What is Avoidant Attachment in Relationships? (Traits & Triggers)

Are you an avoidant type or in a relationship with someone who is? 

Dating an avoidant partner, or being one, is more common than you think yet many ask me: “What is avoidant attachment in relationships?” 

Want to learn how to change your existing beliefs? Curious to finally find happiness and security in your relationships? Keep reading.

What is your attachment style is? Take the quiz! 

What is avoidant attachment?

We all have an attachment style in relationships, avoidant being one. In fact, our attachment styles start from infancy. Here’s what you need to know.

Background on the theory of attachment

How did attachment theory evolve?

The theory of attachment was developed by John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst. His studies attempted to comprehend the distress of an infant separated from its parents.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, was the first to systematically define these infant-parent separations. Then, her apprentice Mary Main further built upon Ainsworth’s work to define the four attachment categories in relationships we use today:

  1. Anxious: Adults who struggle with feelings of unworthiness
  2. Avoidant: Adults who avoid commitment rooted in feelings of fear
  3. Disorganized: Adults with insecurity and unpredictable behaviors
  4. Secure: Adults with a positive self-image and who are open to romance


In 1987, Hazan and Shaver observed that romantic love is the same “affectional bond” that we share with our parents on a biosocial level. An adult’s security within relationships is a partial reflection of their past experiences with their primary caregiver. 

You see, it’s our earliest relationships that define our expectations, beliefs, rules, and scripts about intimate relationships as adults.

Avoidant attachment in children means that children reject their caregiver even if they want to be close to them or reject physical contact. 

An avoidant child might have a child-caregiver relationship in which, when the adult leaves, the child doesn’t appear too distressed about the separation. When the adult returns, the child actively avoids seeking contact and turns their attention to other things.

There are two types of avoidant attachment, fearful-avoidant and dismissive-avoidant, which we’ll look at below. 

In general, avoidant adults tend to be emotionally unavailable. They put distance between themselves and their partner, because of discomfort with too much closeness. 

Why? They have likely been taught that talking about feelings is unacceptable and would lead to being burdensome. 

They often struggle with understanding what they are feeling on a deeper level and might be confused about what they really want or how to articulate it. Avoidant individuals might be afraid of being abandoned and so they abandon their relationships first. 

With this in mind, what are some signs of a person with an avoidant attachment style? That’s what we’ll look at next.


Signs of avoidant attachment

What is it like to have an avoidant attachment style? Here are some telltale signs that you may be avoidant or dating someone who is.

  • You tend to enter a relationship quickly. But after 3-6 months, you start focusing on the flaws in it. And you can’t take your mind off all the opportunities out there.
  • At the same time, you’re often described as having a fear of commitment. But your lack of commitment is actually a symptom of the fact that you take commitment incredibly seriously. 
  • You are sensitive to even simple requests because you feel that partners usually demand too much of you. 
  • And as you feel that you will get blamed for things that don’t work in the relationship, you try to avoid too much responsibility. 
  • You feel emotionally distant, but your feelings can get intense in a way that might scare you. 
  • You might struggle with fears of failure or perfectionism. However, you act the opposite to avoid being seen as weak or vulnerable. 
  • The types of people you’re drawn to are “challenging” and make you work for it. That’s because deep down, you believe you have to earn love and approval. 
  • But if a partner is “too nice” (giving you love and affection freely), you question your ability to make them happy and see them as boring. 
  • You might have addictions, like food abuse, alcohol abuse, work addiction, and so on. 


Recognize yourself or your partner in these avoidant attachment signs? Well, to fully understand avoidant behavior, you need to understand the different avoidant attachment styles. 

The two avoidant attachment styles

There are two styles within avoidant attachment: fearful-avoidant and dismissive-avoidant. While both are avoidant types, their behavior tends to differ. 

Fearful-avoidant attachment

I’ve always found that “fearful-avoidant” sounds too judgy. That’s why I like to call these individuals “Spice of Lifers,” people who want connection, but also fear it. 

Who is a Spice of Lifers?

They tend to be suspicious and distrustful of their partner’s love, as well as their own ability to sustain a healthy romantic relationship. They are often overly sensitive towards even benign requests for emotional contact.

To understand an example of someone with Fearful-Avoidant Attachment, let’s take Anna. Anna is passionately expressive, so creativity and art may appeal to her. 

Anna deeply yearns for love but is desperately fearful of it. She desires deep connection but is scared of being abandoned or rejected.

As a result, Anna tends to sabotage her relationships. She gets annoyed when her partner asks anything from her and her behavior is unpredictable. 

Her feelings go from hot to cold before a relationship really begins. 

She goes from being loving and interested in her partner, to distant, apathetic, and numb towards them for no reason at all.

Anna falls into a cycle of short relationships that burn brightly but fizzle out quickly. As she continues this behavior, we could describe her attachment style as “fearful-avoidant.”

Dismissive-avoidant attachment

I refer to these folks as “Rolling Stones.” (Because who wants to be referred to as “dismissive-avoidant”? That’s right, I don’t believe we need these negative labels.) 

As the name suggests, these individuals are cut off from their emotions. They are unable to reach the same loving and reciprocal emotional “volume” that their partners are capable of and deeply desire. 

For someone with Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment, let’s take the example of Amy. 

Amy is independent and most of her social interactions are with amicable acquaintances.

