Fearful avoidants are called “fearful” because fear drives their thinking, the way they perceive experiences and the behaviours they engage in. Sometimes you find that a fearful avoidant wants you back or is thinking of getting back together but afraid and scared of the very thing they want.
I’ve worked with so many cases where we go from random contact to a fearful avoidant ex actually saying the words “I want to get back together” followed by “But, I need time” or “But, I want to be sure”. These cases are easier to work with because we know what to do. If they want time, give them more time, and if they want to be sure, understand why they are not sure and see what more needs to be done so they’re sure. Maybe they need to be sure they can trust you, things will not go back to before, you’ve changed/they’ve changed, you’re right for them/they’re right for you etc.
The harder cases are when a fearful avoidants says it’s not that they don’t want to get back together, they do, but they’re scared of getting back together. Trying to convince them that they have nothing to be afraid of is a waste of time, and sometimes it even backfires because it feels like pressure or manipulation or even dismissing or discounting their feelings and fears.
The more afraid and scared a fearful avoidant is of getting back together, the more likely you are to see these behaviours.
1. Resistant to being in a relationship
“I’m not ready to be in a relationship” is the go to reason for a fearful avoidant who wants you back but is afraid and scared of getting back together. Even if you’re consistently loving, caring and supportive, they keep coming up with different reasons (some you’ve heard before and others completely new) why they’re not ready to be in a relationship. If you examine the reasons very carefully, they all add up a fearful avoidant conflicted about wanting to get back together and afraid and scared at the same time.
2. Defensive and overly sensitive
A fearful avoidant ex will avoid any and all conversation that might lead to talking about getting back together because such conversations make them anxious. But all the effort to avoid anxiety actually creates more anxiety and makes a fearful avoidant ex defensive and overly sensitive. You can be talking about something unrelated, and they blurt out “I don’t want to get back together” or “I’ve told you I don’t want a relationship” leaving you wondering what you could possibly have said to make them think you were talking abut getting back together. You start feeling like you’re walking on egg-shells.
3. Nitpicking and non-stop negativity
They become increasingly hypervigilant and even exaggerate the negativity of the situation. It’s like they’re out to catch you saying the “wrong” word, making the “wrong” comment etc. and pounce on it. They’re constantly questioning and interrogating, making assumptions and accusations, projecting and overreacting, and anything doesn’t match their interpretation of “acceptable behaviour” is interpreted as “nothing has changed”. You even find yourselves getting into unnecessary arguments and avoidable conflicts.
4. Difficulty letting go of the past and/or forgiving
They can’t let the past go. They tell you the leaving the past in the past and even forgive you, but nah. A fearful avoidant’s penchant for excessive rumination which intensifies negative emotions and recreates negative experiences. They may even give “the relationship is toxic” as the reason for not coming back, something entirely different from what they’ve said about the relationship in the past.
5. Testing and protest behaviours
They block and unblock you, refuse to watch your IG stories if they think you’ll notice, leave you on unread, ignore texts, agree to meet then cancel, and all the unhealthy testing and protest behaviours that are destructive not just to the relationship but your chances of getting back together.
6. Mental health decline
Fear exacerbates mental health problems and intense, excessive and persistent fear is a root cause of most common disorders. If there were emotional or mood disorders or addiction issues (e.g. depression, borderline personality disorder, or alcohol, drugs, porn, gambling or gaming addictions, etc.) they will to get worse with the fear of making the wrong decision, and will make a fearful avoidant even afraid and scared of getting back together.
Fearful avoidant ex: This is too important to mess up
Some of a fearful avoidant’s fear of getting back together can manifest in protest behaviour similar to anxiously attached protest behaviour, the difference is that someone anxious is protesting the break-up or separation and a fearful avoidant is protesting getting close or getting back together using stalling and delaying strategies.
In some extreme cases, a fearful avoidant who wants to get back together but is scared may go into a full-blown panic attack especially if they internally feel the pressure to decide whether to give the relationship another chance or let you go. They’re afraid that if they don’t make a decision soon, you’ll give up on trying to get back together and even move on. but the same intense fear of losing you also paralyzes them. What if it’s not what they really want, or they later regret getting back together.
If they got friends and families involved, that’s an additional layer of worry and fear. Should they tell friends and family that they’re thinking of getting back together? What exactly and how much do they tell them? How will they react? How will they handle the fallout? What if they’re right that getting back together is a bad idea?
What do you know when a fearful avoidant wants to get back together but is scared and afraid?
1. Keep the lines of communication open
Open lines of communication are crucial and not just open lines of communication but safe clear, transparent, honest, no pressure communication. You need this because this is about your life too, and you deserve to know what’s going on so you can make sound decisions for yourself.
2. Validate their fear
If they share with you that they want to get back together but are afraid, do not try to talk them out of their fears, like I said above, trying to convince a fearful avoidant that they have nothing to fear is a waste of time, and sometimes backfires triggering the behaviours I describe above. Instead validate their fears and let them know making a decision as serious as getting back together is scary. But don’t say that you’re scared too (in attempt to empathize), it may just increase their fears because if they’re scared and you’re scared too, it means you shouldn’t get back together.
3. Address their concerns and worries
Make sure there aren’t genuine concerns that are making a fearful avoidant unsure if they can trust you, things will not go back to before, you’ve changed, you’re right for them/they’re right for you etc. Try to understand their fears and not just dismissive them as a “fearful avoidant is afraid of getting close”. Many of my clients with this thinking and attitude end up not getting back together because they failed to address their fearful avoidant’s concerns, worries and fears.
4. Keep moving forward
Take small safe risks e.g. ask to do “couple things” like go on dates etc. They may not be read to get back into a relationship, but okay with calling your hang out “dates”. You can also ask if they want to give things a trial period and see how they feel, and if they’re not ready to get back together, that’s okay with you.
5. Set clear boundaries
For your own sanity and to protect the relationship, set boundaries around things like emotional making assumptions and accusations, negativity, constantly bringing up the past, testing behaviours and emotional outbursts if they’re a part of your fearful avoidant protesting getting close again. Tell them these things get in the way of even a normal conversation, and talk to them about how this is not only affecting the quality of your conversations and relationship, but also how it’s affecting you. Make sure you communicate how you feel using non-violent communication and focus on the behaviour not the person or their attachment style.
6. Remind yourself of how much you care for each other
Remind yourself that you may not have done anything wrong or are doing something wrong, and you both still care deeply for each other because you wouldn’t have come this far to the point where your fearful avoidant ex is seriously considering getting back together. A fearful avoidant feeling frozen in fear doesn’t cancel how far you’ve come and how much you care about each other.
7. Set small milestones
Set small milestones marking the things you want to see happen. The timeline is not necessary just what you want to see happen to encourage you to hang in there e.g. You see each more regularity, if they’re staying overnight, they leave their toothbrush or toiletries at your place, they tell family and friends that you’re seeing each other, etc.
In my experience, a fearful avoidant who genuinely wants you back but is afraid and scared of getting back together will end up coming back, but it takes many twists and turns to get them to fully commit to being back together. I’ve worked with many cases where my client and I both see and agree that they’re practically back together because they’re planning the future and what they’d like to see happen if they got back together (i.e. having date nights, travelling together, moving in, having a family etc.), and the fearful avoidant ex is the one pushing for these conversation and even excited about what it. But they’re still saying they’re not ready to get back together, and it’s all part of a fearful avoidant’s attachment style – wanting something and scared of it t the same time.