I work with many clients who need help communicating with an avoidant who doesn’t believe they genuinely cared about them, is holding a grudge or doesn’t trust their ex’s intentions. They’ve tried everything from no contact to being nice and using positive words and nothing seems to work. What gives?
First you need to understand something. Avoidants in general do not think their partners genuinely care about them. When the relationship ends, most avoidants aren’t sure if an ex really cared about them, if they imagined the whole thing or allowed themselves to be fooled into what was a lie or wasn’t there. They look at their ex’s words and actions to determine what is true and what is not, and if they can trust an ex.
They’re not just looking for what you’re saying and if you’re being “nice”; they’re looking for how you make them feel; do you genuinely care or will you hurt them?
How you communicate with an avoidant sends a strong message
The message we send (what we say, how we say it and when we say it ) and an ex’s reaction is influenced by the sender and receivers attachment style. Even simple words like ‘okay’ or ‘sure’ have a different meaning with an avoidant who doesn’t feel you genuinely care about them or one who doesn’t trust you.
It’s therefore important that when you communicate with an avoidant that you don’t only use positive words or phrases but that you communicate that you care and are not trying to hurt them (at least not intentionally).
Being able to communicate with an avoidant in this way after a break-up may require a mind and attitude shift. Like many exes with an anxious attachment, you probably feel that an avoidant should be the one showing you that they cared (care) about you. And you’re absolutely right to feel this way. Avoidants neglect their partners and often show no care for their feelings and needs. Avoidants also initiate most break-ups, don’t reach out even when they’re obviously the reason the relationship ended, don’t respond and ignore texts… the list is endless.
Why should you be the one to show you care about an avoidant?
Why should you be the one to show you care for an avoidant? Because caring for someone else comes naturally to securely attached and individuals with an anxious attachment. The difference between a secure attachment and anxious attachment is that people with an anxious attachment often care so much about others and neglect their own needs and feelings; and some avoidants take advantage of an anxious attachment caring nature. Keep reading because I address how to communicate with an avoidant without letting an avoidant dominate the relationship and walk all over your feelings and needs.
What I’m trying to say here is that if you want an avoidant back and want the relationship to work, don’t expect an avoidant to always show or communicate that they care about you. Communicating that care doesn’t come naturally to dismissive avoidants and fearful avoidants don’t often know how to communicate care even if they wanted to.
To better communicate with an avoidant turn a perceived weakness into a strength
To better communicate with an avoidant ex, you first and foremost have to embrace the fact that you have an anxious attachment and because of this, you’re likely to care much more than an avoidant.
Nick from Evolving Minds, who I think is a brilliant example of a self-aware and evolved anxious attachment, and whom I’ll refer to now and again in this article calls embracing your anxious attachment as “turning a perceived weakness into a strength”. He writes “If you have an anxious attachment style, pay close attention to the part about being honest about your attachment anxiety; and turning a perceived weakness into a strength. Better to be honest about this and have the 99 people withdraw who cannot meet your needs and meet the 1 person who can.”
In addition to weeding out partners who can’t meet your needs, being honest about your anxious attachment style communicates vulnerability in a way that helps create balance in fulfilling each other’s needs.
If you know anything about an avoidant attachment it’s that they struggle with vulnerability, and don’t feel safe opening up. The reason avoidants are more vulnerable and open up with a partner who’s securely attached is because people with a secure attachment style express themselves without the fear of rejection, abandonment, losing someone or being overwhelmed. A secure person’s vulnerability gives an avoidant permission to be vulnerable as well this leads to people feeling emotionally safe with each other.
An anxious attachment can communicate vulnerability by being honest about their feelings and needs in a way that feels safe to them, but also gives an avoidant permission to be vulnerable.
Communicating vulnerability as someone with an anxious attachment
Nick writes, “Relationship advice may tell an anxious person; “Play it cool, don’t be needy, appear confident and strong to attract a mate”. Whilst it may be true that a self-confident secure type who does not need another’s reassurance in order to feel valid is an attractive quality in a partner; if it is not who we are then we will risk attracting someone who when we finally reveal our true vulnerability and need… will never be able to give us the support we need.”
