10 Steps For Setting Boundaries An Avoidant Ex Will Respect

I’ve been meaning to write about how to set boundaries with an anxious or avoidant ex, but boundaries are a complicated and touchy subject that in my one-on-one sessions get people emotional, defensive and feeling threatened.

But when a client said to me, “I read your articles about making an avoidant feel safe but to me it feels like there are too many rules to follow. Why can’t I just say and do what I want?”. It was time to write about boundaries.

Can you say to your ex what you want and do what you want?

If you’ve been reading my articles, I’m not one to advice sitting there with a timer for when you’re allowed to reach out or respond, counting your words, and playing mind games. It you’re doing this to try to attract back your ex, you’re doing it wrong. You should be able to be genuine and bring your best (hopefully more confident and secure) self to the relationship.

But it’s equally important to understand that when you want a relationship with another human being, you can’t just say whatever you want and do whatever you want without consequences and without it putting a strain on the relationship. For the relationship to work, be safe and healthy, you have to be sensitive to the other person’s feelings, aware of their needs and respect their individuality and personal boundaries.

Being sensitive, aware and respectful of each other is something many of us are not really good at. Avoidants set rigid boundaries and dismissive avoidants have so many boundaries that it’s hard to figure out how to be, what to say or act with them. You want to reach out and respond on your terms and resent being called out on your insensitivity. You want “space” whenever you feel like and don’t feel like you should communicate to your ex that you’re overwhelmed with things going on in your life that have nothing to with them. An anxiously attached ex is left feeling ignored, rejected and abandoned when a little bit of sensitivity, awareness and respect for how an anxiously attached or fearful avoidant feels would have made a huge difference not just to someone with attachment anxiety but the relationship as a whole.

Exes with attachment anxiety are just as guilty as avoidants when it comes to sensitivity, awareness and respect for how an avoidant feels. You want to text an avoidant whenever you feel like and as much as you want without care for how it affects an avoidant. You want to say how you feel whether an avoidant wants to hear it or not and push your “love” on to someone who wants you to “just stop” because it’s too much. Even when an avoidant set’s boundaries, you ignore them, try to justify why you overstepped the boundary or complain about there being a boundary in the first place. Avoidants end up feeling like their personal boundaries are being trampled on with no regard for how they feel or what they want, then you wonder why your avoidant ex is not responding, is distant, angry and/or feels unsafe with you.

You reinforce your ex’s attachment style by eliciting specific reactions from them

When you say and do whatever you feel like without consideration for how you come cross and how your words and actions affect someone else, you end up creating feelings of resentment, disappointment and anger. If you have an anxious attachment you feel taken for granted and if you’re an avoidant you feel pushed to your limits.

This is why attachment theory and attachment styles is so important. It’s not a fool-proof theory but is gives us some very useful insights at to how our actions and words affect each attachment style and elicit specific behaviours and reactions from them.

No doubt, good communication would solve most of the problems that result from lack of sensitivity, awareness and respect for each other’s feelings, needs and perspectives, but you need more than good communication to make an anxiously attached ex feel like they’re not being taken for granted and an avoidant ex to feel not pushed to their limits or intruded upon. You need mutually acceptable boundaries that work for an ex with an anxious attachment and an avoidant ex.

So let’s talk about boundaries.

The difference between boundaries, expectations, requests and demands

It’s so common for people not accustomed to having healthy strong boundaries or individuals who regularly violate boundaries set by others to confuse boundaries with expectations, requests and demands. Here I’ll try my best to explain the differences.

1) Expectations – While boundaries and expectations are both ways we hold other people responsible, an expectation is different from a boundary because an expectation focuses on the behaviour or action of others that is often outside of our control, but we hope that the other person will act in a way that we desire. For example, you expect when you reach out that your ex will respond. You have no control of whether they respond or not, but you hope that they will.

2) Requests – A requests is directly asking for what you need or want politely and respectfully with the understanding that the other person’s needs are just as important as yours. You ask because something is important to you and to the relationship. For example, you request an avoidant ex to communicate when they need space, but you also respect the fact that for whatever reason they may not want to do what you’re requesting of them.

3) Demands – A demand is a forcefully or aggressive way of asking for what you need or want. It’s an attempt to force an action or behaviour by inferring that the other person’s needs are not as important as yours. The implication in a demand is that you have a right to what you’re asking from the other person and they’re obligated to to give it to you. For example, you demand that your ex gets back together with you. It doesn’t matter to you whether they’re ready or not, whether the reasons for the break-up have been resolved or not, or even whether they want to get back together or not.

As you can see, expectations, requests and demands are about what another person SHOULD do for you to make you feel safe or protected. Boundaries are not about what another person will do for you to make you feel safe or protected, boundaries are about what you do to meet your needs and to protect yourself.

In other words, boundaries are how YOU hold yourself RESPONSIBE FOR YOU and accountable to YOU. If you’re setting a boundary with an avoidant ex and it’s focusing on the avoidant’s actions or behaviours, it’s not a boundary. It’s more likely a complaint, a criticism or demand however “nicely” and “no pressure” way you phrase it. What you’ll get is resistance or more distance and not the respect from an avoidant that you so badly want.

