Avoidants often say “I don’t want a relationship” as a reason for breaking up or for not wanting to get back together. If they don’t want a relationship, can they want a relationship again; and how you can make them want a relationship again?
In my article Why Telling A Fearful Avoidant Ex You Love Often Backfires I discussed how an anxious attachment and fearful avoidant attachment internal working models and information processing bias distorts what’s really going on, limits each attachment styles’ ability to really hear what the other is saying or respond constructively.
The result is miscommunication problems, unintended conflict and escalation and in some cases even makes a fearful avoidant lose interest and not want a relationship again.
Dismissive avoidants also say they don’t want a relationship when breaking up and often insist after a break-up that they don’t want a relationship with an ex or anyone. The internal working model and information processing bias that makes FAs “I don’t want a relationship” is different from what makes dismissive avoidants don’t want a relationship.
It’s important to understand this subtle but very often overlooked difference between FAs and DAs. Although DAs and FAs share many common avoidant attachment traits, there are also clear unique traits that are distinct to each attachment style; traits that help you understand what motivates each attachment style and how to attract them back.
Dismissive avoidant: I don’t want to get close. I don’t need you (or anyone). I prefer being alone.
According to attachment theory, we all have internal working models or scripts formed from childhood and subsequent experiences. These survival reactions run at a sub-conscious level and affect how we experience relationships and feel love, how we regulate attachment-related emotions, how we react to separation, how we interpret situations and events, the decisions we make and the strategies we use to justify our decisions and actions. These internal working model or scripts form the basis of our attachment style.
A fearful avoidant attachment internal working model or script is formed when an attachment figure who was a source of safety was also a source of fear, uncertainty, instability, chaos or anxiety. Because the child longed for closeness with the attachment figure but also felt fearful and distrusting of it, fearful avoidants developed an internal working model or script that says: I can’t trust you… I don’t trust myself… I can’t trust us together. This is discussed in much more detail in my article Why Telling A Fearful Avoidant Ex You Love Often Backfires
Dismissive avoidants also have an internal working model or script but theirs says: I don’t want to get close… I don’t need you (or anyone)… I prefer being alone. Somewhere during early childhood and subsequent experiences, “closeness” wasn’t provided or was provided but with many conditions, obligations and threats, and dismissive avoidants developed a belief that they do not need others or need to be close to anyone because closeness isn’t safe or what it’s hyped up to be.
Unlike fearful avoidants who in general want to be close and often long for relationships when they are alone but feel that they do not want a relationship because they distrust of others and have difficulty trusting their own instincts and feelings, dismissive avoidants on most part think relationship are just not a priority on the list of things that make them happy. Their main fear is a relationship will be too demanding and restricting that they won’t have enough “space” in the relationship to be themselves, pursue their own dreams and interests, spend time with friends and family etc.
What do dismissive avoidants want from a relationship?
Dismissive avoidants want a relationship, and dismissive avoidants even want closeness.
We all come into this world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others. A dismissive avoidant attachment style is unique in that dismissive avoidants sub-consciously and consciously choose to suppress their attachment-relevant needs. This doesn’t mean they do not have the need to be close, it just means they choose (at any given time) to focus their attention, energy and time on other things other than a relationship, and deny or dismiss their own attachment needs.
As painful and disheartening it is to hear that someone you love and care about is prioritizing other things over a relationship with you, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t mean you are not worthy of love, time and energy, it just means that while what individuals with an anxious attachment want more then anything in a relationship is to feel loved and wanted, and fearful avoidants want to be able to completely trust someone and trust that what they feel for someone isn’t going to end up hurting them, what dismissive avoidants want from a relationship is a sense of agency. More than anything they want is to feel that they have control of their own experience – the decisions they make, the life they live, how they spend their time, who they let in and when and how, what they can and can not do in a relationship etc.
On the most part, an ideal relationship for a dismissive avoidant can be summarized as one that:
- Allows for contact with their partners, but at a safe, emotionally comfortable distance and on terms dictated by a dismissive avoidant.
- There is no pressure to give or receive support, to become more emotionally close, and/or to share deep personal emotions.
- Isn’t emotionally stressful or doesn’t feel like a dismissive avoidant is constrained by a partner’s needs, expectations or emotions and feelings (especially strong expression of emotion).
- Dismissive avoidants have lots of time and space to be alone by themselves.
- Allows a dismissive avoidant to exists as a separate person with the ability to take action without consulting their partner.
