Almost everyone who’s talked about getting back with an avoidant or talked about going back to an avoidant ex has had a relative, friend, co-worker, therapist, and even online strangers tell them, “Avoidants can’t have a healthy relationship.”
The idea that avoidants can’t have a healthy relationship is almost accepted truth. Many believe that unless a fearful avoidant ex or dismissive avoidant ex changes, there is no hope because they can’t have a healthy relationship. Even the best seller, Attached puts a lot of emphasize on an avoidant changing their attachment styles in order for the relationship to be healthy.
What exactly makes a relationship healthy?
Some relationship experts describe a healthy relationship as “a partnership between two people that is based on respect and trust”. They say in a healthy relationship both partners should feel safe and be willing to work on a common goal for exactly what they want the relationship to be but also respect and values who the other is.
Others say the most important aspect of a healthy relationship is good communication. They go on to list talking deeply and honestly, listening without judgment, feeling comfortable expressing feelings needs and things that bother you without fear of rejection, finding ways to stay connected and making time for each other as some of the things that make a relationship healthy.
Another description of a healthy relationship is one in which you rely on each other for mutual support but still maintain your independence and understand and respect each other’s boundaries. Meaning, for a relationship to be healthy, each of you must have your own identity, supportive relationships, hobbies and interests outside of the relationship because no one person can meet all of your needs.
I personally believe that all the above describe a healthy relationship and there are probably many things I’ve not included in what exactly makes a relationship healthy. But does a relationship have to have all the above for it to be healthy?
Healthy relationships are not perfect
Ideally a relationship should meet certain requirement for it to be considered a healthy relationship. In realty, a relationship doesn’t have to perfectly meet every single criteria to be considered a healthy relationship. It’s the idea that every relationship needs to meet every single criteria to be considered a healthy relationship that creates the need to misrepresent oneself, manipulate others, play mind games and engage in psychological tricks. Many of us do not feel safe enough to just be ourselves with all our imperfections and shortcomings. To be accepted and even be loved we have to play a part – and that part has to be as close to perfection as possible.
This is why I don’t endorse “avoidants shouldn’t date or be in a relationship unless they’ve worked on themselves or changed their attachment style” narrative. One could also argue that individuals with an anxious attachment shouldn’t date or be in a relationship until they’ve developed their own identity and self-worth, have supportive relationships, hobbies and interests outside of the relationship, and can self-soothe and regulate their emotions on their own.
Healthy relationships don’t require one to be perfect or even 100% secure. This is one of the things I’ve learned in my years as a relationship coach. Every relationship is unique, and people come together for many different reasons, and because all romantic relationships go through ups and downs and take work (even secure relationships), “a healthy relationship” although a goal we all strive for may not mean exactly the same thing for everyone.
But while we may not all agree on what makes a relationship a healthy relationship, having different attachment styles with different ideas of an ideal relationship or what is safe in a relationship can be particularly challenging.
An avoidants idea of an ideal relationship vs a healthy relationship
Attachment theory when you really think about it is all about emotional safety. Emotional safety is essential to a good relationship, but it can have different meanings depending on one’s attachment style. What someone with an anxious attachment means by safe or even needs to feel safe in the relationship may not be a dismissive avoidant’s idea of safety or what makes a fearful avoidant feel safe, and vice versa. For example:
Anxious attachment – Someone with a preoccupied anxious attachment may feel that a supportive and caring relationship without the need for individual identities, hobbies and interests outside of the relationship is safe and reassuring. This is not necessarily what most people would describe as a healthy relationship, but it may be what makes an anxious attachment feel safe. Many They people with an anxious attachment often find a partner’s independence and boundaries threatening.
Dismissive avoidant attachment – Two people working on a common goal for exactly what they want in a relationship may be what is considered a healthy relationship, but to a dismissive avoidant, this may not necessarily feel safe. As long as there is respect and trust and both partners value who the other is, a dismissive avoidant may feel safe without the “teamwork” effort required for a relationship to be considered a healthy relationship.
Fearful avoidant attachment – On the other hand, a fearful avoidant may be willing to work on a common goal for what they want in a relationship but not feel safe openly talking about things that bother them (or you). And while communication is an important aspect of a healthy relationship, the need for acceptance and fear of rejection and judgement may be more important to a fearful avoidant’s sense of safety than open communication.
My point is, sometimes what we consider a healthy relationship may conflict with what makes someone with a different attachment style feel safe.
Can avoidants have a health relationship?
