It goes without saying that the more aware an ex is of their attachment style, the better the chances of getting back together and the relationship working. In this article, I discuss how to introduce or tell an avoidant ex about attachment styles so that they’re aware of their avoidant tendencies.
Being aware of your attachment style simply means having a conscious awareness of your attachment styles’ tendencies including motives, thought processes, emotions, and goals, and how they affect your behaviour.
Studies show that when someone is self-aware they are able to focus on and reflect objectively on their own internal processes and make changes where necessary to reduce the inconsistency between what they’re thinking, feeling and perceiving and how they appear to others.
Someone who is not self-aware on the other hand is impulsive, reactive, defensive and unable to take responsibility for their actions. They project their thoughts, feelings and realty on to others and struggle to understand how their behaviour affects others. They always think the problem is the other person get offended with how the other person responds to them.
Self-awareness brings clarity to anxious-avoidant relationships
Self-awareness is important to you as an individual and also important to the success of your relationship. It doesn’t just bring clarity into a relationship, it also reduces the negative consequence of unintended behaviours. For example, it’s hard to:
- Reassure someone with an anxious attachment that you love than and want to be with them when you unintendedly trigger their fear of rejection and abandonment by not responding in a timely manner and/or not responding at all.
- For a fearful avoidant to believe that you are there for them and that they can trust you not to hurt them when you act like their feelings and needs don’t matter and punish them with pulling back from connection and/or reacting negatively when they need space.
- Show a dismissive avoidant that they can still maintain most of their independence and autonomy even in a relationship when you keep complaining about who the are and demand they be the way you want them to be or when you abandon yourself and demand they meet your needs that you can easily meet on your own.
These are all automatic behaviours that if you’re not aware of how they affect an anxious, fearful avoidant or dismissive attachment affect the relationship and make it not work.
Changing an anxious-avoidant dynamic begins with your self-awareness
The more aware you are of how your behaviours affect the other person, the greater the chances of an anxious-avoidant relationship working. The degree of self-awareness needed for the relationship to work varies with the degrees of attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, how each person handles their triggers, and how one partners’ behaviour affects the other partner.
And since you can’t directly change your ex’s attachment style, the change will have to begin with you becoming more aware of how your attachment styles’ tendencies including motives, thought processes, emotions, and goals affect your behaviour and invert triggers your ex’s attachment system.
There is increasing evidence that a partner’s attachment security plays an important role as a motivation to maintain and persist in a relationship. Attachment security is also a factor in an avoidant’s willingness to open themselves up to the risk of hurt and rejection.
Safety and security for an avoidant (and for yourself) is even more important if there was distancing and hostility following the break-up. With time, your ex will be able to trust that you want what is best for them. It reassures an avoidant that you will be there for them when they need closeness; and will give them the space they need when they need their own space and time.
Repeated experiences of felt security are a necessary condition for mitigating the negative effects of a partner’s attachment insecurity. Repeated experiences of felt security also provide the opportunity for both of you to grow closer together; and for attraction and love to grow.
But how do you grow together if the other person is not even aware of their attachment style and attachment issues, or doesn’t think anything is wrong with them and/or that they don’t need to change?
Not easy, not going to lie. Very few people like to be told to change even if they know there are behaviours or habits they need to change. And it’s not just avoidants who don’t think they need to change, I’ve worked with so many anxiously attached people who insist they’re securely attached and become defensive when I point out behaviours that are obviously those of someone with an anxious attachment, and even preoccupied attachment (impulsiveness, boundary overstepping, never satisfied or content with the amount of attention, time and effort their ex is putting in, projecting and jumping to negative conclusions etc.)
To get through to an ex who doesn’t think anything is wrong with them and/or that they don’t need to change, you need to show up in ways that make them feel safe, and consistently modelling behaviours that are secure and encourage them to want to reciprocate.
For example, if you want an avoidant to open up and share about their day, get into the habit of sharing how your day is or was. When you share what is happening to you without expecting a particular outcome or response form the other person, you encourage them to reflect on their own experiences and over time they will want to share them with you. There are also apps which help you to get to know each other, share thoughts and memories and build trust.
Another way you can model behaviours that encourage especially an avoidant to want to change is ask them to call you out on any behaviour that they’re not okay with, and when they do, don’t react offended or defensively, but instead talk to them about what they find not okay with the behaviour and how you are going to change it.
Should you tell your avoidant ex about attachment styles?
