If you are asking, “How long does it take an avoidant to come back?”, “Why does it take so long for an avoidant ex to come back?” and “How much longer is this going to take”, you are not alone.
Like most people, you probably found out about attachment theory after a break-up, and because there is so much information on attachment styles, it’s sometimes hard to separate opinions from scientifically researched content.
I speak to many people new to attachment theory who can’t tell the difference between a fearful avoidant and a dismissive avoidant, and even the difference between an anxious attachment and say a dismissive avoidant attachment. I’ve had a few clients come to me with “I am a DA” and when I ask if they took the Attachment Styles Test say, “No. But I know I’m DA because I can’t express my emotions and needs”. They then go ahead and describe someone with an anxious preoccupied attachment with severe people-pleasing behaviour.
And sometimes someone says “I feel numb. I don’t eat much and I can’t sleep. Everything feels so grey. I think I hit that dismissive avoidant depressive episode after the break-up.” But everything else they say contradicts a dismissive avoidant attachment – high anxiety, fear of rejection/abandonment, struggle with trusting others, constant self-doubt, getting very close then pulling away, fear that their partner will cheat, fear of saying/doing the wrong thing, self-beating and low view of themselves – and how they initially reacted to the break-up says they’re a fearful avoidant with a parent(s) who were “too emotional” or expressed emotions in ways that made them afraid of other people’s emotions. At as it turns out, they’re also taking depression medication.
If you are new to attachment styles and wondering how much longer it’s going to take to get an avoidant back, after reading this article, I suspect that like many of my clients, you’ll probably wonder if maybe you got your ex’s attachment style wrong – and probably have made some really bad decisions because you got your ex’s attachment style wrong.
While attachment styles are often a spectrum with some traits shared across attachment styles and some not shared by individuals with the same attachment style, it’s important that you understand how a fearful avoidant and a dismissive avoidant approach getting back together, and why it takes them so long to come back.
Attachment theory was first introduced by British psychologist John Bowlby. He believed that when a child is frightened or feeling unsafe, they seek closeness, comfort and care from their primary caregiver. He theorized that the bonds between a child and a caregiver impacts how they seek love and care later on in adulthood.
Dr. Mary Ainsworth who worked with John Bowlby put this theory to the test in what she called the “Strange Situation” experiment. The experiment which was later expanded by others set out to understand how different children react to separation and how they responded to a reunion with their primary attachment figure, in this case the mother. The behaviour of different groups of children is what she called “attachment styles”.
Why do I keep mentioning this experiment in many of my articles? First because it was the first time attachment styles was introduced to the world and I think it’s important to know these things beyond what we “get your ex back experts” say about how exes come back. But more importantly, as a coach who helps exes reunite, the strange situation experiment mirrors adult break-ups – how different attachment styles react to break-ups and how they react and respond to re-uniting with an ex – and it’s fascinating to see the experiment play out in real time.
And if you’re asking, “How long does it take an avoidant to come back?”, “Why does it take so long for an avoidant ex to come back?” or “How much longer is this going to take”, you really, really need to read this.
Anxious attachment style and separation anxiety after the break-up
In the Strange Situation experiment, anxiously attached children were inconsolable when separated from the mother, were angry with the mother for leaving but still sought comfort from the mother.
As adults, these individuals have high anxiety over separation and positive feelings towards reuniting with an ex. Just like in the strange situation, after a break-up, they’ll remain preoccupied with reconnecting and getting back with their ex. And because of their high anxiety over separation (and fear of abandonment) and high comfort with closeness it doesn’t long for an ex with an anxious attachment style to come back, as explained in this article.
What may take someone with an anxious attachment style to come back is if they go no contact. Generally, no contact is not something anxious attachment willingly choose to do or want to do because they don’t like separation and would rather be close with their ex. But after many failed attempts to reconnect or get back with an ex, individuals with an anxious attachment may go no contact with an ex they want back. This is often to stop themselves from contacting an ex and pushing them further away or losing all sense of self-respect. But no contact is also a passive aggressive attempt to get back at ex who is rejecting them (turn the tables) or make an ex miss them (trigger separation anxiety). Like in the Strange Situation experiment, they’re angry that the break-up happened, and angry that an ex is not coming back and sort of “acting out” (also known as protest behaviour).
But as you continue to read, you will discover that other than other individuals who also have an anxious attachment, the only other attachment anxiety that has a fear of separation and can be triggered by no contact is a fearful avoidant attachment, and even then, whether or not no contact succeeded in triggering separation anxiety has mixed results.
