Question: My avoidant ex is opening up to me but pulls away when we get close. He is slowly letting me in and is more comfortable telling me how he feels.
When we were together and I asked him how he feels or asked him questions about this past, he’d say he doesn’t want to talk. This triggered me and he responded with distancing. Sometimes he’d get up and leave the house for days. Thanks to your advice, I’m more secure now and able to meet him where he is. Since we decided to work on our relationship, he is contributing to conversations. We have talked about our attachment styles and I’ve forwarded him some of your articles and videos. Last week he on his own brought up going to see a therapist. Of course, I was excited, but I didn’t push.
I am happy with where things are, my only concern and also question is after our intimate conversations where he opens up, he pulls away and needs more space. Luckily I read many of your articles and expected it to happen. I allow him his space and reach out a few days later according to his deactivation pattern. He has been responding positively to me reaching out in this manner. Are there things I can do to make him feel he doesn’t have to deactivate every time we get close?
Yangki’s Answer: An avoidant ex going from “I don’t want to talk” to going to see a therapist is a big deal!
First of all, he must really love you to want to change. Second of all, whatever you’re doing is not just working, it is working really well. I know you are not back together (yet), but I am really happy for you.
It’s reasonable to be concerned about your dismissive avoidant ex opening up and then pulling away when you get close; and to want to help stop the deactivation of the attachment system.
For an avoidant to open up to someone, let alone to an ex feels like going against who they are. Their natural instincts are to keep people at a distance; and avoid being emotionally vulnerable. When they go against those natural instincts, they instinctively deactivate to center and feel safe again.
The most important thing you can do to stop a dismissive avoidant ex from pulling away every time you get close is to provide safety. I have written a long article on how to make an avoidant ex feel safe; you’ll find the link at the bottom.
In addition to making an avoidant ex feel safe, do this the following to make them feel they don’t have to pull away every time you get too close.
1) Remind yourself it’s not personal or intentional that an avoidant ex pulls away
It’s important to remind yourself that when a dismissive avoidant ex pulls away, it is not necessarily personal or intentional
Some avoidants are not aware of their deactivating patterns, it’s just something they feel they need to do. Some are aware, but don’t think too hard about it. Others are aware of their deactivating patterns and feel frustrated by it; but also feel helpless to change it. I suspect your ex falls in the last category.
Giving him space to figure things out on his own is helping.
2) Reach out first when an avoidant ex pulls away
Reaching out first when an avoidant ex pulls away seems counter intuitive. Our natural thinking is that they need space, let them reach out when they’re ready. But very often if you don’t reach out, an avoidant will not reach out at all.
Remember a self-aware avoidant is frustrated by their inability to get close and may think that you are frustrated too. When you don’t reach out, they think you may be hurt or angry; and since they don’t know how to deal with emotions (their own and other people’s), they avoid the emotions and avoid you.
The fact that you have figured his deactivation pattern and reach out instead of waiting for him to reach out is making him feel that you are not angry or hurt that he pulls away every now and then.
You’ve been reading my articles and watching my videos, so you know that there is a difference between reaching out and chasing a dismissive avoidant ex. They don’t mind you reaching out, they don’t like you chasing them.
3) Encourage him to accept your support
Avoidants in general hate asking for help. They feel uncomfortable relying on anyone for anything; and feel uncomfortable asking a partner for emotional support.
You may even find that an avoidant ex pulls away because they feel that they need your support but don’t want to ask for it or know how to ask for it. It feels safer for them to pull away and not feel like they need your support than ask you for it.
When he opens up about something he’d like to change or do, don’t jump in to give advice or a lecture about attachment styles. Tell him you are there to support him in whatever he wants to do and will support him in any way he needs you to. But that at the end of the day, it is his journey and he and only he controls it.
4) Be patient when an avoidant ex pulls away
Last but not least, be patient. Also remember, there could also be other things going on in your ex’s which have nothing to do with his dismissive attachment style.