How Do I Give My Avoidant Ex Space? (And How Much Space)

Question: Yangki, your site has kept me sane these past few weeks. I’ve learned so much about my attachment style and my fearful avoidant ex’s attachment style reading your articles. I have one question that I hope you can answer for me: How do I give my avoidant ex space?

You wrote in your article “How to make an avoidant ex feel safe” that giving them space makes them feel safe. How many days of space should I give a fearful avoidant ex to make them feel safe? I give my avoidant ex 5-7 days of space if he hasn’t reached out. Sometimes he responds right away like he’s been waiting for me to reach out. Other times he does not respond until I reach out again, which makes me think he needs more space. How much space does an avoidant ex need without creating more disconnection and more distance? I’m looking forward to your response.

Yangki’s Answer: It’s true that giving an avoidant ex space makes them feel safe. But giving an avoidant space is not about forcing space on an avoidant as determined by an anxious person. An avoidant has an internal trigger that determines when they need space and the amount of space that makes them feel safe and comfortable.

Giving an avoidant space should be when they need it and in the amount they need to feel safe again. When you ‘force” space on an avoidant ex because you want to control how and when they distance; or as an attempt to calm your anxiety, you create an unsafe relationship for an avoidant.

As I discuss in the short video below, a fearful avoidant will see it as you distancing yourself. When you explain that you are giving them space, they’ll wonder why you felt they needed space. What did they do wrong? Are you upset? Do you want to break-up? Do you want no contact?

Some fearful avoidants will pre-emptively break-up with you. They’d rather break-up with you than feel rejection or have you break-up with them.

What I’ve found works best over the years is:

1) Find out how much time an avoidant needs

The right time to have a conversation with an avoidant about them needing space is when things are good; and not when an avoidant is pulling away or deactivating. Trying to have this conversation during deactivation is like trying to have a conversation with someone running a 100M sprint. No one hears the other.

If having a conversation about space is not possible because in the past you’ve tried to have a conversation about it and it didn’t go well, then ask for a check-in (e.g. 2 – 4 days when there’s been no contact). Explain to an avoidant why connection is important to you, and that a check-in allows both of your needs to be met.

It’s important that an avoidant understands that a relationship is not just about what they need; it’s also about what you need and what you need is connection. Explain this to your avoidant in a non-violent communication way.

Keep it to 2 – 4 days for as long as they’re distant. When they start opening up a bit more or reaching out, then you can slowly pick up the pace; and close the distance.

Respecting your avoidant’s need for space while at the same time getting your need for connection met will strengthen your connection; and your future relationship.

2) Trust that your avoidant loves you

Trusting that your avoidant loves you even when they pull away is key to not freaking out when they deactivate.

Most of the time when an avoidant pulls away, it’s something they need to do for themselves; and not something they’re doing against you (to hurt you). They may feel less connected and their feelings for you may slightly change, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped loving you.

Getting to a point where you don’t feel threatened and trust that after an avoidant has processed the emotions that made them pull away or deactivate, they will come back takes time.

It helps during the time when they’ve pulled away (deactivated) to remind yourself of the times they’ve shown you they love and care about you.

3) Be consistent

The avoidant attachment style is a result of inconsistent, unreliable and deficient love and caregiving from primary caregivers. Because of this, consistency to an avoidant equals safety and security.

Consistency means that showing you care and love them when they pull away and when they lean back in. It means being respectful of their need for space and not shaming or guilt tripping them for deactivating.

When you’re consistent, reliable and supportive in a non-intrusive way; it makes an avoidant feel safe. This makes an avoidant feel less likely to get triggered and pull away.

Understandably finding the right balance between space and closeness takes time; some avoidant-anxious couples never quite find that balance. Working towards becoming more secure will help you stop feeling anxious while you both work on finding the balance that works for your relationship.

RELATED:

WARNING: Read Before Giving Your Ex Space

How A Fearful Avoidant Ex Comes Back – A Detailed Analysis

How Often To Contact Your Ex Based On Their Attachment Style

Did Your Fearful Avoidant Ex Self Sabotage The Relationship?

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26 Comments

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  1. says: Sarha

    I made the mistake with my DA Ex thinking I could save the relationship by giving him all the space he needed and let him come to me. I was so afraid of him leaving and never openly communicated with him what I wanted or how his actions were affecting me. He ended leaving and is now happily with somebody else and have been together longer than we were together. When I look back the more powerless I felt the more power I was giving to his avoidant insecurities. What I should have done is had an honest conversation about my needs, reinforced boundaries and not given away my power to someone who was likely to pull away regardless of what I did.

  2. says: Celine

    THANK YOU! I read many posts and blogs saying give an avoidant space, don’t contact them or do checkins because it will piss them off and push them further away, and I think, this is well and good, but what about my needs? Why should I be the one to always put his needs first and my needs go unmet? I can meet my own needs from family and friends and I have no problem with doing so, but what is the point of being in a relationship then?