Fearful avoidant attachment and separation anxiety after the break-up
In the strange situation experiment, fearful avoidant children found separation from the mother both distressing and confusing. They were confused as to why the mother had to leave and when reunited with the mother acted conflicted. They wanted to go to the mother for comfort but were also fearful of her (she might leave again).
As adults, individuals with a fearful avoidant attachment have high anxiety over separation and high ambivalence when it comes to reuniting with an ex. After a break-up, they’re likely to be preoccupied with thoughts of missing and losing an ex forever but also fearful, uncertain, indecisive, and inconsistent when it comes to contact or getting close again.
These individuals are also called anxious-avoidants or disorganized attachment style because of their constant approach-withdraw battle going on inside of them. I’ve spent hours and hours with many fearful avoidant exes working together to draft two sets of texts or emails to an ex. One text is a closure text saying they’re moving on and the other is saying they still have feelings and want to give the relationship another chance. We go back and forth for several days, weeks and even months perfecting these two sets of texts. When I ask why they never send the texts, the answer is always “I’m confused”, which perfectly sums a fearful avoidant attachment.
Many fearful avoidants end up suffering from acute anxiety or depression because they’re constantly battling two conflicting forces inside of them – should they reach out and try to get back together with an ex and risk getting hurt again, or should they just move on and risk losing their ex forever.
Sometimes the reason it takes a fearful avoidant too long to come back is really them
It is important to know this because sometimes the reason it takes a fearful avoidant too long to come back is not because of you but because of the conflict within them. I’m not saying you are not responsible for the break-up or that a fearful avoidant attachment style is the only reason you’re not back together – or may never get back together. What I’m saying is if you are doing everything to make a fearful avoidant feel safe, and they say they still love you, have seen the changes you’ve made, trust you and feel safe with you but still can’t make up their mind whether they want to get back together or not, it’s not about what you are saying or doing anymore, it’s a fearful avoidant’s high anxiety over separation and high ambivalence when it comes to reuniting with an ex.
Very often you can feel the internal conflict within an avoidant and it may even play out right in front of you in real time. They tell that they still have feelings for you, reach out every day, respond to texts within minutes, are happy to spend time with you and say things that someone wouldn’t say if they had moved on. But somehow, they just can’t seem to take that next step to officially getting back together.
It takes a fearful avoidant longer to come back if you make them more confused and conflicted
If this is your fearful avoidant ex and you’re doing everything right to make them feel safe but you’re at that point where you’re asking, “how much longer is this going to take”, be patient. Let your fearful avoidant ex resolve their internal battle without you making them even more confused and conflicted.
1- Don’t push for a definite answer or try to make a fearful avoidant ex state where they stand because chances are that they don’t know – they’re confused. Not pushing includes not asking a fearful avoidant to choose A or B options, or telling them what you think is going on with them (what you think/feel/want).
Because of their childhood experience and low-self view many fearful avoidants don’t trust their own instincts on what is the right thing to say or do in a relationship, or what is expected of them by people they love. Many use how a partner acts as a guide to how they’re expected to act or read stuff on the internet and follow what the “experts” say because the experts know better. If you give them to choose option A or B, they’ll either choose “all of the above” or choose the option they think gets them out of the situation with little risk or getting hurt – and it may not be what they think/feel/want.
2- Don’t play mind games with a fearful avoidant ex to try to make them make a decision faster. As a child, people who loved them also hurt them, and love and care became both a source of comfort and a source of fear. A mind game to try to make them miss you (trigger attachment anxiety) and nudge them them to make a decision is likely to backfire. They become more conflicted and fearful because they just can’t trust you or your intentions, just like in the strange situation experiment.
But if you keep making a fearful avoidant feel safe (and understood, validated, wanted and valued), and they still love you, see that you’ve changed and that they can trust you not to hurt them and if there no other factors outside your efforts to get back together – work, family or life stressors, depression etc. – that you have no control over, your fearful avoidant ex will come back. They may not say “I want to come back” but as is characteristic of a fearful avoidant, they’ll hint here and there that they’re thinking about it.
Dismissive avoidant attachment and separation anxiety after the break-up
In the strange situation experiment, dismissive avoidant children showed little to no separation anxiety and didn’t seem to need any comforting when the mother left or returned.
