Securely attached individuals can tell an avoidant right from the beginning of the relationship. Some securely attached people work hard at providing the safety and security that avoidants need, but if they see that the relationship is becoming toxic, they immediately end it.
Anxious attachers also can tell when someone is an avoidant but their response is different. A relationship with an avoidant is very familiar, an attachment dynamic they know too well.
The attachment dynamic between an anxious attacher and an avoidant is one of getting close and pulling away. When trying to get back together, contact and emotional connection picks up, then abruptly stops, then picks up again and stops again.
Sometimes it’s a few weeks and even months of things looking positive and getting back together seems like only a matter of time, then something seemingly small happens, and the anxiety and distancing begins.
For many anxious attachers the advice in my book Dating Your Ex works great, they are seeing progress and are hopeful, until their attachment anxiety is activated. All the momentum built up to this point is all but lost.
The trigger can be something as simple as an anxious attacher saying “Can we meet in person?” and the avoidant saying, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to meet”.
An anxious-fearful attacher is thinking: “Why doesn’t she think it’s a good idea to meet? Did I act needy by asking to meet? Was it too soon? Is she leading me on? Is there someone else? Should I ask? What do I say? Have I ruined my chances? Should I reach out? What if she doesn’t respond? Should I ask if she’s doesn’t want me to contact her anymore? I will give her space (or wait for her to contact me)….”
Keep in mind, the avoidant didn’t say anything about “needing space”, they just said “I don’t think it’s be a good idea to meet”.
An anxious-preoccupied attacher on the other hand is thinking: “What did he mean by ‘it’s not a good idea’? Should I ask what he meant? What do I say? What if he doesn’t respond? I don’t want to be annoying, maybe I should give him space. What if he thinks I don’t care? Maybe he wants me to reach out first. I need to know what he’s thinking. What’s wrong with asking to meet? I need to apologize if it made him feel bad. What if he never contacts me again? I don’t want to lose him. I don’t want him to think I don’t care. I need to show him I love him…” ”
Anxious-preoccupied attachers honestly believe that if they show the other person that they care and make them feel loved, everything will go back to how it was before. In reality, they are the ones that need to know that they are still loved, and their partner or ex still cares about them.
How a securely attached ex and an avoidant ex responds to attachment anxiety couldn’t be more different.
A securely attached ex will do their best to reassure the anxious attacher that “I don’t think it’s a good idea to meet” doesn’t mean they want to end contact, they are pulling away or don’t want to get back together. They just think it is too soon to meet, they are not emotionally ready or they want to take things slow.
An avoidant ex will react with you guessed it right, avoidance.
A fearful-avoidant’s natural reaction will be to avoid contact because they don’t know how to stay in contact or what to say when an anxious attacher is triggered. But because they are conflicted about contact and closeness (they want it as much as they fear it) they will respond to texts and reach out every now and then (limited or low contact).
What’s interesting is that limited or low contact actually works for an anxious-fearful and a fearful-avoidant. On the superficial level it looks like there is still closeness because there is some form of contact. However, contact that is random and sometimes far between does not build momentum not to mention bring two people close. After a while the contact fizzles out and because both attachment styles (anxious-fearful and fearful-avoidant) are ruled by fear, neither party has the courage to do what it takes to get back together.
Unlike a fearful-avoidant, a dismissive avoidant is not conflicted about contact or closeness. As far as they are concerned, they don’t think it’s a good idea to meet and the anxious attacher can take it anyway they want and accept it or not accept it. They don’t need to explain anything. It’s not that important.
When an anxious attacher asks “What did you mean by ‘it’s not a good idea’?”, they will respond that it’s just not a good idea. They will not give further explanations because talking about thoughts or feelings makes them vulnerable, and in the mind of a dismissive avoidant, vulnerability is weakness.
If the anxious attacher pulls away (in the name of giving space), a dismissive-avoidant will not initiate contact. To them, needing contact, connection or closeness is a sign of weakness, and they can’t afford to be weak by being the one initiating contact.