    1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

      Your needs matter just as much as an avoidant’s needs. Anxious preoccupied (bless your hearts), put in so much more into a relationship, often at the expense of your own needs. This is where much of the protest behaviour comes from – unexpressed or inappropriately expressed unmet needs.

      If you’re in a relationship where you’re too afraid to express your needs or ask for what you need because doing so will piss off or push the other away, that relationship is unhealthy even if it’s functioning.

      The problem in most anxious-avoidant relationships is communication: how each expresses their needs and asks for what they need from the other.

      1. says: Heyman

        2 yrs I gave DA space when she pulled away, didn’t contact her or check-in and let her initiate contact, dates etc. When she was breaking up with me she said she lost feelings for me because she felt like the man in the relationship, and I was just there for the ride. I didn’t argue with her, she was right. I thought I was giving her everything she wanted, space, control, love, trust etc. but what she wanted from me was to show up as a man. It’s taking me a long time to build my self-confidence back up after this.

        1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

          I’m sorry. Feeling that you didn’t show up (as a man) is a different kind of hurt that can do a real number on self-esteem. It will take time to get your self-confidence back up, but you’ll eventually get there. All the best to you!

  3. says: Karmal

    If “taking space’ means they’re ignoring you for a month, dump them. If they’re your ex, let them contact you first. If they don’t contact you within a month, move on.

    1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

      I agree with dumping an avoidant if they ignore you for a month; and not reaching out to an ex if they ignore you 2- 3 times.

      But it’s important to look at why someone may not be responding. Ignoring you is when you’re reaching out and they just don’t respond at all. But if they’re responding, not at the intensity an anxious person needs (most anxious people need constant intensity to feel connected, even secure people find it a bit much), it’s not always the case that they’re ignoring you. It may have nothing to do with you i.e. depression or they’re focusing on something else more important to them.

      I’m not saying someone not prioritizing you is okay, I’m saying, it’s not always about you. Avoidants and secures aren’t preoccupied with connection and relationships as anxious people are.

  4. says: Nina08

    I think the best policy is to not take things personally. Give them space but while still reminding them that they’re loved, and you will be there for them. This seems to work with my fearful avoidant ex. He has gone from saying he did not feel safe enough to ask for space to telling me what he is feeling and needs a few days to be alone. He reaches back out usually within 3 – 5 days.

    1. says: DaveD

      I never feel safe enough to communicate that I need space. I may say I need time to think but that could mean a few minutes or an hour. I can see how someone would feel anxious and angry when 2 days later, I’m still thinking and not replying texts or taking their calls.

    2. says: Lollyusa

      It’s so beautiful that you don’t take it personally. I haven’t really been able to because it’s not easy for me to deal with rejection. While I’ve worked on a lot of things to become more secure I’m yet to be able not to take rejection personally.

  5. says: Addison

    I’m a fearful avoidant (anxious) and lately began doing 2- 3 days check ins with my fearful avoidant ex (dismissive). At first it was hard because the avoidant in me didn’t want to look weak and needy, but he was responsive to my check ins and we even had a talk about it. He has also been working on healing his fearful avoidant attachment style (He never told me). I think all in all it has been better than I expected.

  6. says: Anney

    I’m FA and my ex AA. We had an on-and-off again relationship for 4 years. We went to therapy and our therapist introduced us to attachment theory. For a year, we tried really hard to work on our attachment issues, but his AA reaction when I asked for space made me start to lose attraction for him. He’d seem okay with it but act passive aggressive when we reconnected. We agreed to separate for 4 months with no contact and work on our issues separately. This last week we met up for the first time since the separation and I just don’t feel anything for him. I missed him a lot when we weren’t talking but the way I feel now, I know I have to end things and give him the chance to be with someone who can make him happy.

    1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

      Feeling that you lost feelings of attraction or that the feelings are fading happens to some fearful avoidants after an extended period of no contact. Because you for so long deny the anxious part of you that needs intimate connection, you get used to not wanting it (you lean dismissive). It feels like you’ve lost the feelings but it’s really that you’re not allowing yourself to feel them.

      I suggest spending a bit more quality time together, remind yourself why you’re with them in the first place and the value they add to your life; if you still feel the same way, then maybe the feelings are gone for good.

    2. says: Rays

      I’m FA and currently going through the same thing. I missed her when we were in no contact, and the feelings were there briefly when we reconnected, but now they seem to be fading away. I have to talk myself to even respond to her text messages. It sucks but I guess I’ll keep trying, maybe the feelings can return if we spend more time together.

  7. says: Julia Tru

    The only secure response to someone asking for space is “No problem. Take all the time you need” and then not text or call until they reach out.

    1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

      That’s more like a response of someone with attachment anxiety trying to appear okay with an avoidant needing space, and not how someone with a secure attachment style responds.

