If you feel that your fearful avoidant ex is constantly testing you, chances are that you are indeed being tested. I’ll go even further and say if your ex is a fearful avoidant, expect them to test you again and again.
Testing behaviour or what is sometimes referred to a “secret assessment” is when someone says something or acts in a certain way just to see how the other person will react or respond. You are then measured or assessed based on if you fail or pass the “test”. Never mind that you didn’t even know that you were being tested.
Some testing behaviours like wanting to see if someone will notice your new hairstyle and compliment you, telling the other person how you feel about them with the hope that they’ll say they feel the same about you, hinting at a more a serious relationship/commitment, mentioning attachment styles to see if your ex will be interested in a conversation about it, sending a check-in test to see if you’re ex wants contact or mentioning getting back together to test the waters is harmless and often elicit positive feelings and confidence in the relationship. But testing behaviour to measure or prove how much someone cares, misses you or loves you is destructive relationship behaviour especially if done constantly.
Testing behaviours are common in relationships where one or both people are insecure, have doubts, don’t trust the other or don’t feel safe. This describes most relationships in the beginning of the relationship – you don’t know this person and you’re trying to find out if you can trust them or check on your status in the relationship – and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make sure before investing in a relationship. But as the relationship grows, mutual trust and respect for the other discourages the need for continued testing. Most people after being together for a while see testing behaviour as immature, disrespectful and insulting not just to the person but also to the integrity of the relationship.
Attachment style as a predictor of testing behaviour
Fearful avoidants engage in testing behaviours as indicated in my article with the 5 common fearful avoidant testing behaviours that show that they secretly want you to chase them, but so do people with an anxious attachment, which (redundantly) includes fearful avoidants. These two attachment styles worry about rejection and abandonment and rely on feedback from others to determine their lovability, self-worth and security in their relationships.
According to research and attachment styles higher in attachment anxiety (anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidants) engaged more monitoring, excessive information gathering, interpreting, and testing behaviours (Addeh & Lemay, 2014) and excessive reassurance seeking (Evraire, Dozois and Wilde 2022) than all the other attachment styles. This does not mean that dismissive avoidants who score low on attachment anxiety and low on reassurance seeking don’t test you, because they do. It just means that testing behaviour is more common with anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidants; and anxious preoccupied more than fearful avoidants.
People with an anxious attachment use testing behaviour as a way of seeking reassurance because they generally perceive others as not interested or don’t want to be with them. People with an anxious attachment also have low confidence in their ability to achieve close relationships and low security in their relationships and resort to covert testing or “secret assessment” to gather evidence of someone’s interest, care or commitment to them.
And because both anxious attachment and fearful avoidants have low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment and low view of themselves, they are more likely to rely on testing for reassurance to confirm their self-worth and status in the relationship.
How anxious attachment testing is different from fearful avoidants
In my experience, people with an anxious attachment style are not very good at “secret assessments”. They are not good at emotional self-regulation and not only get entangled in their emotions but also entrapped in their own “tests”. For example, they wait to see if their ex will text them, then either their negative feelings and emotions or anxiety and panic takes over and they start acting needy and clingy, aggressive and pushy or start unnecessary arguments and fights.
Even those that refrain from contacting their ex for a specific number of days, once their ex reaches out, they get overly excited that the “test” worked and once again let their emotions run ahead of them. They see more interest than is really there, hang onto every word their ex said like their life depended on it or immediately do another “test” just because the previous one got them the reaction or response they hoped for. Even when the “test” fails, some anxiously attached don’t learn from their mistakes and constantly test you.
Fearful avoidant exes are more complicated in their testing behaviour this is probably because they are also avoidants and their avoidant attachment makes it easier for them to remain emotionally restrained or detached and not get entangled into their own “tests”.
Fearful avoidants test their ex because they believe their ex will fail the test
Another difference that I’ve observed between anxiously attached and fearful avoidants is that people with an anxious attachment test their partner or ex hoping that they will pass the test. And as I said above, they get very excited when their ex passes the test. Because their internal working model says other people are not interested in them, don’t want to get close and don’t want to be with them, an ex showing that they’re still interested, want to get close or get back together feedback that shows you’re still interested, still care, still have feelings, miss them or even would want to get back together means so much to an anxiously attached ex.
Fearful avoidants often test their ex because they believe their ex will fail the test and are sometimes disappointed when an ex passes the test. Because a fearful avoidant attachment style is wired not to trust that others will be concerned about and responsive to their needs, they expect people to disappoint or reject them. They’re often conflicted and even disappointed when things don’t go the way they expected, which then makes them questions their own feelings because their feelings don’t match the facts.
And after testing you, they feel even more insecure about the relationship, which in turn perpetuates/exacerbates worry about lovability and worthiness. For example, a fearful avoidant ex will tell you to go date other people. It’s a test alright, but if you say you don’t want to date anyone but them, then that’s pressure or not respecting that they need to focus on themselves. If you say, “OK” and go date someone else, then you get, “I’m not that important to you” or you were just waiting for them to give you permission or you were thinking about it even before they mentioned it or even you’re already interested in someone else.
Validation and reassurance seeking tests
When the relationship ends, most people feel insecure, have doubts, don’t trust the other or don’t feel safe and often engage in testing behaviours as a way to protect themselves from rejection or getting hurt again. Testing behaviour such as “If I don’t reach out, will they reach out?” or “If I show I moved on, will they chase me?” are common ways both anxious attachment and fearful avoidants test an ex’s interest and/or motional investment and/or test the security of a relationship.