How you don’t hold yourself responsible for you and accountable to you

Think of having a secure attachment as a house with secured doors that let’s in safe people and safe behaviours, and locks out unsafe people and unsafe behaviours. Most of us would feel safe living in our house because we took steps to make home safe for ourselves and those we love.

Now think of an anxious attachment as a house with no secure doors and anybody, safe or not can walk in, do whatever they want and walk out at will. You are so afraid to put doors or locks because the person you love might see that you’re house has doors and walk past and go to the next house. You’d rather feel unsafe without doors or locks and have people (even unsafe people) walk in and out as they please than risk no one coming in at all.

You complain, act out (drama) and even leave the relationship because you feel unsafe and not respected but instead of holding yourself responsible for you and accountable to you, you obsessively focus on the other person’s actions and behaviours. Your ex’s (and most people’s) response to your protest behaviour is unlikely to be respect. They’ll probably laugh at you, feel sorry for you or walk out because “Duh, you did this to yourself and now you’re upset?”. Nobody value or has much respect for a house where the owner wants to be wanted and loved so bad that they’re willing to disrespect themselves just for attention or affection or demands respect from others when they show no respect for themselves.

An avoidant attachment is more like having a house with prison or dungeon style doors and locks. Like most people in prisons and dungeons, you are highly suspicious of anyone who wants to be let in: “What do they want?” “Should I open the door?”, “What if they want to hurt me?” “Is there enough room for two of us in here?” etc. The people you want to get in are 1) unable to out figure out how to get in, 2) are constantly frustrated and banging and yelling at you to let them in or 3) doing all kinds of “tricks” and mind games to get you to let them in. And you’re just as frustrated and angry that there are people you want to let in but you don’t know how to open the door to your prison or dungeon or how to feel safe once you let them in.

It’s a relationship between two people and not a dictatorship

Boundaries are not just how you hold yourself responsible for you and accountable to you, boundaries are also  how you self-care and show respect for yourself (not demand it, but deserve it).

When you have secured doors, you expect people who want to come in to respect your house and “request” to come in. You also expect them to behave respectfully and responsibly while in your house because their safety is just as important as yours. You not only have a sense of control over who you let in but also what you accept in your house.

But, here’s the challenge for anxiously attached or avoidants trying to get back together and learning to set healthy boundaries at the same time. Because you don’t have experience with healthy strong boundaries, you’re more likely to focus on your ex’s actions and behaviours, and set and communicate expectations, requests and demands instead of boundaries. This often creates scenarios where the process of getting back together tumultuous and longer than necessary. Avoidant ex’s often rigid boundaries trigger protest behaviour in an anxious attachment, and an anxious attachment’s lack of boundaries and constant intrusion and boundary violations trigger an avoidant ex to pull away and create more distance.

This is why it’s important to keep in mind that while boundaries are how you meet your needs and protect yourself, you’re also trying to create a safe and secure relationship for both of you. It can’t just be about your boundaries, something you impose on the other person which is what many unsafe people do. You set boundaries without consideration for how they affect the other person or the relationship, and complain that the other person is doing your bidding.

A relationship is between two people and not a dictatorship. Relationship boundaries should make both people feel safe and feel that their needs are being met in the relationship. It doesn’t matter how “nicely” you phrase your text, an avoidant will not respect you or your boundaries if they do not feel safe and vice versa, an anxiously attached will not respect you or your boundaries if the don’t feel safe.

It’s in your best interest to No.1 create safe for yourself and No. 2 make sure that your avoidant ex or anxiously attached ex feels safe. Then the respect will come because you earned it, and are not just demanding the respect you feel is owed to you when you’ve done everything not to deserve respect.

Mutually acceptable boundaries bridge the gap between expectations and reality

Mutually accepted boundaries have to be something you both agree protects you, protect your ex, protects your relationship, and strengthens your bond. It is no longer only about “my needs” and what I want, but about your ex’s needs as well.

When you have healthy and safe mutually acceptable boundaries you not only learn how the other person wants to be treated and the other person learns how you want to be treated, you also bridge the gap between what you expect to happen (expectations) and what actually happens (reality).

Most of the time it’s the difference between what you expect to happen and what actually happens that make us feel disappointed and creates feelings of resentment and anger. For example, if you are anxiously attached, you expect that when you reach out the other person will respond, you will feel anxious, resentful and disrespected when you don’t get a response.

  • The reality is that most avoidant exes don’t always respond.
  • The realty is avoidants take their time to process things and also only respond to what they’re comfortable with.
  • The reality is because avoidants are mostly conflict avoidant, they may not respond to something they disagree with or feel threatening because they don’t want to start a conversation about it (too much engagement and potential for “negative’” emotions) or don’t feel it’s worth the effort to even respond.
  • The reality is that there are certain behaviours that people in a relationship expect from their partner (such as respond or answer questions) which when you’re broken up don’t apply because you’re not a couple anymore.
  • The reality is your avoidant ex doesn’t owe you a response. They are their own person and have the right to respond or not respond.