      Secure people are low anxiety and low avoidance; meaning they’ll give you space if you need it, but they’ll also not avoid you because they don’t get triggered by you needing space. They’re consistent when an avoidant leans in and consistent when an avoidant needs space.

      A secure response therefore is “No problem. Take all the time you need. But I’d like to check-in on you in a couple of days (or whatever), if that’s okay with you.”

      Maintaining a healthy and safe connection (for both sides) is at the core of secure attachment. An avoidant gets their need for space met; and a secure person gets their need for connection met.

      1. says: Lissa

        I have zero problem giving my FA ex space, but he never told me when he needed space or what he wanted from me. He only told me when we were breaking up that I never gave him space when he needed it. I told him all I would have needed was for him to explain to me what he was feeling and why he needed space. His response was that he thought I would not give him space. How does he know I would not give him space if he didn’t ask?

        1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

          You’re right. Avoidants need to learn to ask for space and not just pull away or break-up.

          I think what your fearful avoidant ex was saying is that he did not feel safe enough to sit down with you or text you about him needing space. I’m not saying it is entirely your fault that he did not feel safe enough to talk to you about what he needed. Fearful avoidants are conflict avoidant, and often make up scenarios that scare them from being vulnerable or asking for what they need. Most have a history of others not valuing their feelings and needs; and expect everyone else to do the same.

          All you can do is to create an environment for them to feel safe to open up about how they feel and what they need; the rest is up to them. They have to want to change and work to heal their attachment wounds. They’re more likely to do so when they feel you have their best interest and are consistently there for them in a safe, loving and supportive way.

    2. says: Madison

      I’m secure and I’m happy to give an avoidant space if they need it even if I don’t know or understand why they need it. But I don’t want the relationship to be all about accommodating an avoidant’s needs. For me this is not a safe relationship if my needs aren’t met too.

      If an avoidant communicates to me how long they’ll be gone and set a boundary (i.e. no texting or calls), I’ll respect what they asked for, but if they do not communicate what they need from me, I take it upon myself to ask in a nonviolent communication way that I need to still feel connected to them in a way that feels safe for them. If an avoidant can’t accommodate my need for connection, then I don’t want to be in a relationship where I’m giving you everything you want and my own needs are being ignored.

      1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

        @Madison, spoken like a truly securely attached person.

        Most people learning to be securely attached think that “giving an avoidant space” means giving up their own need for connection. When I tell my clients essentially what you’ve said here, “your needs matter too”; most of them immediately react with “will that not make an avoidant feel pressured/make an avoidant pull further away”. They’re so scared of losing an avoidant that they’re willing to stay in a relationship that’s not safe for them.

        1. says: Keynan

          This is helpful. I’m new to attachment styles and tested dismissive avoidant. I’m one of those people who ignores someone for a few days with no contact. I don’t do it to hurt them or make them miss me. I do it because I need to get away and be by myself for a while. After reading about attachment styles, I understand it is a hurtful thing to do regardless of my intentions, but at the same time, I don’t know how to I tell someone I need space. Any advice on what to say?

          1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

            It’s really about being honest with someone and giving them reassurance that taking space doesn’t mean you’ll be gone indefinitely.

            Keep it simple and direct. Something along the lines, “I’m feeling XXXX, and need to be alone to process everything. I will reach out in XXXX days (or state date).” Don’t extend the period too long (no more than 4-7 days); and if you need more time communicate that too, and allow for check-ins.

            Most people will understand; some will ask questions. Do your best to briefly explain why you need space. I know that sometimes avoidants don’t really know or understand it themselves why they feel the intense need to distance, and if that’s the case, just be honest, and tell them you don’t know why. If they don’t understand or can’t respect that you need space, that’s a problem. As mentioned above, both people need to feel their needs are being met for the relationship to feel safe.

  8. says: Roberta

    I’ve noticed that my fearful avoidant ex reaches out and opens up to me about personal stuff and right after that he distances, stops initiating conversations and responds in 1-word or one sentence texts. Then after a week or two, he reaches out with something personal, and I don’t know how to react. Do I not say anything, or do I ask why he pulled away?

    1. says: Love Doctor Yangki Akiteng

      This is common with fearful avoidants so common that I tell my clients to expect it. It can also be addictive because of the highs and lows.

      You can’t control what he does, but you can try to manage your emotions when he distances, stops initiating conversations and responds in 1-word or one sentence texts. Don’t take it personally because it’s very likely you didn’t say or do anything to cause him to distance. Your ex just needs to time to self regulate.

      As long as he keeps coming back and opening up some more, you’re making progress.

  9. says: Harriet

    I’m learning about this 4 months after my relationship ended. I believe he will never come back. He says he has no feelings for me anymore. I wish I knew about attachment styles early on. This is going to haunt me for life.