The majority of exes with an anxious attachment come back within 0-3 months of the break-up, in the window of time to get them back. In this article, I discuss how to get back an ex with anxious attachment before they deactivate and become fearful avoidant and pull back, start playing mind games or go no contact.
Anxious attachment have the hardest time dealing with a break-up
In a study on attachment and break-up strategies, attachment anxiety was associated with using strategies meant to keep open the option of getting back together. This is because individuals with anxious attachment styles in general value relationships over everything; including their own best interest sometimes. They tend to fall in love too fast and too hard, get overly attached to someone they’re in a relationship with and become dependent on them, try too hard to make someone love them and put up with a lot. Most stay too long in relationship that are unhealthy and not good for them.
When the relationship ends, most anxious people become distraught, frantic and obsessed with their ex. They text and call their ex incessantly, send messages declaring their love and commitment, beg and plead with their ex to take them back, send verbal threats and unwanted gifts, and even stalk their ex on social media, in their home or work. In attachment theory, the individual in this state is said to be hyperactivated.
Break-ups trigger an anxious attachment’s fear of abandonment
A hyperactivated state produces a self- intensifying cycle of distress characterized by yearning, intense efforts to get close to an attachment figure, rumination, overreacting and maintaining high levels of “negative” emotion.
Break-ups hyperactivate the attachment system because they trigger feelings of rejection and abandonment experienced in childhood, or years of being ignored, abandoned, neglected by romantic partners causing the attachment system to become excessively active and emotionally reactivity.
What an ex with an anxious attachment style is looking in the hyperactivated state is validation and reassurance that they’re worthy of love and attention. Most of them had no experience of a secure and reassuring attachment figure who comforted them when they needed soothing; and as a result felt rejected, abandoned, unloved and unlovable.
But while individuals with anxious attachment have a hard time leaving a relationship, and take break-ups the hardest, people with an anxious attachment style are also more willing to give the relationship another chance. Meaning that people with an anxious attachment come back more often than other attachment styles, but there is a limited window of time in which someone with an anxious attachment is likely to come back.
Window of time to get back an anxious attachment ex
John Bowlby the pioneer of attachment theory observed that children who experienced intense separation distress or anxiety go through three progressive stages (Bowlby, Robertson 1952):
Stage 1 – Protest: The child cries, screams and protests angrily when the parent leaves. They will try to cling on to the parent to stop them leaving.
Stage 2 – Despair: The child’s protesting begins to stop, and they appear to be calmer although still upset. The child refuses others’ attempts for comfort and often seems withdrawn and uninterested in anything else.
Stage 3 – Detachment: If separation continues the child will start to engage with other people again. They will reject the caregiver on their return and show strong signs of anger.
The crucial window of time to get back an ex with an anxious attachment is therefore 0-3 months of the break-up and before they detach and start to engage with someone else and/or reject your attempts to get them back and show strong signs of anger.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t get back someone with an anxious attachment after 3 months of the break-up; it just means that you have the best chance of an ex with an anxious attachment coming back in the 0-3 months window after the break-up. After 4 months most exes with an anxious attachment start to feel like they no longer care if their ex comes back or not. If an ex hasn’t reached out or ignored all an anxious attachment’s attempts to reopen the lines of communication, they may feel that they no longer want their ex to contact them and set them back in their healing process.
I see the shift from hyperactivating to deactivating in my clients with an anxious attachment. When they first sign up for coaching to get their ex back, they are so determined to get back with their ex and have “I don’t give up on love” attitude I find admirable in people with an anxious attachment. But when the process drags on too long, which is common with most avoidants, or becomes too stressful with so many highs and lows (common with fearful avoidant exes), I see my clients’ hopes and “I don’t give up on love” energy drain out of them as some of them go into protest behaviour and others slowly deactivate.
Someone who signed up for coaching swearing they didn’t want to do no contact or play mind games slowly starts to justify why they should “make their ex miss” them, why they can’t trust their ex, and why they should probably move on etc. Their mental and emotional state goes hot and cold depending on how their ex responds. Some anxious attachment exes give up trying to get back with an ex too soon because they can’t handle the emotional highs and lows that come with trying to attract back an ex.
What exes with anxious attachment need the most after a break-up
What an anxious attachment needs after the break-up is not cutting of contact and making them feel even more abandoned and insecure. You will definitely without doubt get a reaction from an anxious attachment when you go no contact and make them feel more abandoned. In the short term, no contact worked, but in the long term, you set up someone with an anxious attachment not to trust you and to always feel insecure about you.
Stepping up and being the attachment figure they never had and showing them that they’re worthy of love and attention when they need it the most gives you the best chance of attracting back someone with an anxious attachment style (and fearful avoidant who lean anxious).
But this needs to be handled very carefully because you run the risk coming across as manipulative and pushing your own agenda to get back together and ignoring your ex’s feelings, needs and concerns about the relationship. The validation and reassurance you provide in these early days of the break-up is not that the problems in the relationship will be resolved or that you want an anxiously attached ex back.
The reassurance you provide in this window of time where you have the best chance to get back an anxious attachment ex, is that you’re someone they can trust not to abandon them or make them feel unloved and unlovable. Someone who makes them feel safe and secure enough to want to come back on their own.
How do you validate and reassure an anxiously attached ex?
Attachment theory defines feeling safe or secure as having an unshakable confidence in the availability and responsiveness of an attachment figure.
Feeling safe for someone with an avoidant attachment style among other things means having an unshakable confidence in the availability and responsiveness of an attachment figure when they need space and when they reach out and want connection. Feeling safe for someone with an anxious attachment among other things means having an unshakable confidence in the availability and responsiveness of an attachment figure when they need connection and closeness. The way they feel safe is with frequent validation and reassurance that you love them and are committed to makings things work.