As adults, individuals with a dismissive avoidant attachment style have low anxiety over separation and high evasion to reuniting with an ex. The high evasion to reuniting with an ex doesn’t mean they don’t still have feelings or won’t come back, the high evasion to reuniting with an ex means that they’re unlikely to want to get back together with an ex.
Because dismissive avoidants have low anxiety over separation, they don’t fear being away from an ex for long periods of time or fear losing them. And unlike fearful avoidants who don’t seem to be able to make a decision as to whether they want to get back together or not, most dismissive avoidants will have decided right from the break-up (and even before) depending on how they view an ex or view the relationship if they might to try things again or not.
If they think they might come back, they’ll try to keep the lines of communication open or be friends with an ex but not be in a rush to communicate or get back together. They don’t fear being away from an ex for long periods of time or fear losing them so they can afford to take their time coming back.
How long does it take a dismissive avoidant ex to come back?
How long does it take a dismissive avoidant to come back and how much longer should you keep trying to get them back is the million-dollar question. Experts will give you estimates and claim this or that, but the truth is no one really knows. I don’t think dismissive avoidants themselves know. As a dismissive avoidant, I didn’t know. It was there in my mind that one day I’d try things again, but until I felt I was ready to try being in a relationship again, I was okay not talking to an ex for months and okay with them if they decided that they couldn’t wait any longer and needed to move on. I even encouraged them to move on because I didn’t want to feel like I was holding the back (too much responsibility and depending on me).
Just to be clear. Dismissive avoidants come back for the same reasons other exes come back – they still have feelings for you, they regret the break-up, the problems that caused the break-up no longer exist, you’ve worked on yourself and showing up better than in the old relationship, they feel safe with you, they’ve done their own self-work, the list goes on. What I’m saying is, even with all these things in place, it may still take a dismissive avoidant long to come back. This is because relationships are just not something dismissive avoidants feel they need or prioritize.
How much longer should you keep trying to get back with a dismissive avoidant?
This depends on you. If you’re doing everything to make a dismissive avoidant feel safe, they say they still have feelings for you, you worked on your issues and they say the see the changes and think the relationship can work but just not ready for a relationship, how long can you wait?
As mentioned earlier, of all the attachment styles, dismissive avoidants are the least likely to get back with an ex. Just like in the strange situation experiment, they don’t seem to need any comforting when separated from an ex or when an ex returns. Because of their low anxiety over separation, a dismissive avoidant ex can be okay with a text once a month, a drink or dinner every few months, a social media friendship or friends with benefits for months or even years. The question is: Can you be okay with what they’re able to offer or capable of at the moment?
As you may have learned being in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant, you can’t push them or manipulate them to do anything that intrudes on their sense of independence. The one thing that you can count on a dismissive avoidant to do is not to tell you what they think you want to hear. If they say they’re not ready for a relationship, they’re not. If they say, they are okay if you can’t wait for them to be ready, they mean it.
Dismissive avoidants can also decide one day that they want to get back together
Now that you know that dismissive avoidants have low anxiety over separation and high avoidance to reuniting with an ex, don’t feel bad that you couldn’t be friends after the break-up or have moved on. Your dismissive avoidant ex likely has accepted the reality of the situation and dealing with it in their dismissive avoidant way which is: they’re not ready for a relationship and you can’t want for them any longer, it is what is it. Dismissive avoidants are none-emotional and rational like that.
If they’re ready to talk or see you in person, tell them exactly how you truly feel, and don’t just say what you think they want to hear. One ex sat me down and told me exactly how he felt waiting for me to decide I was ready for a relationship, and I found a new level of respect for him. He wasn’t angry, bitter or mean, he spoke his truth including the fact that being friends was too painful for him because he still had feelings for me. I heard him and respected him for being honest and choosing himself. As mentioned in my other articles, given a choice between a relationship and their happiness, DAs will almost always choose themselves. They see people who cling to relationships even when they’re not happy as weak and needy, and look down on them. My ex choosing his happiness over hanging on to a situation that he obviously wasn’t happy with made me respect him. We hugged and went our separate ways.
Dismissive avoidant decide they want to try the relationship again because you are worth it
If you haven’t moved and still want to give things another try, don’t think a dismissive avoidant “suddenly” decided they want to get back together because they were losing you. You’re selling yourself short. They’ve been thinking about if for a while and whether or not you told them you were moving on, they’d have come back.
After taking so long to come back, dismissive avoidants decide they want to try the relationship again because you are worth it. If they didn’t think you were worth it, they wouldn’t risk their so valued independence to be with you.