Despite falling headlong into relationships, after three months, she feels overwhelmed. Amy inevitably pulls back and finds relief in some distance.

She finds comfort in being in control, but this transforms into vulnerability, anxiety, and fears of abandonment. At the same time, she becomes intensely jealous if her partner moves on, so she’ll go above and beyond to regain their undivided attention.

This usually spirals down into the anxious-avoidant trap. If Amy were to maintain this position, we might describe her attachment style as “dismissive-avoidant.”

So, now you know what avoidant attachment is and your avoidant attachment style. But how is it formed? Let’s take a look. 

What is your attachment style is? Take the quiz! 

How is the avoidant attachment style formed?

Attachment styles are developed through the relationships we have with those who took care of us as children and our adult relationships. So what forms avoidant attachment specifically?

Those who form insecure attachment styles in childhood typically grew up in environments that were emotionally dismissive, enmeshed, or a combination of the two. 

What does this mean?

Dismissive households lack emotional contact and disqualify emotions that are unpleasant like invalidating negative feelings as unacceptable. 

Enmeshed homes, on the other hand, disregard personal boundaries and allow little to no privacy. This includes unregulated emotions like shame, anger, depression, anxiety, fear, explosivity, and unresolved grief.

These types of environments can lead to confusion and anxiety around understanding one’s own physical and emotional cues. People who grew up in these households have trouble distinguishing and expressing their feelings correctly. That’s why many of them become emotionally unavailable.

Take a look at this quick video for more on this: 

On the other hand, some adults may develop avoidant behaviors. For example, a secure type can become avoidant, or vice versa, based on their experiences with an avoidant/secure partner.

That’s how avoidant attachment is formed. But how does it affect your relationships?

How does avoidant attachment affect relationships?

Emotional unavailability is easy to spot in relationships. Many of us have dated someone who uses avoidance to manage their feelings as a coping mechanism.

When you bring up a triggering issue with an emotionally unavailable person, they tend to clam up, ignore you, or change the subject. They might even make a joke, try to act tougher, or deny your observations altogether writing them off as unimportant. 

As you can imagine, these behaviors can drastically affect relationships.


What does it look like to date an avoidant partner?

Do you, or your partner, play hard-to-get? Research shows that people with insecure attachment styles typically play this dating game

It can take the form of “breadcrumbing” or “benching” a partner. This gives avoidant individuals control while giving the partner just enough to keep them holding on. 

Now, it’s not so much about the relationship but rather helping the avoidant person feel in control. Remember, some avoidants act out of fear so they’re simply doing what they think is necessary to protect themselves.

Sound familiar? Here are six signs to tell if you’re in a relationship with an avoidant adult. I’ll explain what they do and why they do it.

1. They keep you separate from most relational aspects of his life.

For example, you feel like your partner’s friends don’t take your relationship seriously because they refer to you by bro-ish nicknames like “hips” or “deep throat.” 

Why? Pet names are endearing, but immature code names objective and dehumanize people. They use these to create emotional distance, since getting too close is threatening. 

2. Requesting (even small) gestures of reassurance might be received as huge and unreasonable demands.

It’s like they have a disproportionate reaction to any expression of need or desire for assistance. 

Why? Avoidant people are hypersensitive to issues of control or manipulation. From childhood, they were taught that uncomfortable feelings come from failing someone. They perceive requests as criticisms for their own actions, thus you’re being too demanding.

3. They avoid any discussion of the relationship advancing or even defining it in a concrete way.

You sense they do not want the relationship to grow and they are stringing you along with empty promises. 

Why? They are afraid that defining a relationship spells the end of it. If the relationship grows, then so might your expectations of them and they cannot deal with the pressure. 

Also conflict-avoidant, they directly avoid discussing anything that might lead to fighting. Their empty promises are their attempt at pleasing you, but they often act in passive-aggressive ways contradicting what they said.

4. Ex-partners are active in their life and on their social media.

They might see them act flirty with others online. Or, they keep their phone private then tell you there is nothing to worry about. Basically, you feel like a backup plan and that you’re competing with others. 

Why? They want to remind you of your place. Some may do this to provoke you to express deeper feelings first, so they don’t feel like the vulnerable one in the relationship. Others may feel validated by the spectacle of your insecurity.

5. They turn you into their therapist but ultimately friend-zone you.

You think that supporting them unconditionally will make them feel closer and more intimate with you, but it ruins a chance for romance. 

Why? For avoidants, friends are more important than romantic partners. They do this because they love and respect you. This even shows they wish to keep you around and they feel dumping you in the friend zone is the safest way to do that. 

6. They express avoidance via catchphrases like “there’s no such thing as true love” and “monogamy goes against human nature.”

Spending time to validate their claims through research and evidence, they try to prove things like “relationships never work.” 

Why? Avoidant people’s egos need to be reinforced and supported. It’s likely this person views love and connection as bad, disappointing, or downright dangerous. 

Those are the most common avoidant behaviors. But why do avoidants act this way? Let’s take a look.

Why do avoidant partners behave the way they do?

Do avoidants fall in love?

Here’s the thing:

Avoidant individuals need (and want) closeness and love just like the rest of us.

Research shows that avoidant children are distressed by the separation from their caregiver even though they don’t show this with their behavior. 

And while avoidant individuals can be happy individuals and their relationships can be satisfying, research shows that secure types are happiest in their relationships and lives. 