Anxious attachment: “I don’t want that kind of relationship”.
The problem is what dismissive avoidants consider an ideal relationship on most part doesn’t feel like a relationship or love to someone with an anxious attachment. Anxious attachment need to feel close to feel love, and need to talk about feelings and needs, discuss problems, consult on almost every decision (and even decisions most people make on their own), constantly check with a partner if everything is okay and are happiest when spending almost all of their time with someone they love.
The relationship starts to fall apart when an anxious attachment starts asking for a dismissive avoidant for attention, loving gestures, care, validation, reassurance etc., and dismissive avoidant who is sub-consciously running “I don’t want to get close, I don’t need you (or anyone), I prefer being alone” internal script feel pressured and pulls away or loses interest in the relationship.
This triggers an anxious attachment who thinks the way to show you love someone is give them attention, love, care, validation, reassurance etc. If the tables were turned, this is what they expect and want from an ex trying to get them back. But instead, the more and harder they try to show a dismissive avoidant that they love them and want to get close, the more a dismissive avoidant feels pressured and pulls further away.
Naturally, an anxious attachment feels rejected, and can’t understand why showing someone you love and care about them is such a bad thing. They go online and read all the negative things about dismissive avoidants and conclude that the reason for the break-up is because someone is “an avoidant” and the reason they don’t want to come back is because they’re “a dismissive avoidant”.
Because anxiously attached people do not know whether they can count on their partners, their internal working model amplifies their concerns and worries about someone not being available and responsive making them act in ways that sometimes smother or drive others away.
And because each attachment style is processing information in accordance with their internal working models or scripts:
- “We don’t to talk about issues”, “we don’t spend much time together” or “You don’t support me”, etc., is heard by a dismissive avoidant as “Why won’t you let me get close to you?”.
- “I want to support you”, “I just want to love you and show you I care” or “we’re good together” etc., translates into “you need me” which to a dismissive avoidant is the same as “I want to get close so I can control you”.
- And “You don’t let me in”, “You do things without asking me”, “I want us to be teammates/act like a couple” or “I need more commitment” to a dismissive avoidant feels too demanding and restricting. They can’t pursue their own dreams and interests, spend time with friends and family etc., with another person too much into their space, time and life.
Dismissive avoidant: I want you, but I don’t want a relationship with you.
In some cases, a dismissive avoidant ex may still have feelings for you but the thought of talking about feelings, needs and problems, consulting someone else before making decisions, constantly being asked if everything is okay and spending almost all of their time with someone is enough for a dismissive avoidant to feel that they don’t want a relationship. They end the relationship that they don’t want but because they still want an ex, they either offer to be friends, or every now and then reach out and want connection.
But as in the relationship this is often not enough for an anxiously attached ex (and even fearful avoidant ex) who want more – and dismissive avoidant exes are aware that the other person wants more. But a dismissive avoidant internal script is so strong that when a dismissive avoidant ex gets a text from an ex what they see is: “I want to get close/a relationship.” A dismissive avoidant ex may even respond to texts immediately and seem engaged and interested but keep things superficial to avoid sending the message that they want to get close or want a relationship.
And sometimes when you text dismissive avoidants after no contact, they text back, “What do you want?” because they think you reached out because you want to get close, and they don’t.
Can you make a dismissive avoidant want a relationship?
You can’t make anyone want anything, but you can create conditions or a safe emotional environment that makes a dismissive avoidant ex feel that you’re not controlling or trying to control them either by directly through pressure and demands or indirectly by acting needy and clingy.
Research (Jeffry A. Simpson, W. Steven Rholes 2016) shows that dismissive avoidants are less inclined to think, feel, and behave in line with their internal working models when they’re emotionally invested in a relationship and less likely to react in “insecure” ways when their romantic partners buffer emotionally and behaviourally regulate their attachment-related concerns.
The study goes on to say “To be successful, however, these partner buffering attempts must be carefully tailored to meet the specific attachment-relevant needs, concerns, and worries” of a dismissive avoidant ex.
Simply put, a dismissive avoidant ex is more likely to want a relationship if you emotionally and behaviourally show that they don’t have to worry that being in a relationship with you will be too demanding and restricting that they won’t have enough “space” in the relationship to be themselves, pursue their own dreams and interests, spend time with friends and family etc.
