When I say to some of my clients the reason their fearful avoidant ex says they want to get back together but is stalling is because they don’t trust you, their response is “They said/say I’m the only person they trust but maybe they’re done” or “They feel completely safe with me. I don’t think they know what they want”.
Let’s get a fearful avoidant ex being done out of the way first. Usually you can tell an ex is done when;
- They tell you they’re done and mean it.
- They go no contact and never reach out.
- They unfollow you and/or block you and don’t unblock you even once.
- You reach out three times and they don’t respond at all.
- They’re in a serious relationship with someone new (or back with an ex) etc.
But when it comes to fearful avoidants, they often do not tell you they’re done, it’s up to you to guess. They’ll keep responding until you figure it out that they’re just being polite or pressure them to tell you if they’re done. Some fearful avoidants will go no contact but then reach out. Many will block you and unblock you several times. Others will friendzone you while still emotionally invested but won’t let you know they still have feelings for you. Fearful avoidants can even continue contact with an ex even when they’re in a serious relationship.
The downside of not knowing when a fearful avoidant ex is done with you is you’re left confused, hoping and in limbo for months on end. Are they done or not done? The upside and probably one of the reasons I have a soft spot for fearful avoidants is that they’re afraid of relationships but they do them afraid anyway. They fumble through them, they fail, they run away but they come back afraid but try again. The only problem is that you never know when a fearful avoidant ex will reach out or even come back after they run away from a relationship.
But when contact is frequent, the attraction is still there, the feelings are still strong, a fearful avoidant is reaching out, you’re emotionally connecting, building up momentum, hanging out and even going out on dates and talking about getting back together at some point, but a fearful avoidant just can’t let themselves take that last step to getting back together, what’s holding them back is trust – they can’t trust their own feelings and can’t trust you.
How attachment styles measure on trust issues
A fearful avoidant attachment style is the only attachment that doesn’t trust others AND doesn’t trust themselves.
- Securely attached trust others and trust themselves. This makes them feel secure in relationships.
- Anxious attached trust others but don’t trust themselves which makes them dependent on their partners and feel insecure in relationships.
- Dismissive avoidants trust themselves but don’t trust others which makes them too independent and also makes others feel insecure in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant. But it also makes a dismissive avoidant insecure because they’re unable to depend on a partner and have an interdependent relationship.
- Fearful avoidants don’t trust others and don’t trust themselves either which leaves them fearful, scared, or worried that others will eventually reject and abandon them, but also worried and scared that they (fearful avoidant) might lose interest or feelings, withdraw from relationships or disappoint and hurt others.
This is why when a client says their fearful avoidant ex trusts them completely, I remind them that inability to trust is at the core of a fearful avoidant’s internal working model. Like most people, they read misleading information by people “selling no contact” that fearful avoidants are driven by the need for independence and the way o get them back is to give them space. But while wanting independence and space is part of a fearful avoidant’s avoidant side, trust is more important to a fearful avoidant attachment style than independence.
A fearful avoidant attachment is primarily a result of 1) growing up in an environment where the very person(s) who was supposed to make them feel safe (or even made them feel safe) also rejected them, hurt them, or abandoned them and/or 2) adult relationships that were loving and caring but also abusive and toxic.
Because the people who love them also hurt them, fearful avoidant struggle with trusting that someone who says they love them (and at times makes them feel safe) will not reject them, hurt them, or abandon them. But they also struggle with trusting themselves not to lose feelings, disappoint you or leave someone who loves them or tries to get close to them.
After a break-up fearful avoidants are even less trusting of exes or themselves
1) It’s no longer just a fear that you will reject them, hurt them, or abandon them or that they’ll lose feelings, disappoint you or break-up with you, it’s something that’s actually happened.
2) Break-ups trigger the instability, unpredictability, negative attitudes and volatile behaviours from their childhood or past relationship partners.
This can make fearful avoidants even more unsure of what they want and their expectations even more disorganized and unsustainable. They see themselves as unable to cope with the situation or be in a relationship.
When most people hear or read “trust”, they often think of a fearful avoidant feeling that they can be vulnerable and share their innermost secrets and concerns, a fearful avoidant being able to ask for help or support, a fearful avoidant believing that a partner is loyal and honest etc. And fearful avoidants themselves sometimes say, “I trust you”.