At the same time, avoidant individuals keep their partners at arm’s length with their avoidant behavior. 

Worst of all: They’re often stuck in an avoidant cycle.


Let me explain:

We tend to pair with people who confirm our pre-existing beliefs about relationships.

That’s why anxious types tend to date avoidant individuals. This goes both ways since secure types often date other secure types.

When avoidant individuals feel stressed, they withdraw from their partners emotionally. This “distancing” strategy allows avoidant people to maintain sufficient autonomy and independence so they can regulate their emotions and handle the source of distress on their own. 

The problem is their partners (who, again, are often anxious) start to feel rejected, alienated, and increasingly anxious, so they begin pushing for more contact, which only scares their avoidant partners away even more.

In this short video, I talk more about avoidant behavior: 

Now you know what triggers an avoidant. So, how can avoidant individuals break free from these behavioral patterns? That’s what we’ll look at next. 

What is your attachment style is? Take the quiz! 

How do you overcome avoidant attachment in relationships?

Here’s some good news. Your conditioning can be undone and your brain can be rewired.

The most important information you need to overcome avoidant attachment already exists inside you. Although, learning how to access those parts of yourself isn’t easy. It’s difficult to uncover hidden parts of your identity, especially when you’ve been taught your whole life to do the exact opposite.

However, with the right tools, it is possible. 

Those with avoidant issues, whether single or in a struggling relationship, can find solutions through therapy or adult relationship programs like my own program, Avoidant Attachment 101

For instance, my student Irena used to struggle with intimacy issues. She had been studying my content for over a year, but realized that she needed more of a push. Thanks to enrolling in my course she found a community of others who have an avoidant attachment. As a result of going through the course, she stopped intellectually detaching and got more in touch with her emotions. 

Jordan, on the other hand, was in a relationship that had come to a head. He decided to dig in and understand what was really going on with their “push and pull” dynamic. He found one of my videos on the avoidant-anxious trap and felt it spoke to his situation. Thanks to the course, he finally got an understanding of what was happening in his relationship and could start correcting his behavior. 

And if you want to know how this specifically applies to Rolling Stones and Spice of Lifers, here’s how each style can overcome avoidant attachment in relationships. 

How Rolling Stones can overcome avoidant attachment

Here’s the thing:

If you’re a Rolling Stone, you probably don’t like being verbally called out — this will likely activate your defenses. 

Why? The person who’s calling you out is asking you to engage on a level your emotional capacity cannot yet safely accommodate.

Therefore, a non-verbal approach is better. Various forms of “transitional objects,” labeled by psychodynamic theorist DW Winnicott, is essential in working with dismissive avoidance. 

In short: metaphors are the way to go. 

This helps you construct a new story. In addition, body activation and even creativity can address compulsive mechanisms.

For example, I have my clients do a lot of scribble drawings and gaze into the scribble and describe projectively what we might see. We might create stories about whatever emerges, or even bring them into the body and see where they go. 

Scribbles? Really? Hear me out.

At first, this might seem unrelated to the romantic problem that brought you into therapy or coaching, but in truth, this is a far safer way for dismissive individuals to open up.

You feel in control as you talk about something else that doesn’t make you vulnerable. By not exposing anything “real” about yourself, it’s less threatening.

How Spice of Lifers can overcome avoidant attachment

Just like Rolling Stones, Spice of Lifers can overcome their fearful-avoidant attachment in relationships.

Fearful-avoidance requires the establishment of safety while sorting through anxiety and other confused feelings and emotions.

These confusing emotions lead to the swinging back and forth of emotional flooding (intense distrust and fearfulness) and also the dissociative states (numbing out and turning off). 

For this emotional swinging, psychoeducation can be really useful. Because it uses facts and information, it can help you make sense of your experiences on the level of raising consciousness and reframing your negative self stories. 

Additionally, fearful avoidants need a lot of consistency and a flexible structure. It’s likely you, as a Spice of Lifer, have experienced chaotic and unpredictable circumstances and relationships in your life, so you can benefit from stability.

Want to learn more? Watch my quick video here: 

How to know if an avoidant partner loves you

However, if you’re dating someone with an avoidant attachment style, rather than being an avoidant, it can be incredibly confusing to understand if and when your partner loves you. And also — if they’re willing to change. 

Look, it’s hard to depict whether to wait it out or invest your heart with an avoidant partner. Until then, look for these six signs:

Six signs an avoidant partner loves you

The first is that they break their own rules, whether they are aware of it or not. For instance, if they declare strong boundaries but suddenly start breaking them for you, it’s a good sign they care.

Next, they ask to wait to have sex or to take things slow. This means they love you because those with avoidant attachments have a tendency to be hypersexual.

If they leave you alone in their home or apartment, that’s a big sign they care. This type is extremely private, so leaving you unmonitored access to their most personal space is huge and a sign of trust.

There’s nothing scarier than making any sort of commitment, so when they make plans and travel with you, they are very serious about you. Note to self, they might scrutinize your every word and move on this trip because it is one of their biggest tests for long-term compatibility. 

The next sign that an avoidant loves you is that they introduce you to their family or kids. Avoidant types hesitate to introduce partners to the important people of their lives for two main reasons. One, they don’t see you lasting long-term and two, they’re afraid it will drive you off. 

