It’s no secret that a relationship with a dismissive avoidant is hard, but I can tell you that despite all the things you read about a dismissive avoidant attachment style, a relationship with a dismissive avoidant can work. There are many dismissive avoidants in relationships and many of them have been married for decades.
The secret to making a relationship with a dismissive avoidant work lies in understanding their hyper-independence. Why they are the way they are, what triggers them and what makes them stay in a relationship.
Due to their early experiences with people and closeness, dismissive avoidants learned from a very early age that:
- Others are incapable of meeting their attachment needs; they’re the only one that can meet their needs. Hoping or expecting others to meet their needs is not only a weakness but risky.
- If they let themselves depend on someone, that person will try to control them.
- Other people have high expectations that often interfere with being able to do what you want when you want; and use their expectations (rules, labels, theories, doctrine etc.), to control them.
- Emotions not only show that you lost control of yourself, emotions also make you vulnerable to others’ control and manipulation.
Anything that activates these deeply-rooted mental representations of people, relationships, closeness, vulnerability, emotional expression etc., triggers a dismissive avoidant.
The other, lesser-known and often not talked about reason dismissive avoidants don’t allow others to get too close and is probably the one that has the most influence on how dismissive avoidants show up in relationships is their fear of others needing them or depending on them.
Anxiously attached and some fearful avoidants want and like others to depend on them because when someone depends on them, they feel like they’re close to them, and they mean something to that person. Dismissive avoidants generally feel that someone needing or depending on them equals to taking on too much responsibility for someone else and losing their freedom and/or independence.
The fear of being needed or depended on goes back to a dismissive avoidant’s childhood where a parent had very high expectations of them or where they were expected or forced to take on a parent role without the support, maturity or resources to do so effectively. They came to believe that people close to them “ask too much from them” (have high expectations) and even take advantage of them, and the only reason most people ever love them or cling to them is because they need someone to depend on.
This is why when you complain about how a dismissive avoidant is not meeting your needs or ask for certain needs to be met, they pull away or deactivate. As far as dismissive avoidants are concerned, they don’t depend on you to meet their needs; you shouldn’t depend on them to meet yours. The more you complain or ask for your needs to be met, the more they feel that your needs are overtaking theirs (you’re needy and clingy) and they have less time and space to be themselves, meet their own needs or get things they want to do for themselves done with you around; so they break-up with you.
How do you make a relationship with dismissive avoidants ex work?
There’s no way to completely avoid triggering another attachment style because attachment triggers are like sub-conscious landmines buried so deep inside our psyche. But you can avoid knowingly, intentionally, and calculatedly triggering your dismissive avoidant ex if you want a relationship with them.
These suggestions work for dismissive avoidants as well as highly independent fearful avoidants especially ones leaning more avoidant or dismissive avoidant after the breakup.
1. Identify their fears and triggers
Some people when you push hard give in to the pressure and but when you push a highly independent person hard they’ll push back harder to reaffirm their independence. Instead, study, observe and understand what triggers your dismissive avoidant based what, how and when they pull away and what they say before and after pulling away. Maybe they don’t understand what you’re saying, or don’t like what you’re asking for or how you’re asking or have other competing needs, or they don’t want to make a mistake etc.
2. Respect their space and time
Respecting a dismissive avoidant’s space and time is not just “giving them space”; it’s giving them space when they ask for it or indicate they want space. This tiny difference is very important because most dismissive avoidant feel that their space and time is not “a gift” for you to give to them. It’s the one thing they feel they can use to control how much closeness they allow, so for you to take it upon yourself to “give” them space is you trying to take away the one thing that makes them feel safe and trying to control when and how they deactivate; and dismissive avoidant really, really don’t like being controlled.
This is why when you ask a dismissive avoidant ex if they want space, they’ll aways say yes, then never reach out or respond when you reach out. That’s a dismissive avoidant saying “you don’t tell what to do” and taking control of when and how they take space.
For a relationship with a dismissive avoidant ex to work, it’s important that you have a conversation about space, so they know that when they need space, they can communicate it to you and you’ll give them the space they need.