Over the years working with the different attachment styles I’ve found that as annoying, frustrating and even unhealthy testing behaviour is, most testers mean well and all what most exes who engage in testing behaviours really need is validation and reassurance. Sometimes high attachment anxiety reassurance seeking behaviour is direct: “Do you miss me/us?” , “Am I bothering you when I reach out?” , “Am I contacting you too much?” “Do you need space?”, “Are you still attracted to me?” etc. Sometimes they come as secret tests e.g. no contact to see if you’ll miss them, blocking and unblocking to see how long you’ll persist, thirst-trap photos o see if you’re still attracted to them, sentimental and emotional posts, asking friends and family about you etc. Most of the time it’s a mix of all the above.
Whether they’re conscious of it or not, what anxious attachment and fearful avoidant ex using “secret tests” really wants is for you to say or show that I care about you, I miss you, I still have feelings for you, you’re important part of my life, what we had was special, I’m still attracted to you, you’re the only person I want to be with etc. or some other form of validation or reassurance.
Of course, it’d make things a lot easier and healthier if testers came outright and asked for the validation and reassurance they need, but good communications skills are not exactly a strong trait in people with an insecure attachment. But even when validation and reassurance is given, individuals with an anxious attachment style often do not believe the reassurance they receive and thus continue to engage testing behaviour. They persistently test their exes regardless of whether reassurance is already being provided.
Persistently testing a fearful avoidant erodes trust
Constant testing and reassurance seeking especially followed by significant changes in mood or behaviour, makes a fearful avoidant trust you and trust themselves and their feelings for you less. It may take a few days or even weeks for the impact of the “testing” a fearful avoidant to show, but make no mistake about it, the decrease in trust has been set in motion. This is why it’s best not to test a fearful avoidant at all.
The problem is that when dealing with a fearful avoidant ex (or even another anxiously attached ex), most anxiously attached don’t realize that their testing behaviour most likely triggered a fearful avoidant ex fear of abandonment but more than that, made a fearful avoidant trust them and trust themselves (and their feelings) even less.
Like most people with an anxious attachment, all you see is that a fearful avoidant ex who was previously acting avoidant and distant all of a sudden is reaching out frequently, responding to every text, telling you they miss you and even talking of getting back together – and it feels good, validating and reassurance. You get carried away with the 180% change in a fearful avoidants behaviour unaware that you have triggered and set in motion a chain reaction that may end up with a fearful avoidant ex feeling even less trusting (of you and of themselves) and more afraid of disappointing you and disappointing themselves.
I’m often forced to remind (and warn) clients who dabble in “texting” mind games that fearful avoidants are called anxious-avoidants for a reason. They may have been leaning more avoidant before your triggered them and now in the anxious phase but it’s only temporal. The doubts about you and the relationship, fear of disappointing you or themselves, resentment from the past or one from you not doing enough to change before the break-up, the fact that you didn’t treat them well, or that you cheated etc., all that if not properly addressed will come back and may be stronger than before they swung anxious – the pull back will be deeper.
What I’m trying to say is testing a fearful avoidant ex to see how they will react or respond or as prove of how much they care about you, miss you, love you or want to come back is a very risky move. You may get you the anxious response that will be validating and reassuring but you may also make them pull back and it’ll be deeper.
Testing behaviours are self-sabotage, pure and simple
Some of the arguments both individuals with an anxious attachment and avoidants give for “testing” someone is that they did it before in another relationship and “their true self came out”, and this may be true; but it doesn’t make constantly “testing “someone you claim to love acceptable or healthy. And if you’re constantly testing someone and they keep failing your tests, maybe you subconsciously know that the relationship isn’t healthy, safe or working and you need to do something about it or get out.
Research has repeatedly shown associations between testing for reassurance and validation with negative mood the next day or days following the testing behaviour, reduced self-worth, feelings of rejection, deteriorating relationship quality, increased symptoms of depression, intense anxiety, and even deteriorating mental health.
If you’re a fearful avoidant reading this or someone with an anxious attachment who sometimes likes to test if others care about you, if an ex is still interested or if they want to get back together, you need to understand that testing behaviour is self-sabotage. Any time you feel the need to manipulate the situation or experience to feel wanted, cared about or loved is likely that you have deep-rooted insecurities that you need to deal with. It may even be a symptom that your relationship isn’t as solid as you think it is and that’s why you needed to manipulate a reaction or response that you wouldn’t have received without manipulating the situation or experience. It may be validating and reassuring but it’s a lie you’re telling yourself.
Safe and secure people have no need to test if someone is interested, wants to be with them, will miss them, cares about them, loves etc. The next time you feel the need to “test” if you’re ex is still interested, wants to come back or how much they truly care about you, miss you or love you, ask yourself, “What am I trying to prove or need?”. Until you are aware of your need to “test” others’ interest, love, care or commitment, you will continue to self-sabotage your relationships.
Communicate what you need from them instead of testing a fearful avoidant ex
After you figure out why you need to “test” your ex, consciously choose to communicate what you need from them instead of going about it in a passive aggressive insecure way. It’s okay to say how you feel and/or admit that you need some form of reassurance that you’re important, that they still care about you, that they miss you, still want to get back together, aren’t seeing anyone else, still find you attractive etc. Most people (including avoidants if you go about it the right way) prefer to be approached directly than be constantly tested or “secretly assessed”. Give them a chance to step us or correct the behaviour that’s making you feel that they’re not interested, don’t care about you, don’t love your or don’t want to get back together before you conclude they aren’t prioritizing your feelings, capable of meeting your needs, can’t be trusted, can’t make you feel safe.
Through safe vulnerable communication, you may even find that they are uncertain, afraid and feeling unsafe about the same things that you are and looking for reassurance and validation but because neither of you is communicating what you need to feel safe, cared about, wanted or loved, you’re testing each other and either failing each other’s test or much worse, undermining and damaging the integrity and foundation of your relationship.