A last reason to validate their love is if they display acts of service, sex and physical touch, and gift-giving. You may recognize these as some of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. These acts display real affection from avoidants, whereas “words of affirmation” were on the bottom of their list. 

How to date a partner with an avoidant attachment style

If you know a Rolling Stone or Spice of Lifer loves you, I’m sure you’re wondering: how do I date them? After all, they’re easily triggered. 

I have a few pointers to promote avoidant attachment relationship success. Loving someone with avoidant attachment isn’t always easy, but these will help you navigate the relationship. If you know that your avoidant partner is deeply willing to commit, take the following steps: 

  • Know your value and avoid seeking validation. Avoidant individuals will easily feel bored if you appease them.
  • Have strong boundaries. Not only will this help you in your relationship with an avoidant, but to avoid your own wellbeing from suffering, you need to know what you will and won’t tolerate. 
  • Keep your own hobbies and pastimes. By doing so, you don’t risk getting into a cycle where you “run after” your avoidant partner, who dismisses you for doing so. 
  • Express your needs directly and clearly with specificity. You will often get excuses if you don’t, so be frank with your avoidant partner. 
  • Try not to judge them. Avoidants often feel judged and like they need to prove themselves, so minimize the risk of triggering them to withdraw. 
  • Pose a bit of a challenge. You don’t want to play games, but being a bit aloof will make it easier for avoidants to approach you. 
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. Avoidant individuals need strong boundaries and you saying no shows them that you have them. 


Now, this is only the beginning. For a truly satisfying relationship (on a secure level), your partner needs to want to change their behaviors too. Remember, though — try not to sound as if you’re judging them as this can easily trigger them. 

Ultimately, people with any attachment style can change — and that also applies to avoidant individuals. 

What is your attachment style is? Take the quiz! 

Over to you!

There you have it! Now you know all about avoidant attachment in relationships.

You’ve learned what avoidant attachment is, how to identify behaviors, and how to overcome it. 

As an avoidant individual, you can use strategies to let go of your current wiring. I do recommend therapy-based tools to help you get there, like the exercises I share above. 

And for other attachment types who are in a relationship with an avoidant type, what it comes down to is being consistent, yet flexible and helping these individuals tame their insecurities of fear and doubt.

Avoidant individuals can find love and connection, especially with a partner who understands what they need.

Next, I’d love to hear from you:

What’s the #1 thing you learned today?

Let me know in the comments below.



  1. I learned that I must be boring to a “Rolling Stone” I am a “Spice of Lifer”

    1. Can a person be both a fearful avoidant and dismissive avoidant? What would you suggest for someone who has both of these tendencies? I have become very much a loner in life, is it possible to change this? I have been in counseling and this doesn’t seem to change. Would EMDR work for this?

      1. Thank you for your comment and your question. Fearful avoidance can include dismissive tendencies; the presence of intense anxiety looks like wanting intimacy but then being fearful of it and potentially sabotaging a relationship through dismissal–is a fearful trait. Dismissive avoidance is more like lacking access to your feelings, not knowing that you are even having a deep feeling, dismissing emotional bids for contact, and rejecting vulnerability. But there is not so much doubt, anxiety, or ambivalence around it. “We’re done.” And that’s it. No waffling or drama around it. EMDR is effective for retraining the nervous system, yes. If you are going that direction I would also recommend, Brainspotting and Accelerated Resolution Therapy. Or my attachment 101 course. I hope it helps.

  2. I was in a relationship with a man who I believe is a rolling stone as well as spice of lifer lol. I know that I’m definitely an anxious attachment type. Our relationship was so lovely when it was a relationship. He showed his love not only through words of affirmation, but through acts of service. He couldn’t do enough for me and was always attentive, doing things that he knew would make me feel happy and loved.

    But one night he went out with friends and he ended up cheating on me. He told me the next day and then behaved very hot and cold from that day. I chased at first and then just got tired of devaluing myself, so I stopped interacting with him. He eventually came around, apologizing for everything and telling me that he never stopped loving me and knew he’d made the biggest mistake of his life.

    We started talking again, and I told him that if this was going to work, he’d have to build back the trust that had been broken and that would mean being completely transparent. He agreed to do any and everything he needed to to make things right again. However, that didn’t last long, as he told me one night that the stress of knowing that it could be a long time before I’d trust him again was too much for him, and he thought he could handle it but he couldn’t.

    People in my life tell me to just forget him because he’s no good, but I don’t believe that. I don’t think he’s a bad person, and I have experienced the kindness he possesses. However, I also realize that this cold side of him is real too. I have stopped reaching out to him and have decided that my best course of action is to just focus on myself and heal and move on, but can you shed any light on his behavior? Is there any hope for him or us in the future?

  3. How does one get out of the frienzone box with an avoidant? A guy I have been seeing did exactly that saying he want’s to keep me in his life. Now I understand why. His words doesn’t match his actions. Words are sometimes like he doesn’t care at all, yet he acts like he truly cares for me. And I’m confused wich ones to believe, acts or words.

  4. In the article it says as a don’t to not be their free therapist, if this happens how do i stop this? To not let them talk about their feelings?

  5. Hi. I like your overview of anxious attachment…but there is some stuff in this avoidant one that could use some work and elaboration. You also imply in here that it’s men who are usually avoidant, but that’s not necessarily true at all…some women are just as likely to use distancing behaviors that border on rude and devaluing. Please try to be fair to males (and all genders) in your writing.