3. Offer support only if and when they ask for it
Dismissive avoidant have a hard time accepting help, and unsolicited support or advice triggers them. Many of the see someone doing things for them they didn’t ask for or want as an attempt to induce dependence and react with asserting their independence.
If you want a relationship with a dismissive avoidant to work, stop offering unsolicited support or advice. Let them feel in control of their agency and offer support, help or advice only when they ask for it or if you have more expertise in the subject than they do. I’ve found that when working with dismissive avoidant clients asking them if there’s something I can do to help or how I can best help rather than saying I can help them or jumping in with advice works best in getting them to accept my help or advice.
Presenting help in a way that makes a dismissive avoidant feel they have a say or choice in the matter and/or outcome makes them feel in control of their agency.
4. Communicate instead of complaining
When you complain about a dismissive avoidant’s behaviour, it triggers a dismissive avoidant’s childhood experience of strict rules of what’s right and wrong, a parent having very high expectations of them, or telling them who they are supposed to be or supposed to do, and being scolded and even isolated for failing or not trying hard enough to do “the right thing”. No wonder dismissive avoidants hate rules, labels and categorizations.
It doesn’t matter how you word something, what tone of voice you use or even use “I” language, what a dismissive avoidant hears when you complain is is “I expected more from you and you failed” or “You owe me and you let me down”.
Instead of making it about a dismissive avoidants behaviour and what you expect or feel they they should do for you, communicate your needs directly, honestly and fairly aiming for “negotiating both of your needs” equally. If they say no, say “ok, it was just a request” and don’t make a big deal about it. Most dismissive avoidants will appreciate you giving them a choice in the matter and try to meet you in the middle.
5. Don’t take an avoidant’s behaviour personally or try to change them
Many dismissive avoidants actually like the fact that they’re super independent and don’t need others to be happy r for support. You trying to change them into someone who needs others or wants closeness is you trying to make them into someone “dependent on others” and a dismissive avoidant will fight to remain independent.
As much as it frustrates you that a dismissive avoidant’s hyper independence stands in the way of closeness and intimacy, remind yourself that dismissive avoidants need their independence to feel safe. You are not their therapist or rescuer, and your love will never be enough to make a dismissive avoidant feel safe. They need to feel, see and believes that they can be their own person and that you recognize and accept their individuality and need to for independence, and accept it as necessarily for the relationship to work.
6. Don’t try to manipulate them
Many dismissive avoidants grew up with controlling or very strict parents, very religious households where they had to follow rules or had caregivers who used emotional manipulation to get them to do their bidding. This not only makes them very sensitive to being controlled or manipulated but also inflexible and don’t bend easily to others. And because they are “hard to bend” they’ve have experienced many attempts by partners to manipulate them. Some dismissive avoidants are even so paranoid about being manipulated that they see manipulation where there’s none.
The best way to avoid triggering a dismissive avoidant’s fear of being manipulated is not to engage in any kind of manipulation or protest behaviour to get them to do what you want them to do. Once you do, everything you do will be scrutinized for possible manipulation.
7. Be your own independent person
Having your own social circle, goals, hobbies, interests and grow independently is an attractive quality on its own, but a necessary quality if you want a relationship with a dismissive avoidant.
Make equal efforts between paying attention to yourself and your needs, goals, hobbies, interests, friends etc., and being a loving and caring partner who is not threatened by their partner’s freedom.
This alone may not be enough not to trigger a dismissive avoidant but seeing that you can stand strong as individuals while maintaining a strong connection and a loving partnership will be less threatening to a dismissive avoidant’s sense of independence.
8. Establish self-respecting boundaries
Highly independent people respect others who also values themselves enough to not allow someone get away with certain behaviours. They’ll even test you to just see what they can get away with, and how much you respect yourself. If they can push you around, they see you as weak and unattractive. If you’re perfectly okay with abandoning your needs and self respect to cater to their needs, you must also expect them to abandon theirs and cater to your needs and that there is a major trigger for a dismissive avoidant or avoidant leaning fearful avoidant.
To avoid triggering a dismissive avoidant’s fear of being expected to cater to your needs or give back what their being given, establish boundaries that let a dismissive avoidant know that you also value yourself and your needs as much as you value them and their needs. You’re willing to meet them in the middle but not self-abandon.