Reassurance-seeking is something almost all attachment styles do to some degree and in some form or another. No one wants to invest in a relationship that’s going no where. But excessive reassurance seeking is behaviour exclusive to people with high anxiety (anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidants). They’re always worried if they’re interesting enough, funny enough, or if they’re boring or bothering an ex. It’s something they learned very early on in childhood to cope with uncertainty and help relieve anxiety. But while it helps an anxious person feel better (in the moment), people in a relationship with them find constant need for reassurance exhausting. Sometimes excessive reassurance seeking is the reason for the break-up.
10 Things you must do to get back an ex with anxious attachment?
When trying to get back an ex with anxious attachment, you need to pay attention to their need for validation and reassurance. While some anxious exes invest time, effort and money to change their excessive reassurance-seeking behaviours, it’s not behaviour that one can get rid off overnight or even in a few months, you can help by:
- Being available and responsive in a safe manner (safe means setting clear boundaries and respecting theirs, including if they ask for space and time)
- Showing interest in what they say or do, and in things they’re interested in
- Being sensitive to their emotional needs (including their need for closeness and connection)
- Encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts without judgement
- Being a good empathetic listener and confidant who reflects back honesty, openness and vulnerability
- Being consistent in giving them attention and following through on promises and commitments
- Trying as best a you can to understand their concerns about getting back together and respond appropriately
- Using non-violent communication instead of pressure, manipulation or advising/psychoanalyzing
- Recognizing when they feel anxious and address whatever is making then feel anxious immediately and directly.
- Providing help but only when asked and if it does not conflict with their ability to do things on their own. People with an anxious attachment style are often co-dependent as well. You do not want to encourage that in a relationship.
How feeling safe and secure makes an anxious attachment ex come back
Frequently reassuring an anxious ex that you love and care about them, have not lost interest, are not leading them on and want them back (eventually) does so many things that tremendously increase your chances of getting back with an ex with an anxious attachment style.
- Helps decrease their anxiety and dispel any doubts they may have about your intentions.
- Creates space for positive interaction and connecting in a meaningful way.
- Helps an anxious person express their feelings, needs and concerns and feel validated and not not be afraid they’ll push you away.
- Tells an anxious ex that you’re still committed to making it work.
- Shows you’re dependable and can be trusted to show up and be there for them them.
The safer you make an ex with an anxious attachment feel, the faster they’ll come back. Remember most exes with an anxious attachment style are willing to give an ex another chance, they just want to make sure they’re not making a mistake and things end up as before.
4 Reasons An Anxious Attachment Ex Doesn’t Want You Back
How Do I Get Back My Anxious Attachment Ex? (Advice Please)
Why An Anxious Preoccupied Ex Keeps Coming Back (Can’t Let Go)
FA here. I feel anxious or avoidant depending on the relationship. In the breakups where I was anxious, I asked for another chance and promised to change then followed by anger then I deactivate. The transition from anxious to avoidants usually takes 2 – 4 months. In the breakups where I was more avoidant, I immediately deactivated and felt unaffected by the breakup.
My anxious and also fearful avoidant ex becomes really anxious when I don’t respond quickly. He pulls back, stops watching my IG stories and ignores my comments for days to weeks. I’m going to try to be reassuring and make him feel safe. Thank you.
I missed my window to get her back when she suggested going to therapy. Now she barely responds to my texts msgs and is out going on dates every night. I feel so awful because she really wanted us to work and I sabotaged our chance to be together.
I’ve gone from anxious to avoidant with my last breakup. I may have triggered anxiety in my FA ex who is now putting in more effort than he’s done in our 1-yr relationship. The irony is I wanted him to do all these things in the beginning of the breakup and show me he loves and care about me but instead we had no contact for almost 2 months. He reached out first and is now doing all the things I wanted him to but I’m very guarded and don’t want to get too close. I want to, but I just can’t. It’s making trying to work things out a lot harder. We’ve discussed taking time apart for 2 months and see what happens.
I don’t know if I overcorrected my anxious attachment and swung the pendulum to avoidant or if this is a temporary phase, part of the process of healing and moving toward secure attachment, but it definitely feels strange not to want to get too close.
Part of the process of healing and moving toward secure attachment is that everybody gets there in their own way and time. This may be how you get to secure, I don’t know. If however you continue to feel distant, not want to get too close to anyone and can’t be vulnerable again, it’s possible that you swung the pendulum the other way, and need to swing it back to the center.
I’m FA and my AA ex broke up with me a week ago. I’m working on becoming secure and haven’t distanced or deactivated but I asked her if she wanted some space and she said she’d reach out to me in a couple days. I don’t know whether to reach out to her or wait for her to reach out. I really don’t want to go back to the old pattern of distancing and deactivating. Any help will be appreciated. Thank you.
She said she’ll reach out to you, it’s best to give her the opportunity to do so. It’s probably taking her a lot longer to process her feelings. As someone learning not to deactivate, it’s good to give the other person time and the benefit of the doubt. If she doesn’t reach out in 10 days, reach out to re-establish connection.
If she does not respond, it’s possible she wants you to miss her and chase her to reassure her that you really want to be with her. This is more likely if the reason for the break-up was that she felt you were not into her. she felt neglected or you weren’t putting in as much effort into the relationship. I don’t know how you feel about chasing someone.
Thank you for your quick response. She broke up with me for all the reasons you mention. But she also did something that hurt me deeply.
If she wants me to chase her, I’m not doing it. Everything I’m reading about secure attachment says chasing someone is unhealthy. I’ve been on the other side, and none of those relationships ever went anywhere. But I’ll reach out as you suggested if I don’t hear from her.