  6. I married one (didn’t know it at the time). After 13 years of marriage, I wonder if this was a mistake.
    I love him and for the most part, maybe he loves me too? Not sure anymore. I thought we had a good thing, but now I’m not sure.

    His avoidance has manifested in wasting my time, future faking, making promises he had no intention of keeping, possible cheating/lying, and now the “phantom ex”.
    His phantom ex is the girlfriend who dumped him in high school in 1988. That’s not a typo…I said 1988.
    Since last year, he started having thoughts of her again. If I hear him play Justin Bieber’s song “Ghost” one more time, I’ll scream!
    He is 51 years old. I’ve been trying to approach this with understanding and compassion, but I feel like it’s going nowhere.

    I’m 38 and only now learning what avoidance is. I love my husband, but I might have run for the hills back in my twenties had I known about this.
    My time to have a baby is almost over because he made excuses for years. I would ask if we would ever have kids, ever buy a home, the things that normal married couples do. He would change the subject or be defensive or make excuses.
    I wish I could divorce him over this. Maybe that’s harsh, but I feel like I’m the only one who has sacrificed and wanted a real future, while he has been secretly missing his ex (from high school!) and stringing me (his wife) along for years.

    This is definitely sabotage on his part. I want to understand more, but some avoidants don’t realize the pain they cause.
    I know that it stems from deeper issues like abandonment and abuse or failed past relationships. I’ve experienced all that myself, and I still would never do what he is doing to me now.
    I tried to ask him why he misses his ex and why she is suddenly an issue when she wasn’t before.
    You shared a lot of insight into this, Briana. He also does keep his work and friend life separate from his home life.
    Most of his coworkers don’t even know he is married. I want us to seek help, but he doesn’t see a problem.
    He thinks I need counseling (because I want to have a baby with my husband? what’s wrong with that?) and won’t admit to his own issues.

    I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying all this. Just sharing what it’s like being married to an avoidant person.
    I can’t fix what’s broken in him. I can’t leave him now because other than this, he has been good to me, and there are other reasons like my lack of family support.

    1. Running as far and as fast as you can is the best option for you in this. This is a lot like my experience being married to an avoidant man. When triggered, his behaviors matched up with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He is a cruel, cold, abusive man who will accuse me of lying about my emotions to start fights, and criticize me with personal insults for holding him responsible for his words and actions. Based on my experience, avoidant attachment and severe personality disorder might as well be the same thing. I’m definitely tired of the abuse from mine after 14 years, and of being Friend-Zoned as a wife, and am emotionally checked out until I can escape the nightmare that is being with an avoidant partner. Never again!!!!

    2. His coworkers don’t know he’s married to you? He pines for someone he dated 30 years ago? This doesn’t sound like healthy behavior and he’s dismissing your future and happiness. I would say counseling at the very least. You have every right to make your future what you want if he’s not keeping up the end of the bargain. Life is too short to feel stuck and unhappy. I feel sometimes all we can change is ourselves and our circumstances.

  7. I have been struggling with an avoidant type relationship for the last 9 months and this has helped me to understand my partners behavior. I have sent her yhe links in hopes that she reads it and that we might be able yo work on this together. I am the anxious type and it hasn’t been easy. Thank you so much for all the information.

  8. Meh. People cannot be trusted. Everyone wants you to “learn to let them in. It won’t be that bad! They’ll surprise you!”
    Hint- they won’t. You don’t end up with an avoidant attachment style because people were reliable, now do you?
    I tried, I hate it. Now I have a family and it’s suffocating. I can’t rely on these people for absolutely anything and yet, I need to be there for them all the time and say all the nice things they need to hear or they melt down. Ugh. Why did I fall for the fairy tales? I should’ve known better.

  9. I’m a dismissive avoidant currently living with an anxious avoidant. Do you have any suggestions on how I can better tell if my instincts to run are from my attachment style or if I truly am with the wrong person. It is frustrating that I can’t tell the difference.

  10. This is one of the most helpful pages I have read to help understand my behaviour in intimate relationships, and mental health in general. Thank you so much 🙂

  11. I’ve been dating a DA for 1.5 years. She’s helped me understand attachment theory. She knows nothing about it and doesn’t care to look into it. She’s broken up with me 6 times in the last year and then we go through the “no contact” phase and then she comes running back with “I love you, I love you” every time. She’s a DA poster child. Very intelligent, a great woman, but blind in relationships. Her reasons for breaking up were always different and she always spoke mixed messaging. Well this last time in no contact I sent her a 3 page word doc to her work email stating she was messing me up, turning me insecure and sabotaging the relationship up with all of theses “cycles”. The cycles are so predictable. How could we connect if you keep running away without any discussion? No talking about what’s working and what’s not. Face your fears. Well that pissed her off, lol. She then txt me back saying she didn’t love me and and she was moving on. Although we had an incredible relationship after 6 breakups I almost didn’t care. She says she’s going to go out and find the love of her life…..at 60 years old. She had love once and she’ll find it again. That love was her second husband 30 years ago who she married 3 weeks after they met, who cheated on her twice, verbally abused her and she eventually divorced. She’s hardly dated her whole life and she thinks her prince charming is around the corner. I do feel bad for her as she’s so naive in relationships and dating. I’ve been so good to her, she tells me I’m the best and sexiest she’s ever had and yet she still runs away. Is there a pill for this affliction?

