Part of being a stable, loving and secure base for an avoidant is understanding that when an avoidant withdraws or pulls away, it’s not necessarily a sign that they’ve lost interest, stopped loving you, don’t want a relationship with you, or that they want space or no contact.
When trying to get back together, you will experience that from time to time your avoidant ex pushes you away; and withdraws from contact or emotionally disengages. They respond but are cold and distant.
If your ex is a fearful-avoidant always remember this: Fearful-avoidants want and desire both contact and closeness; but fear both at the same time. It’s really important that you take note of this conflict within your ex. When they pull away, “giving them space” only addresses the part of them that needs to distance; and that it a good thing, but it does not address the part of them that still wants connection.
In other words, if you give a fearful avoidant “space”, they will appreciate the “space”; but also feel that you really didn’t need to “leave” (abandon them). If it sounds like someone conflicted, that is because it is. When you give them space then try to reopen lines of communication; they’ll be a lot more cautious and sometimes even resistant to opening up. Opening up to a fearful-avoidant means getting close and getting close leads to people leaving.
So what do you say when a fearful avoidant ex pulls away?
I’ll tell you what you don’t say or do . Do not directly ask or say to an avoidant “What’s wrong?” “Why are you acting distant” or “Why aren’t you responding to my texts (emails or calls?)”
All avoidants don’t like it when you put them on the spot about their avoidant tendencies. Fearful-avoidant’s particularly don’t like it because it triggers their fears about not being good enough.
You say, “What’s wrong?”
A fearful avoidant hears, “You are making me unhappy (I’ll leave)”.
You say, “Why are you acting distant”
A fearful avoidant hears, “You are not acting the way you should be acting (I’ll leave)”.
You say, “Why aren’t you responding to my texts (emails or calls?)”
A fearful avoidant hears, “I need you to show me you love me/care about me and you are not doing it” (I’ll leave).
It’s important to find out if why they are acting distant is because of something you said or are doing. It’s only natural to want the opportunity to correct what you are doing wrong. But sometimes a fearful avoidant pulls away because they developed feelings for you and gets scared that getting too close will be a risk. A fearful avoidant may even act need and clingy then pull away.
What I have found works is instead of asking “what’s wrong?” “Why are you acting distant” or “Why aren’t you responding to my texts (emails or calls?)” ask “Is there something I should be concerned/worried about?” This says, “I sense something is wrong, but I may be wrong, and everything is okay”.
For example: ‘We are not communicating the way we were last week. Is this something that I should be concerned/worried about? Do we need to talk about it?”
If they want to talk about it, then talk about it without accusing them of making you unhappy or hurting you (attachment anxiety style), and without coaching them on how to be a better partner or doing psychoanalysis on their avoidant behaviour (talking about their parents, childhood, past experiences or relationships etc). Fearful-avoidants already don’t have a positive view of themselves (and of others), don’t pile it on.
Don’t push even if you think something is wrong
If they say there is nothing to worry about, don’t push even if you think something is wrong. Let them know that if they need to talk, you will hear them out without judgement and without freaking out or threatening to leave.
If they insist on needing space, time and/or no contact for a while, don’t beg or plead with them. Let them do what they need to do to feel safe, even if that means being away from you.
This doesn’t mean you have to act like their wanting no-contact or “needing space” doesn’t bother you. You can tell them you want to stay in contact, keep the lines of communication open or be able to talk to them without feeling like you are bothering them. But if they feel that they need space or want no contact for a while, you understand. You will give them a week or whatever amount of time they asked for then reach out
Telling them when you will reach out does three very important thing, it helps:
- Address the part of a fearful-avoidant that needs contact and connection even if they fear it or don’t know how to do.
- Reassure them that you are not leaving, which is a fearful-avoidants greatest fear.
- Give them comfort knowing that the connection between the two of you is not broken or weakened because they need “space” away from you.
Important point here. Don’t offer “space” or no-contact if someone hasn’t asked for it. Offering someone ‘space” who hasn’t asked for it is your own attachment style being activated. It often doesn’t end well when two people both with insecure attachment style are activated (as many of you have experienced) .
For what to do when a dismissive avoidant pulls away read: Why Dismissive Avoidants Fear Getting Close (What to Do)
To get a better idea of how often each attachment style comes back, I have written detailed articles on individual attachment styles: why they come back, what makes them come back and how long it takes them to come back. You will find the links at the bottom.