Question: My ex has an anxious preoccupied attachment and despite all my efforts she will not talk to me. I have a fearful avoidant attachment and because I was not spending time with her; she broke up with me. She said she felt like she was putting in more effort than me and that I didn’t care and she didn’t feel like a priority. I failed to be really open about my feelings/fears with her, for the fear that she might be frightened away.
It was a painful breakup and reading many of your articles, I probably did more things to damage the relationship after the break-up. I went no contact for 35 days. I want to explain to her that I am in a better place, but 3 weeks and 5 text messages and had not responded, except for when I asked about the cat we share. Her response was short but warm. I just need the chance to explain myself, take responsibility for my actions and tell her I want her back. How do I get through to her?
Yangki’s Answer: Your anxious preoccupied ex will not talk to you because she’s afraid of getting hurt again.
I am sure you understand that attachment anxiety comes from the fear that an attachment figure (in this case an ex) will be unavailable or unresponsive to one’s attachment needs.
‘No contact’ used as a strategy to get back your ex is designed to trigger attachment anxiety. Someone who is anxious-preoccupied or has and fearful avoidant attachment style is very sensitive to an attachment figure being unavailable or unresponsive. The see it as abandonment.
When an attachment figure, in this case an ex cuts off contact, it triggers the fear of rejection and abandonment, causing the individual to frantically try to re-establish that connection with an attachment figure. If the attachment figure is not responsive, the attachment system remains fully or partially activated.
In the short term, making an ex feel abandoned seems like a brilliant strategy to make them miss you. Long term however, it makes an anxious preoccupied ex feel afraid of contact. What if you stop responding and again become unavailable? Then she has to put in more effort; and she does not want to do that anymore.
What you do after a break-up may well determine whether you’ll get back together or not. It’d have made things so much easier if you had kept the line of communication open after the break-up. Even if it’s only to send your ex a text telling her you feel you need to work on yourself; and send regular updates on how you’re doing.
The best advice I can give you at this point is to “wait” for her to reach out to you if she wants to. Trying to push aggressively especially at the onset of the process is usually unwise. And when (or if) she gets in contact, hold off the “relationship talk” or asking her to get back together until you have shown her that you:
- Care about her and make her a priority
- Can put in as much effort into making the relationship work
- Are open about your feelings/fears with her
Later when the emotional connection and the contacts become more frequent, then you can explain yourself and take responsibility for your actions. Unless she brings it up, try to separate when you explain yourself and take responsibility for your actions from when you tell her you want her back. The timing for these two stages of the process are different. She may be ready to hear your explanation but not ready to get back together (yet).