  12. Thank you for such a detailed post! I love all the information that you laid out. I do have one question though (maybe it’s another post already)… but Attachment Theory tells us that insecure partners can become secure WHEN they are in a relationship with a secure individual.

    It seems to be implying that the individual is not necessarily doing “the self work” (eg. studying attachment styles, going to therapy, etc.) and yet, they become more secure.

    I had originally assumed that this was perhaps due to consistent modeling of healthy behavior from the secure partner, but one of the research papers I came across (titled, “Partner Buffering of Attachment Insecurity” by Simpson & Overall) seems to imply that it’s through partner buffering that has the long-term benefits of making a partner more secure. Any info on this? Or thoughts? I’d be curious to know.

    1. Attached occurs in a dyad. 2 people. It’s a give and take. Trust is built over time through repeated “success”. Showing up for each other. It’s wonderful to understand attachment, but it still must be acted out and “felt”. At it’s core, attachment has to do with our relationship with our emotions and how safe we feel in the world, and it argues that biologically, we need a safe other to TRULY feel safe. Much, if not all, of attachment is biology and physiology. So, basically, you can’t “practice” attachment on your own. Still, it’s as much about what you bring to the relationship, in terms of mindful, present, awareness, as your partner. I don’t want to blab with too many fancy words… If a tree falls in the woods with no one around, does it make a sound? If a baby (or adult) cries for help and no one responds, how can that individual understand their feelings and needs? Some important attachment terms are to “feel felt” and an emotional “holding environment”. They also say implicit relational knowing, or relational working model – meaning our expectations, our pre existing ideas and feelings, about how relationships work, which mostly comes from years of interaction with our parents when our early brains and nervous systems were developing.

  13. Maybe another way to say it is “I’ll believe it when I see (feel) it”. Therapists call this a corrective experience because it’s felt in our nervous system. The thing we are terrified of didn’t happen. I thought my partner would leave but instead they “showed up’ emotionally -and this happened more than once – and it keeps happening – and each time it happens, it gets easier…but never easy! Our relationships fears are no different from staring a snake in the eyes. It may become less frightening, but it never goes away.

  14. I am sharing you my story; it just might add something to your vast expertise. The greater objective is -of course- to collect my own thoughts and have sort of a closure on a past relationship. Here we go…

    I am a man in my early fifties who only falls in love through ‘love-at-first-sight’. So I’m a cliché character from a romantic movie…It has happened to me in 1992, 1994, 2010 and 2016. The 1994 incident led to a 10-year marriage with a woman who was later diagnosed as borderline. My next ‘success’ was in 2016 – which led to a relationship 2.5 years later when the woman had made a decision to leave her husband – and I was there for her.

    As she moved out to an apartment of her own, I found myself moving in at the same time – still having my own house. Nevertheless, we were living together from the start with her daughter at 20 months of age; the girl and I became instantly like father and daughter, and I was closer to her than either of her parents. I was living my dream. After one month of living together she said that she had feelings of love for me. I was quite confused, since I was madly in love with her and couldn’t understand that she had not felt the same way earlier. (Later, she told me that I was the only man she had actually loved and the only with whom she had had orgasms.)

    After 1.5 months of living together, we went to the city to have drinks. There was a street artist and she became mesmerized by the guy. Her eyes were glowing and I had to drag her away from the scene. As we walked away, I was truly baffled and thought to myself “What is this? I don’t even notice other women, let alone feel attracted to them. I have a woman who I love!” See, I got the correct answer, but could not grasp it at the time. VERY SOON my psyche buried any recollection of the event, and I could not remember any of it until a few months after our break-up. However, during the next few weeks I became obsessively jealous of her – to the point that when she went out into the laundry room to pick up our laundry, I seriously pondered if she had gone there to meet with somebody. Although I did not remember the street artist incident, I had seen that she was not committed to me. I was, 100%.

    Some 6 months into our relationship, I suggested that she and her daughter would move in to my house. Her response took me by surprise. She told she had been thinking of buying an apartment of her own in the same area. I was stunned; in my thinking her then-apartment had been just an intermediate solution. I had been -and still was- thinking that it was a law of nature that we would move in together, get married and live happily ever after. Her response caused me a crisis of 5 weeks during which I questioned our relationship and my perception of it. As my crisis gradually faded away, I still felt strong and deep love for her – and continued pursuing my dream. When we had been living together for 10 months I repeated my suggestion. She completely froze and couldn’t say a word; hence I didn’t press with the issue any further. That was the first time I realized that our relationship had not advanced at all – we were still in square 1.

    One full year into our relationship and I was finally introduced to her 12-year old son who had chosen to stay with his father. The boy had been all his life such that he had no social boundary to take contact with even complete strangers. Soon it became evident that the boy was amazingly talented in reading other people. He could instantly detect everyone’s sore points and then started pushing their buttons.

    14 months into the relationship I brought up again the idea of moving in together into my house. Her response was stunning, again. She said that first we should get married, and then we could move in together. After that there was a short period of time (1-2 weeks) when we actually talked about our future. It was the one and only time we talked about our future – I kept on dreaming and planning. I asked her several times to go with me and take a look at engagement rings, but it was a no-no. She wanted to have it ‘a surprise’, so I acquired a ring by myself. I still cannot tell if she really had a genuine idea of getting married to me, or if she just tried to scare me off by demanding marriage first. Nevertheless, I was sailing ahead full steam. I was about to reach the end of the rainbow, and have her as my life partner.