Yes, avoidants can have a healthy relationship. An avoidant attachment style meets certain requirements for a healthy relationship, and this means that avoidants can have a health relationship. And because all other attachment styles other than a secure attachment style (which though a healthy attachment style also isn’t perfect) are insecure attachment styles, people with an anxious attachment, fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants are always going to disagree on what constitutes a healthy or ideal relationship, let alone a safe relationship.
It also means that an anxious attachment, fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants can have a relationship that feels safe for both parties if two people agree on what constitutes a healthy or secure relationship for them and make effort to provide each other the safety each needs. It doesn’t have to be:
- This is what I think is healthy, I don’t care if it makes an avoidant feel safe or not.
- Unless a fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant changes, I can’t have a healthy relationship with them.
- Avoidants are so damaged that they can’t have a healthy relationship or even
- This is an avoidants idea of a healthy relationship, this is how to trick them into thinking they’re in a healthy relationship.
It also doesn’t have to be, “I’m an avoidant and this is how to get along with me. Do it or forget about a relationship with me”. This is not about being an avoidant, this is using “I’m an avoidant” as an excuse for being a jerka** or narcissist, or both.
Without any effort to provide safety in the relationship, you both lose. You can give an avoidant ex all the space you think they need and wait as long as 6 -8 months to reach out, but space is not the only thing avoidants need to feel safe or want in order to come back. Space may not even be a fearful avoidant’s idea of a healthy relationship or the most important thing to a fearful avoidant who leans anxious. And in some cases, space is exactly what an avoidant ex needs to completely detach and move on.
You also lose when you demand that an avoidant change. Besides the obvious fact that you can’t change someone else and avoidants in general aren’t the “changing type” unless highly motivated to do so, demanding that an avoidant change as a condition for getting back together is a form of unacceptance.
What you’re saying by demanding that an avoidant change as a condition for getting back together is, “I don’t accept who you are and can’t love you for you”, confirming a fearful avoidant’s core belief that they’re unacceptable as they’re and people can’t be trusted to stick around, or a dismissive avoidant’s core belief that people want to control or change them.
You probably lose the most when you try to trick an avoidant ex into thinking they’re in a safe relationship. You may get back an avoidant but you also get the relationship you tricked them into, not the one they chose to be in – or want to be in. Good luck with that!
Healthy is about finding safety first then a healthy balance
Healthy is about finding a healthy balance for the two of you. What is “healthy” for two people may not be healthy for someone else, and even what is a healthy relationship for one avoidant many not necessarily be what’s healthy for another avoidant. What is important is that 1) you understand and accept that you have two different attachment styles and 2) you both feel safe – heard, understood, accepted, valued, respected, mutually trust the other and can agree on important issues.
When you both feel safe, it’s much easier to compromise on what you want from the relationship, how much space from each other and how much time for each other, when and how to bring up things that bother you etc. Making each other feel safe will not only lead to a healthier and more secure relationship but to positive growth individually and together.
Do avoidants want a healthy relationship?
Okay, so avoidants can have a healthy relationship, sounds great right? But do avoidants want a healthy relationship? More importantly is there hope of a healthy relationship with an avoidant ex?
Yes, avoidants want a healthy relationship. A fearful or dismissive avoidant’s idea of an ideal relationship may be unique to their attachment style, but at the end of the day, fearful and dismissive avoidants want the same thing as people with an anxious attachment or secure attachment. They want understanding, acceptance, safety, security, intimacy, support, respect, mutual trust, etc. They want to be happy, wanted and loved. These are things all attachment styles want, we just differ in how we go about getting these things, and what we prioritize in order to feel safe or even be happy.
So don’t get so discouraged by the notion that avoidants are so damaged that they can’t have a healthy relationship because that’s not true. Find what works for the two of you and what makes both of you feel safe, happy, loved and wanted. I understand that this might be a controversial view of “healthy relationships” but human beings are not perfect and healthy relationships are not perfect.
A good relationship is a meaningful relationship that helps you grow as a person and as a couple – and sometimes this means making decisions that are right for you (even if they’re not right for someone else), making mistakes, learning from your mistakes and doing your own personal work – and learning and growing together with an avoidant ex.
Sometimes this also means seeing an avoidants as more than their attachment trauma and subsequently attachment style. Yes, they may be an avoidant, but they also have so many qualities e.g. similar values, goals, interest, hobbies and vision of family and the future that you may not have with someone else even if that person has a secure attachment style. Focusing too much on an avoidant attachment being “the” problem and all the negative stuff on the internet blinds you to what’s right and even healthy in your relationship with your avoidant ex.
You may even already have a relationship that’s right for the two of you, but you are too distracted by an avoidant’s imperfections and illusion of the perfect relationship (they’re supposed to be this or do that) to see you are right for each other, or work on making your relationship secure for both of you.