Mutually accepted boundaries reduce the gap between mismatched expectations and reality. It helps both of you adjust your expectations and find a way to make the relationship work even with your different attachment styles.

Protest behaviour is not setting boundaries, distancing is not setting boundaries

People with anxious attachment and fearful avoidants leaning anxious are the attachment styles that most needs to have boundaries, but they’re also the two attachment style that fear setting their own boundaries because they think boundaries push people away. They get turned off by the idea of boundaries in a relationship because they equate “boundaries to “I can’t be myself, say or do what I want” and because they have difficulty trusting that their needs will be met and feel restricted by other people’s boundaries. They also the tow attachment styles most likely to confuse boundaries with expectations, requests and demands and to confuse protest behaviour for setting boundaries.

Protest behaviour is not setting boundaries. Protest behaviour is exactly the opposite of setting boundaries. Sending frustrated or angry texts about your avoidant ex’s behaviour or demanding they reassure you, starting arguments or fights, playing mind games, ignoring texts, unfriending or blocking an ex, changing phone numbers, going no contact just to get a reaction from an ex, giving them ultimatums, showing up at an ex’s home or workplace demanding that they talk to you is not holding yourself responsible for you and accountable to you. It is what avoidants so often call “acting like they’re entitled to my time and space”. It creates resistance and major push back.

On the other hand, avoidants, especially dismissive avoidants who are highly sensitive to boundary overstepping so much that even when there is no boundary violation or the boundary was nit communicated feel a boundary has been violated and react punitively, should understand that when you distance every time you feel a boundary has been violated, you are provoking and encouraging the very anxious and fearful avoidant attachment behaviours that make you feel unsafe. It’s better to calmly explain to someone what you need to feel safe and give them the chance to change their behaviours than just stop responding or cut them off. Communicating your needs clearly and calmly is not just showing respect for yourself, it’s also showing respect for the connection you have with someone you care about and even love.

If there’s anything you take from this article, I want it to be 4 things: 1) boundaries are about RESPECT for self and others, 2) boundaries are how you SELF-CARE, 3) boundaries are holding yourself RESPONSIBLE and accountable to yourself, and 4) boundaries allow you to love and respect YOURSELF and OTHERS simultaneously.

How do you love and respect yourself AND your ex simultaneously?

You love and respect yourself and love and respect your ex simultaneously by creating boundaries that make both of you feel respected, safe and loved. Like I said above, if you’re focusing on you’re ex actions or behaviours and how you feel about it, it’s not a boundary however “nicely” and “no pressure” way you phrase it.

The most effective relationship boundaries are those that are transparently discussed, mutually defined, mutually accepted and mutually maintained. Securely attached set and agree on mutually negotiated boundaries that create safety, trust and respect for each other right from the beginning of the relationship or trying to get back together. They negotiate things like how much contact is comfortable for bother people, or if you’re starting as friends, what is acceptable and unacceptable within the “friendship” etc. They’re also open to renegotiating a boundary when a need arises or something happens that threatens connection or the new relationship.

When you’re insecurely attached (except maybe for dismissive avoidants) talking to your ex about boundaries can be scary especially if you have no prior experience of setting, communicating and negotiating mutual boundaries.

Here are 10 simple steps to help anxiously attached exes and avoidants establish mutually acceptable boundaries.

1. Puts things into perspective especially in regard to your different attachment styles.

2. Create a safe space for sharing and talking about boundaries.

3. Start with small boundaries that feel nonthreatening e.g. how much contact meets both of your needs. Then as you get comfortable and with more experience, move to more challenging boundaries.

4. Maintain the freedom to be an individual within the relationship and be honest and clear about what you need from your avoidant ex to feel safe and what you don’t feel comfortable with.

5. Ask what your avoidant ex needs to feel safe and accept that it might not be what you’re happy with, but it’s what they need to feel safe. You don’t need to accept or even understand your ex’s boundaries in order to respect them.

6. Agree on what is appropriate in a particular situation and make compromises to equally accommodate both of your attachment needs. If you’re discussing boundaries face-to-face, pay attention to your avoidant ex’s body language, tone of voice, and the words they use to communicate their needs, boundaries and expectations.

7. Pay special attention to your own feelings of discomfort, resentment, or guilt when deciding whether a boundary is needed or feels safe for you.

8. Express appreciation to each other for stepping out of your attachment style comfort zones and trying to create a healthier and stronger relationship.

9. Follow through on your responsibilities and enforce the boundaries you set. When you violate your own boundary, you disrespect yourself and disrespect the relationship, and lose the respect of an avoidant.

10. Revisit your boundaries as part of your progress and general relationship health check. Modify or clarify boundaries if needed.


How to Get The Respect You Deserve From Your Ex

How To Deal With An Avoidant Ex’s Inconsistent Contact

How to Deal With A Dismissive Avoidant Ex Slow Replies

How to Respond To Your Ex Asking For Space Or No Contact

Avoidant Ex Is Guarded – How to Get Past Emotional Walls

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