    Burj Khalifa, Dubai. That’s where I was going to pop the question – and I did. I received her confused consent. I had expected mutual joy and happiness; instead I spent the following 1.5 hours by chasing her as she kept on running away from me. Then we sat down at a café, and I was horrified. She had lost her interest in the ring and I could not see any joy, enthusiasm or happiness on her face. I recall thinking “What does this mean?” In a couple of days my psyche had buried that moment out of my memory. The next day I decided not to tell anyone about the proposal since I felt that things were not the way they should have been.

    Meanwhile, we had been living together, and from my perspective, a normal good life which I did enjoy. I had bonded with her daughter and was planning my life with them till the end of my days; I had absolutely zero doubt that I wouldn’t live the rest of my life with this woman. She has some type of an anxiety disorder, and already before the proposal I had sensed that even though things should have been fine in her life, they weren’t. We did stuff together, we did not fight at all and she never ever evaded me touching her. In fact, she genuinely enjoyed physical contact and sought it from me. During the first months of our relationship, she had told that she had never felt jealousy. After some 6 months or so, she admitted having jealous feelings about me. Throughout the relationship, I felt that while my love for her was rock-solid, so was hers.

    Let’s go back to the period of time after the proposal. I still kept pursuing my dream. She would wear her ring 3-4 days a month (yes: month), which I felt strange and insulting. It was something I could not explain or hide, since I saw it every day. However, there was a short period of time when we went to my house and discarded lots of old stuff – kind of ‘making room’ for her and her daughter. But that ended soon, and she would then give me various arguments what difficulties would entail if she moved in. My belief in my dream becoming reality started to erode. I started to feel that I was not emotionally significant for her. Already earlier I had had thoughts that I was more of a useful person rather than a loved one for her. She is an M.D., a general practitioner. But if I had a physical issue, she would not take any interest, none whatsoever. To the point that while in Dubai, I developed constipation which outlasted our relationship. During the following 6 months, I must have mentioned about it dozens of times – with no response. Later I realized that if my issue did not cause any discomfort for her, she did not react. But if it did, she would inspect and treat me.

    Her relationship with her children was nothing I had ever seen before. She was like a paid nurse who would feed, clean up and clothe her child, but that was all. I never witnessed her expressing warmth, comforting her child or actually doing something with the child, something that would have included participation in the child’s activity. Her daughter (<2-3.5 years of age at the time) never sought comfort from her; she loved to sit on my lap and came over to me when I offered her comfort, though. She mentioned several times that she was not a ‘good mother’, so she knew something was off but couldn’t do anything about it. I guess that she remains emotionless when she meets someone in need of help or comfort.

    20 months into our relationship and I was more or less giving up on my dream. I sensed that she was not quite okay – just couldn’t put my finger on it. She would browse web pages and smaller and bigger parcels would come from here and there, which I perceived as self medication. One day she tried on a new dress and saw that I did not like it. Actually, my disapproval was at her shopping spree. I saw her face portraying emotions of great distress; something I had seen possibly hundreds of times on my borderline ex-wife’s face – and knew instantly I was fucked. She started blaming me for causing her anxiety. I asked for arguments, and she referred to clothes I had not praised or had criticized and also to one recent incident when I had checked that the detergent she had been using was suitable for lime scale. So, her arguments were petty and had happened like once per month. I knew that her psyche needed an outsider as the origin of her distress – the role I had been forced to play for a decade by my ex-wife.

    She would not go to a couple’s therapy with me. After few weeks -and a night without any sleep- I made her admit that she did not want to move in with me, let alone get married. I started begging her to couple’s therapy – to no avail. After 2.5 weeks I broke up with her.

    Now, 2 years after the break-up and 2.5 years after my proposal, she got married to someone.

    Back to present. Getting informed about attachment styles has given me the tools necessary to figure out what was going on between us. It has also greatly helped me to cope with the loss – apparently I need to understand to be able to leave things behind.

    1. Thank you for publishing my story.

      I managed to omit something immensely relevant: During our relationship, I never felt I was an insider in her life. Instead, I felt I was kind of a hang-around member in a highly exclusive club; she allowed me to enter the porch from where I tried to get a peek of what was going on in the inside. She compartmentalized her life: there was ‘our life’ to which I belonged, and then there was the rest which was none of my business. Time and again, I found that she had made a major decision and that she told me about it when she had already started implementing it (and that moment was the very first time I even heard about the issue!). I felt as if I was like a neighbor to whom one tells -in retrospect- what has been going on in one’s life.

      Right now, my problem is that I STILL have an idealized perception of her, our time together and the illusion I had about our mutual future. While I now know/understand her quite well, and I can understand the dysfunction of our relationship as well as how our life together would have actually turned out, I still cannot associate *anything* negative about her. In other words, on an intellectual level I get what she is for real but on an emotional level I keep on cherishing my illusions of her.

      And that is heart breaking.

      1. Dear Briana. Will you delete “Riikonen” away from the post above in order to maintain confidentiality and obscure my ex’s identity. Thanks, Mika

  15. I have been kind of friend-zoned by a guy with an attachment style of fearful avoidant. Although he expresses his feelings for me and hugs me for a long time, he doesn’t want to be intimate with me. He said he wouldn’t know what to do or how to behave if we became intimate. Should I just be patient and wait for him to develop trust in me that I will not leave? What kind of words does he want to listen from me?