This requires you to not only be aware of a dismissive avoidant’s needs, concerns, and worries but also accept that that dismissive avoidants have a different idea of what kind of relationship they want; and just because they act differently from our own attachment style doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings or don’t want connection and closeness.
Dismissive avoidant ex doesn’t want a relationship because of THEM
Also make sure that you separate personal concerns, and worries (things happening in a DA’s life that have nothing to do with the relationship) from relational concerns, and worries (things happening in the relationship (e.g. emotional stress, conflict, pressure etc.).
Both of these can affect how a dismissive avoidant perceives you or the relationship, how they feel and act and can cause a dismissive avoidant to feel that they don’t want a relationship.
I know this from first had experience as a dismissive avoidant. When I was not in a relationship and things weren’t going well in my life, I didn’t feel like talking to anyone or being close to anyone, and pushed people away. But I at least felt in control of what was happening to me. But if I was dealing with my personal stress and the person I was in a relationship with was complaining that I didn’t respond to texts, wasn’t opening up about what was going on with me, asking to to talk or spend time together when I’d rather be alone, acting out to get attention or start fights etc., I felt like my life was getting out of control and they had to go so I can deal with whatever was gong on in my life.
This is in contrast with people with an anxious attachment who depend on others to regulate personal feelings of distress. They want their partner to be closer and more caring and even act needy and dependent when they’re going through something personal; and feel unloved when someone seems unaffected by what they’re going through. They engage in protest behaviour, use emotion-focused coping, and create stress and problems in the relationship which wouldn’t be there if they self-regulated better and relied more on themselves than on others.
All this is to say, when a dismissive avoidants says they’re going through something personal and want space or don’t feel like being in a relationship (right now), don’t take it personally; it’s not a break-up or a sign that you’ll not get back together. It’s a dismissive avoidant’s way of dealing with personal stress. When things are good again, they’ll reach out or want want to be close again. It’s up to you then to decide if you still want a relationship with them knowing that this is how they act when under stress.
An avoidant may not be responsible for their attachment style, but they’re responsible for how they choose to treat someone else. If you feel that you can’t deal with someone with an avoidant attachment, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.
Dismissive avoidant ex doesn’t want a relationship because of YOU
Sometimes dismissive avoidants (and fearful avoidants) say “I don’t want a relationship right now” as a reason for the break-up but what they really mean is “I don’t want a relationship with YOU.” They have real or perceived concerns and worries about the relationship, but think that by telling you that they don’t want a relationship, they’ll avoid talking about how they feel or why they’re breaking up with you. But next thing you know, the very person who said, “I don’t want a relationship right now” is in a new relationship.
If they’re out there looking to get close to someone else, it’s not that they didn’t want a relationship because they’re avoidant and got scared when you got too close as most people want to believe. It’s that they don’t want a relationship with you.
Blaming all the problems in the relationship and the break-up on your ex being a dismissive avoidant (or avoidant), and looking at everything through the “DAs don’t want to get close” lens prevents you from even trying to understand why avoidants don’t want to get close or want a relationship, and how to successfully and carefully tailor your efforts to meet their specific attachment-relevant needs, concerns, and worries about being close or being in a relationship.
This is not only lack of self-awareness and failure to take responsibility for one’s action but also self-sabotage. What you are basically saying is: “I didn’t do anything wrong. There is nothing I need to change. It could however still work if only they fixed their avoidant attachment style”. Which is another way of saying, “I give up”.
Many people get back their avoidant ex, so you have to ask yourself: if avoidants are afraid of getting close, if avoidants break up when people get close, and if avoidants don’t want relationships, what do people who get back with their avoidant ex do that I don’t? Obviously being an avoidant and fear of getting close didn’t stop them from coming back.
Do you truly understand how your dismissive avoidant ex experiences relationships or feels love?
1. Internal working models – Are you expecting a dismissive avoidant to think, feel and behave like someone with an anxious attachment?
2. Idea of a relationship – Do you both want the same thing but have different ideas what a relationship is and what it means being in a relationship?
3. Process relationship-related information – Is what your dismissive avoidant ex says what you hear and is what you say what they hear?
4. External stress factors – Is your dismissive avoidants ex going through “something” that has nothing to do with the relationship and just needs time and space to sort themselves out?
5. Relationship stress – How do your words and actions trigger a dismissive avoidant and make them behave in line with their internal working models?
6. Safety and security – What are you doing to make a dismissive avoidant feel the relationship is worth emotionally investing in?