Avoidant Attachment Style in Relationship
Avoidant attachment is common. Some estimate that about 50% of people have a secure attachment style, 20% anxious attachment style, 25% avoidant attachment style, and 5% fearful/ambivalent/disorganized attachment style. That means about 1 in 4 people you meet might have an avoidant attachment style.
If you or someone you love has an avoidant attachment style, the good news is that attachment styles can and do change. Attachments styles change depending on the person that you are in a relationship with. If you are with a person who has a secure attachment style, you tend to become more securely attached over time. If you are with a person who is more anxious, it might make you feel and act more avoidant. If you are with a person who is more avoidant, it might make you feel and act more anxious.
Origins of Avoidant Attachment Style
Attachment styles are developed early with your first attachment figure - your parents. Your parents' ability to tune into your needs and emotions accurately and meet your needs consistently influenced how you connect and bond with other people. Infants as young as 7 months old can show different attachment styles.
A person with an avoidant attachment style most likely had parents who were consistently unavailable to meet their needs, dismissive of their emotions and needs, critical and distant, and/or overbearing and over-involved. If you were a child who grew up with parents who did not and could not meet your needs, you might develop a view that other people are uncaring, unsafe, and unreliable and that it is up to you to care for yourself. After your parents, your romantic partner is likely the next closest attachment figure that you will have in life.
What are the Signs of Avoidant Attachment Style in Relationship?
Avoidant attachment in a romantic relationship can show up in a number of ways. People with an avoidant attachment style may initially be very charming and friendly. They may have a lot of friends and long-term friendships. They may be great listeners and storytellers. They may be verbally affectionate and provide lots of praise and affirmations. They may tell you quickly, sincerely, and enthusiastically that they like you, you are special, and this relationship means something to them. This initial charm and warmth can make it hard to identify the avoidant part of their attachment style. Over time, you might notice the following signs of avoidant attachment style:
Although they may have a lot of friends and long term friends, people with an avoidant attachment style may not have friendships that are deep. The friendships may be based on shared contexts, shared hobbies, or shared experiences. They may not have emotional and revealing conversations with their friends. Their friendships may not last once the context or experience is over. They may not know important information about their friends and they keep information about themselves close to their hearts.
Fear of Commitment
People with avoidant attachment styles may have a hard time committing to a long-term romantic relationship. They may have many short-term relationships or no serious relationships at all.
People with avoidant attachment styles may not have great role models for how to have difficult conversations and resolve differences. So they avoid it altogether. They may have a pattern of ghosting when conflicts come up, holding grudges that they never bring up, or ending relationships.
Creating Distance When in Conflict
If they are drawn into a conflict unwillingly, people with an avoidant attachment style may react by shutting down, stonewalling, trying to stay on the logical part of the argument, using anger to create space, giving the silent treatment, or leaving the room. They tend to find space and distance after an argument comforting and peaceful. They tend to have a hard time re-engaging in a conversation after the conflict because they would rather avoid another conflict.
Uncomfortable with Closeness
People with an avoidant attachment style may initially be very warm and charming but you will notice that the closer you come to them, the more distant, irritable, angry, or even rude they become. They might be flaky if you want to hang out more than they do. They might push you away with hurtful words and behaviors. They might tell you that you are too "clingy" or "needy."
Poor, Distant, or Enmeshed Relationship with Family
On the one hand, people with an avoidant attachment style may have distant, conflictual, or transactional relationships with their parents and/or family members. On the other hand, they may also be over-involved in their family because enmeshed or smothering relationships within the family can contribute to a fear of closeness. People with avoidant attachment styles may feel like they cannot detach themselves from their family out of obligation or responsibility.
People with an avoidant attachment style are not only independent, they are also counter-dependent, meaning that they don't like or want to depend on others for most things. They don't tend to ask for help. They may not want to feel like they owe anything to anyone. They may be very giving and caring for others but then become uncomfortable when others try to care for them.
Lack of Emotional Awareness and Expression
People with an avoidant attachment style may have a hard time understanding their own and others' emotions. They may value intellect and logic over feelings. They may avoid deeper emotional conversations, especially if the emotion is negative.
They may strive for perfection as a way of being blameless and therefore, safe in relationships. They may hold high and impossible expectations for themselves and others. They can be harsh and critical toward themselves and others when those expectations are not met.
People with an avoidant attachment style may have an inflated sense of themselves and their abilities while being judgmental toward others. They tend to focus on their own needs and have a hard time being considerate, thoughtful, and empathetic toward others.
Sensitivity to Rejection and Feedback
People with an avoidant attachment style may struggle with taking constructive and good-intentioned feedback. Deep down, they are afraid of rejection and judgment. They may come across as independent and self-reliant but they really care about what others think of them.
How to Overcome Avoidant Attachment Style in Yourself
If you are a person with an avoidant attachment style, awareness, understanding, acceptance, and self-compassion are the first steps toward change. Your attachment style developed in response to your early childhood environment. It was not your fault. You did the best you could to cope and survive. Your avoidant attachment style may be preventing you from creating meaningful relationships. You may be feeling lonely, depressed, burnt out from all the pressure you put on yourself, and/or tired of having conflicts with your partner who is pushing for closeness. You can change your attachment style and become more secure. You can begin by reading some great books on this topic. Then, you can take steps to:
If you need extra help, guidance and support, work with an individual and/or couples therapist who has expertise in attachment to help you make significant progress toward change.
How to Love Someone with an Avoidant Attachment Style
If you are in a relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style, you can learn more about avoidant attachment, and practice understanding and acceptance of your partner. They did not develop this attachment style willingly. It was a coping strategy for a childhood where their needs were not met and they were left to fend for themselves physically or emotionally. If you can put yourself in their shoes, their behavioral patterns will make a lot of sense. The most loving thing that you can do is to understand that their behaviors are coming from a good place. They might be pushing you away, shutting down, or avoiding you because they care a lot about you and want the relationship to last. In their world, distance equals safety.
You can reflect on how your past behaviors may be triggering or unhelpful for them. For example, if you are pushing them to talk when they don't want to, they might shut down even more and become less trusting of you.
You can be supportive of your avoidant partner by:
If you can act more securely attached, that will encourage your partner to become more securely attached over time.
You can go to couples counseling together to understand the patterns between you and make changes toward deeper intimacy.
Begin Couples Counseling in Seattle, WA
If you and your partner are struggling with different attachment styles in your romantic relationship, you are not alone. The dynamic where one partner pursues and the other one withdraws is a common issue that leads couples to seek counseling. Here at Thrive for the People, we use the evidence-based approach called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) to work with our couples. We can help you understand your attachment styles, clarify the struggles in your relationship, explore the underlying causes of distress, and practice new ways of communicating your emotions, needs and wants. This kind of direct and honest communication then leads to deeper intimacy, trust, and bonding. Contact us today to see if we might be a good fit for couples counseling. We can't wait to hear from you.