Should you tell an avoidant about attachment styles at all? In my opinion, yes, you should tell your avoidant ex about attachment theory and attachment styles. The more aware an avoidant ex is of their attachment style, the better the chances of getting back together and the relationship working.
I’ve found that one of the most effective and fastest way to increase an avoidant ex’s emotional self-awareness is to talk about attachment theory and attachment styles. Talking to your ex about attachment styles can be a powerful way to increase both or your self-awareness, learn about each other, grow individually and together, and change your relationship dynamics from anxious-avoidant to secure.
Being able to talk to your ex about attachment styles and how your attachment styles interact and trigger each other makes it so much easier to work through your issues, differences and problems and speed up getting back together.
What’s the best way to tell you ex about attachment style?
It’s how you go about talking about attachment styles that can make it a bonding experience or a negative consequence of unintended behaviour. It’s easy to come across as judging, criticizing and trying to change them because you’re touching on deep-seated trauma that you may not be secure enough or well-trained to deal with.
Even when you understand attachment styles, communicating what you know especially to an ex who is already defensive, suspicious and doesn’t trust your motives or goal is can come across as a therapist or relationship coach and not someone who wants to be an equal partner and co-creator of a health and secure relationship.
So make sure our intentions and motives for sharing about attachment styles is not to try to change your avoidant ex or somehow manipulate them into coming back. It’ll show however much you try to hide it.
But more than concern of how you come across, before you bring up the topic of attachment styles to your avoidant ex, makes sure you are in good place emotionally. Even just thinking about having these sort of conversations can be triggering.
1. Avoid using anxious, fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant labels
Nobody likes to be psychoanalyzed, categorized, generalized and labelled more so an avoidant.
Yes, we all have an attachment style or pattern of behaviours and internal working models that shape the way we view ourselves, view others and are in close relationships. But we are more than our attachment style and reducing someone to just a pattern of behaviours is insulting and dismissive of who they are.
You have a better chance of an ex embracing attachment styles when you first discuss attachment theory before you start calling them fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant. Let them understand why these categories exist, how they’re created and what they mean (which unfortunately is not always accurately portrayed on the internet), and they let them decide on their own if they’re anxious, fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant.
2. Don’t ask your ex to take the attachment styles quiz
This seems like the most reasonable approach but sending your ex the attachment styles quiz without any prior mention of attachment styles is a self-unaware thing to do, and even passive-aggressive. If your ex hasn’t heard of attachment styles, they’re going to wonder (and even get angry) why you sent it to them in the first place. Even if they know about attachment styles, it’s like why now? Is it some kind of guilt trip to get back at them or manipulation tactic to get them back?
Sending your ex the attachment styles quiz and asking them to take it to see how you match up is even worse. The relationship ended for a reason, why would they be interested if you match up on a quiz that doesn’t directly address their hurt, disappointment, anger or resentment.
3. Be careful when Sending an article, book or video on attachment styles
This goes up there with sending your ex an attachment styles quiz without prior talk about attachment theory. But this one depends on your ex’s attachment style. If your ex has an anxious attachment or an anxious-leaning fearful avoidant, they may be curious enough to read the article or book, or watch the video because of their strong interest in connection and relationships in general.
If your ex is a dismissive avoidant or an avoidant-leaning fearful avoidant, there’s a 50-50 chance they’ll read the article or book or watch the video. I’m being generous with he 50-50 chance assuming that your avoidant ex is a big reader and somewhat self-aware but realistically, they may never read it and you will not know if they did or didn’t.
My advice is, use what you know about your ex to determine if you should or shouldn’t send them an article, book or video on attachment styles. The worst that can happen is they’ll send you an angry text, then you can apologize and say you overstepped. You wanted to improve things between the two of you and what you’ve learned about your attachment style can help do that.
4. Focus on your own attachment style
Attachment theory and attachment styles helps us understand, know, empathize, have compassion and better relate to others, but attachment theory and attachment styles is really about us – our story, our relationship with ourselves and our deep innate need to be known, accepted and loved.
Introduce attachment theory and attachment styles to your ex starting by talking about your own attachment style, what you’ve have learned about yourself, , what you’ve have learned about yourself, how your attachment styles interact and trigger each other etc., etc.,
This short video explains how to do that.
6. Meet your ex at their level of emotional awareness
It’s best to meet your ex at their level of emotional awareness and where they’re comfortable, and not try to force them to be interested in attachment theory or attachment styles.
If they’re already aware of attachment styles or show interest by looking up attachment theory and attachment styles, then it’s okay to talk about how both of your attachment styles played out in the relationship.