Set the tone for the relationship as one where you can both be honest and share responsibility to look out for each other’s well being. “The difficulty of expressing one’s needs as an anxious person is that we often don’t know what they are! Instead, we tend to get overwhelmed by emotion and lash out. Followed by shame for having got angry. In contrast people with a secure attachment style don’t react so strongly, don’t get overwhelmed as easily, and can thus calmly and effectively communicate their own feelings and needs. Secure people also believe they are worthy of love and affection and expect their partner to be responsive and caring. With these self beliefs they find it easier not to let negative thoughts take over”.
Unlike a secure person you’ll be easily flooded by emotions, will fear that the relationship is fragile and easily broken; and don’t expect your partner to to respond positively. Fearing the fragility of the relationship you’ll find it harder to express your feelings or communicate your needs effectively. When you express your feelings or communicate your needs and an avoidant doesn’t respond or pulls away, you feel, you’ll feel that you ruined everything; “If only I had played it cooler, now I’ve lost the only one who could have made me happy”.
To overcome the fear of rejection, abandonment, losing someone, reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed by emotions, and communicate like someone worthy of love and affection and deserves a partner who is responsive and caring follow Nick’s principles of effectively communicating with an avoidant.
1. Focus on your needs
Focusing on your needs isn’t about aggressively demanding that an avoidant meet your needs. Focusing on your needs, includes your need to take your partner’s well being into account as well. Communicating in a way that hurts an avoidant will hurt you too. When expressing your needs, it’s helpful to use verbs such as need, feel and want, rather than talking about your partners short comings.
Another book called Non-Violent Communication explores this in much more detail. The author, Marshal Rosenberg, describes a model of communication based on expressing objective facts, feelings, needs and a request:
“When I sent you a text yesterday morning and you did not reply until today at lunch time I felt upset, because I need to be confident that you can make time for me. In future I would really like it if you replied when you see my message, even if its a few words to say you will reply fully later if you do not have time to text right then, would you be willing to do that?”
This is very different to saying something which blames the other or makes them wrong. Rosenberg’s central premise is that when others hear a feeling and a need they will hear what you are asking for.
2. Be specific
This relates to Rosenberg’s encouragement to state an objective fact rather than emotive statements. Rather than “You are so inconsiderate for keeping me waiting for half an hour” which may just trigger an avoidant to defend themselves, rather than feel the upset you feel.
Rosenberg suggests instead we express this in a factual way: “When we arranged to meet at 1pm and you arrived at 1.30pm I felt really annoyed as I need to know I can trust people to value my time. In future, please arrive at the time we agree or text me so I know you are late, and I can decide what to do”.
You may find other ways to do this, but the principle is to keep to simple facts rather than language that suggests blame.
3. Don’t blame
Never make your avoidant ex feel selfish, incompetent, or inadequate. Effective communication is not about finding a way to communicate your partner’s short comings or making accusations. Make sure you feel calm before trying to discuss something that has upset you.
4. Be assertive and non apologetic
As the author of Attached says: “your relationship needs are valid – period”. People with different attachment styles may not see your needs as legitimate; but they are essential for your happiness and expressing them authentically is crucial to effective communication.
The author makes the point that this is especially important for people with an anxious attachment style; as our culture encourages us to believe that many of these needs are illegitimate. Instead, if a person feels the importance of close contact, emotional availability, loving reassurance when feeling anxious about not being wanted or valued; then these are authentic needs.
Practice empathy and perspective-taking to improve communication with an avoidant
I can’t end this article without my favourite word, “Empathy”. Whether you have an anxious attachment or avoidant attachment, communication dramatically improves when you practice empathy and perspective-taking. Empathy helps us cultivate a feeling in our heart that: “I’m ok and you’re ok”.
Nick writes, “Instead of coming from a place of judging ourselves or the other; or of feeling we need to fix our self or the other, we enter into an honest connection with how we are and how the other is. This may mean recognizing that how the other is incompatible with what we need; and rather than making it our mission to mold them into our perfect partner we leave them to find someone who loves them as they are; as we stay open to finding someone who will love us as we are”.
My hope is that this will help you communicate with an avoidant in ways that will help you get heard, listened to and validated; and also make your avoidant ex feel safe to emotionally open up; and have real-heart-to-heart conversations about feelings and needs.
If you need help with an avoidant who doesn’t believe you genuinely cared about them, is holding a grudge or doesn’t trust your intentions, I ‘m happy to work with you one-on-one to change that.