?”. To the average person, that is very annoying indeed. And they might choose not to engage with someone like that, and walk away.
But if you are someone who then gets disproportionately upset, because you believe deep down that it must mean your needs truly are invalid, or that you don’t actually have a right to them, simply because this person won’t acknowledge them or agree with you, that’s when you get into trouble.
And this will make you feel triggered and throw you off your center. So be aware of when you start doing that, and try to throw a wrench in that wheel before you start to spiral.
The best way to practice self possession, is to simply adopt the mantra:
“My needs are valid no matter what. And I honor them no matter what.”
This doesn’t require changing who you are. It requires accepting yourself, as you are. Flaws and all. How others respond to this, will give you very good information about whether or not you want to keep THEM around in your life.
That means clearly communicating that you are not a doormat, but you’re not trying to control them, either. Avoidant partners are also likely to test your boundaries, to see what kind of mettle you are made of.
These are folks that abhor weakness and admire strength. So you want to show them that wearing your heart on your sleeve also comes with a back bone. This will coax them out of their shell, assuming a deeper part of their spirit is secretly wanting to be coaxed.
For example, if your insecure partner texts you in the middle of a night for a booty call or endless fantasy sexting extravaganza, instead of dropping everything to rush there, or laboring over capturing the perfect naked pic and filter, you might try ignoring the text until the morning.
And then replying, “Hey, thanks for the message but I don’t text that late at night. If you’d like to get together, I’m attending a happy hour tonight at 6pm after work. Would be great to see you there.”
Have your own hobbies and pursuits besides binge watching netflix and surfing social media. Someone who is engaged with their creative energy is someone who is tapped into their vital energy (which is also considered to be your labido) and that is undeniably attractive.
It also means you are likely to be someone of substance and can bring new perspectives to the relationship.
Additionally, it means your partner won’t feel as afraid or guilty when they ask for alone time or personal space, because they know you will be happy doing your own thing, while they do theirs…as opposed to getting angry or upset, and potentially acting out.
Can you express a need or desire without criticism or judgement? Can you embrace and appreciate the way in which an avoidant partner wants to show you their love, without imagining the many ways they could do it better? If an avoidant individual needs some time alone, do you assume it must be because of you, and something you’ve done wrong? If they want some privacy, do you assume they are hiding something or cheating on you?
If you can assume a non judgemental and accepting attitude, without reading negative or fearful assumptions into the exchanges between you and your partner, they will feel a lot more able to be themselves around you, because they will feel seen and accepted for who they are, not some fantasy of who you’d rather they were.
And they also won’t feel like you expect them to do your emotional labor and heavy lifting.
We might also call this an ability to say “no,” when you need to. Just because you are compassionate doesn’t mean you are a doormat or yes man. In fact, either of those things will turn a partner off.
You can accept someone for who they are with unconditional regard, and still make a discerning choice about how you will allocate your real world physical resources, emotional energy, and time. You can love someone who is completely unable to meet your needs.
Doesn’t make them a villain, or you unworthy or undeserving. It just makes you incompatible. And you’ll never know how compatible you are, unless you use your discernment.
That means you have to say no to some things, as much as you say yes to others. Because your yeses mean nothing without your no’s. This is what gives a partner a sense of challenge and intrigue in a relationship. It makes a partner feel like you are choosing them, not settling for what’s available.
Here is one last final thought on this: If you want them to hear you and take your no seriously, it’s best if you can show up to the conversation without taking things too personally, or feeling too terribly swayed by whatever the insecure person says.
Know what you want first, and focus on that. And then let them be a part of a co-creative solution to getting both your needs met in equal priority. Don’t figure everything out for them, beforehand. Let it unfold in the moment.
Over to you!
There you have it! Now you know how to communicate with an avoidant partner.
What it comes down to is that you work on your communication style and go from surface level to deep structure communication. Ultimately, you can only do so much to communicate with your partner. If both of you are ready to put an effort into the way you communicate, you are much better positioned to build a healthy, working relationship.
What’s your #1 question when it comes to communicating with your avoidant partner?
Let me know in the comments below.