When talking about adult attachment styles and romantic relationships, trust has three very important components:
1) feeling confident that a partner is reliable and consistent
This is in the way you emotionally show up every day, when things are good and not good, when they lean in and want closeness and when they pull away, when they’re being too negative, freaking out or just plain mind game playing, and when they’re not reliable or consistent themselves etc.
2) the belief that a partner cares and is concerned about one’s needs and can be depended on in times of need
They need to believe that you’re not just contacting them for reassurance, love-talking (miss you, love you, you’re amazing, my best friend etc.) hoping they’ll reciprocate, acting supportive to satisfy your own needs, and acting caring just to control them etc. but that you hears, understand and are concerned about what they need, nad then they need you, they can depend on you to be there for them.
3) feelings of confidence in the strength of the relationship
Both of you are capable of creating and maintaining a fulfilling and satisfying relationship where both of your needs can be met, you communicate well, enjoy time together, appreciate and value what the other brings to the relationship, are affectionate and intimate etc.
If these three things aren’t happening in your attempts get them back, it doesn’t matter if a fearful avoidant says they trust you, they’ll be conflicted, stall and be difficult to get close to (and may never want to come back).
Behaviours that tell you a fearful avoidant is stalling because of trust
Some stalling because of trust behaviours can look like delay tactics. The difference is that with delay tactics a fearful avoidant ex is just stalling, but if they’re stalling because of trust there is a sense of resentment (if the trust issue is about you) and self-sabotage (if the trust issue is about the fearful avoidant).
1. Unable to feel content or confident – The goal posts keep moving with them telling you they want to see more change but don’t say what change they want to see or saying they haven’t done enough work on themselves and need more time but not doing anything to work on themselves.
2. Resistant to being in a relationship – Even when you’re consistently loving, caring and supportive, and they can see the changes you’ve made, they have a difficult time believing you will continue to be consistently loving, caring and supportive and this is the reason they don’t want a relationship with you.
3. Emotionally dysregulated – They get easily irritable and upset and you find yourselves getting into unnecessary arguments and avoidable conflicts in ways that weren’t there before the break-up. And if there was drama in your relationship before the break-up, a fearful avoidant after the break-up has more unpredictable and intense emotional freak-outs.
4. Hypervigilance – It’s like they’re out to catch you saying the “wrong” word, making the “wrong” comment etc. and pounce of it. You see more questioning and interrogating, making assumptions and accusations, projecting and overreacting. Anything that doesn’t match their interpretation of “acceptable behaviour” or “expected in a relationship” is seen as reason not to get back together.
Signs that tell you a fearful avoidant is stalling but also need more time
1. Testing behaviours in any form are unhealthy and destructive behaviours but they are also a sign that a fearful avoidant may be conflicted and trying to test if they can really trust you to be safe should they decide to come back. If they were done, there would be not need to test an ex you don’t want back or you moved on from but the fact that a fearful avoidant is still testing for trust and safety means a part of them wants to give things another chance, they just don’t yet trust that it’s completely safe.
2. Genuine effort to change and share their growth journey
This one is a dicey one because fearful avoidants have a tendency of telling their ex about the changes they’re making to make an ex regret some of the hurtful and devaluing things they said, to make an ex realize that they’re good enough or to make themselves feel good about breaking up (see you’re the reason I changed kind of thing). But a fearful avoidant making a genuine effort and sharing their growth journey is also their way of saying, “Bear with me. I need time to change to be a good enough partner for you.”
3. Talking more about the future than the past
Fearful avoidants often engage in counterfactual thinking and reasoning. This is a trait of their anxious attachment style; a trait that causes people with an anxious attachment to go into “if only” rumination and thinking, replaying over and over what might have happened if only you or they had acted differently. This tendency to create possible alternatives to what actually happened makes it hard for a fearful avoidant ex to see how a future in which you or they act different could be possible. And contrary to what “no contact” advocates claim, the longer the time passes since the break-up, the harder it is for a fearful avoidant to overcome the mental representations of an alternative past.
When a fearful avoidant ex starts talking more about what can be better and how the relationship can improve more often than they talk about the past, they’re no longer looking back at the past, they’re looking at the future even if they’re still not ready to come back.