  16. I am here now. Mine left me out of the blue while I was having a tough period financially and was irratable and swearing out of frustration, never at anybody, just outbursts. She just left saying she didnt feel safe and then ignored and blocked my attempts to talk. She had displayed all of the love signs above and I though we would be together. I had supported her through many emotional traumas and accepted her alcoholism as a coping mechanism. She trusted me, I had met her family and friends, stayed at her home while she was at work, was involved in her child’s life and her in my kid’s lives. She often conveyed how she thought she would never love someone to be with long term again until she met me, how lucky she felt, how safe, and how kind and loving I was. One small period and she was gone with very little interest in fixing. I had to apologise to her and she took my apologies for granted, saying they werent good enough and continuing to be disengaged and further distance herself. I too was told by everyone to leave it that she was no good but I loved her and tried to make it work. Its hard when they just dismiss all your efforts to show them a normal secure love and it makes you feel worse

  17. Thank you for sharing all of this. I am a therapist and know a great deal about attachment styles, but recently it hit me that the guy I’ve loved (somewhat quietly) for a year and a half is a dismissive-avoidant (rolling stone) and things make so much more sense. We dated briefly, he friend-zoned me, and now we are in a “situationship” (FWB kind of thing). He opens up to me more than anyone else in his life and spends more time with me than anyone else, but it has felt like he’s kept me tucked away, hidden and compartmentalized from the rest of his life. We help each other with everything and can spend hours together doing nothing or talking about life and our pasts and our attachment wounds. We are like an old married couple, and I’ve told him that… Yet, I know if I tell him I love him out loud (my gut tells me he loves me too), it would totally shut him down.

    Im at the point where I need to decide if it is worth waiting for him to “wake up” and decide he wants a real relationship, or if I should just move on. Your article helped put some things in perspective for me. I just don’t know if he will ever become “emotionally available” 🙁 I wish there was a way to get some clarity on their “feelings” without triggering the threat response/pulling away.


  18. Piggy-backing off of this— do you have suggestions for resources or more information on applying EMDR for insecure attachments? I am trained to do EMDR but would LOVE to be able to help with this specifically!

  19. Do fearful avoidants tend to be overly attached to their parents? My boyfriend is very anxious whenever he is away from them, even just for a few minutes. We went to a movie last summer and he tried to cancel ust because they were making dinner. We had already eaten and he wanted to stay there. I’m afraid to tell him he is avoidant or that he is way too attached to his folks. He will be easily triggered by this and lash out. How should I deal with this?

    1. I would focus on what you want in a relationship in general. Instead of analyzing your boyfriend (however accurately) simply state what type of relationship you want, and the degree of closeness you need in order to remain in the relationship. Be emotionally honest and clear about your needs, using soft or safe strategies in communication, and then Let him figure out how he is going to initiate changes. If you would like to learn more about these strategies, I encourage you to learn more about my program, The Courageous Communicator. You can learn more here: https://brianamacwilliam.com/attachment-styles-online-courses/

  20. I’m sorry to read this, it’s a good lesson for me. I thought early on that I would find family life suffocating, (as I did as a child, being somewhat parentified with a depressed mother, and an emotionally absent father)………so I chose not to marry or have children. I am very lucky that my sisters did have children, we are fairly close and I now have 3 adult nieces who I love dearly.
    However I’ve lived in a different state to the rest of the family for nearly 40 years; never regretted staying single. As my sisters and I and their husbands are all now in our late 60s, I’m thinking of moving back to my home state to be with them all as we continue the aging process together.
    However it freaks me out a bit! how I would cope with so much more contact.

    I’m sorry that you have found as you said. It’s a hard choice, I’ve found it lonely at times but I’ve never forgotten the suffocation I experienced in my 2 live-in relationships with good men in my 20s. I’m not cut out for that kind of relating. I wish you’d realized it before you made a family, I know I would struggle in your situation.

  21. I am dismissive avoidant I think. I’ve had some really good friends who I should’ve dated, but I never really felt like it. Dating just sounds exhausting and I have a very low libido, so I also don’t really want to have sex (and for a lot of guys, sex is a big part of the relationship). I prefer friends, but I really like doing skinship with friends (holding hands, hugging and maybe even kissing). However, when a friend says they like me I completely clam up and reject them immediately. I thought this was because I’m aromantic asexual (spectrum), but now I think this avoidance may (partially) be something else. But I still would have no idea how to overcome this. I don’t want to date, but I do want a relationship. I have a guy friend who is the closest thing to a boyfriend I have atm, but I don’t want to have sex with him nor do I want him to show affection for me, so would a relationship be fair, or even change anything? At the same time I do think about him a bit much and especially when he talks about dating other people. It doesn’t exactly make me super jealous, but I am weirdly interested… :\
    Anyway, no idea what to do from here…

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Hi, I'm Briana.

And I love romance novels and campy science fiction shows (anyone else a die-hard Supernatural fan?). I also like being my own boss. Doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. And treating work like play. Through my education, professional experience, and personal life experiences, I have come to passionately serve insecurely attached adults, who want to experience soul-deep intimacy, in their romantic relationships.

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