I’ve talked about being consistent in many of my articles with regards to making an avoidant ex feel safe, avoidants losing feelings of attraction and the long-term harmful effects of no contact; and cannot emphasize enough that if you want a dismissive or fearful avoidant ex to come back and invest in a relationship with you, you must learn how to be consistent.
Being consistent is important to avoidants because consistency equals reliable and reliable equals someone they can trust. Being consistent is even more important for a fearful avoidant because it’s inconsistency in care, love, availability and responsiveness that created their disorganized attachment style in the first place. They expect you to reject or abandon them, to not be available or respond, to punish them for breaking up with you or to put your own self-protective interests/agenda above theirs.
The consistency an avoidant needs is not just the regularity of contact, consistency to an avoidant means how you are with them is the same when things are good and when things are not so good. You’re not loving and caring one minute and complaining and yelling the next, saying you’re okay with them needing space one day and complaining about it the next, or contacting them too much one week and cutting off all contact the next. These inconsistencies make an avoidant feel unsafe.
What attachment theory says about consistency, reliability and trust
According to attachment theory, children learn about trust based on how their parents or attachment figures act and behave toward them. From a very early age, they learn that a parent or caregiver can be trusted based on how available, responsive, reliable and consistent a parent or caregiver is in the way they provide care and love.
Children whose caregivers promptly and consistently respond to their distress and needs in sensitive, caring, loving and reassuring grow up both secure and trusting. Children whose caregivers weren’t available or didn’t consistently respond to their attachment needs grow up not to trust people who say they love them.
As far as dismissive avoidants are concerned, people who say they love them often want to control them and limit who they can be and what they can do, and this is reason enough not to trust them. A fearful avoidant’s reason for not trusting people who say they love them is that soon or later, they all act rejecting, give up and leave.
Subconsciously many fearful avoidants believe that it doesn’t matter how good the relationship is or how hard they try to make it work, at some point it will all come to an end. And sadly, many anxious attachment and fearful avoidant relationships, and fearful avoidant and dismissive avoidant relationships confirm a fearful avoidant’s belief about relationships, and further strengthens these belief.
Fearful avoidants put up emotional walls or barriers to protect themselves
Fearful avoidants in general expect to be rejected and abandoned and believe it’s only a matter of time before they’re proven right. Because they see love, care and relationships as primarily conditional, they’re never sure if love and care is being given for the right reasons, or if it’ll be taken away for any or no reason at all, or for reasons they are never told about.
In the relationship, fearful avoidants look to a partner’s words, actions and reactions to tell them that the relationship isn’t working and love and care will be taken away. But because fearful avoidants have never known what it feels like to be unconditionally loved and cared for, they find many things people in a relationship say and do confusing and hard to properly process, and sometimes pre-emptively break-up before love and care is taken away.
When the relationship ends, a fearful avoidant ex left feeling even more confused, vulnerable and unsafe, so they put up emotional walls or barriers to protect themselves from the unknown. Even fearful avoidant exes who have regular contact with an ex will still put up emotional walls or barriers to protect themselves from arguments, criticism, blame, accusations, disapproval, mistreatment (real or perceived) or lack of care they know is coming but can’t predict exactly when.
How to be consistent with a fearful avoidant ex and get them back
When trying to get back with a fearful avoidant ex, you will feel the emotional walls or barriers a fearful avoidant ex has put up as them being guarded or acting cold, distant or rejecting – and they’re. This is a fearful avoidant ex not just trying to protect themselves from you based on their past experience with you, this is a fearful avoidant ex also protecting themselves from them because they don’t trust their own instincts.
Even an avoidant ex who still has feelings for you, is still attracted to you and wants to get back together will still struggle with how they can be sure that someone who is reaching out and showing that they still love and care about them will not soon or later act rejecting, give up on them and leave. And they’re not even looking for big signs like an ex going no contact, blocking them or seeing someone new, even something as small as a difference of opinions, views or values, or an argument over a recollection of something that happened can feel like rejection or a reason to leave to a fearful avoidant.
The message you want to send to a fearful avoidant is that “I’m still here”, you still matter and your feelings and needs still matter to me even when right now I shouldn’t still be here and your needs and feelings shouldn’t matter to me because we’re broken up.
How can you show a fearful avoidant ex that they have no reason to fear that you’ll act rejecting, give up and leave?
1. Be consistent with the time and effort you put into attracting them
The one thing that securely attached individuals do when you break up with them or they break up with you is that they’ll will treat you like they treated you when you were together – loving, caring, kind and respectfully. They’re not suddenly going to try to make you feel bad for breaking up with them or try to “make you miss them” because they’re confident of their desirability and attractiveness as relationship partners, and don’t need prove of how much someone loves or cares about them.
Fearful avoidants aren’t that confident or secure about their desirability and attractiveness as relationship partners, and need prove that someone loves or cares about them. One way to prove to a fearful avoidant that you find them desirable and are still attracted to them is being consistent with the time and effort you put into attracting them.
Inconsistent effort and time – e.g. texting insistently one day/week and then blocking or asking for no contact, saying you respect their request for no contact but keep trying to contact them, or watching their every Instagram story then suddenly stop until they start watching yours – doesn’t just communicate to a fearful avoidant that you can’t be trusted to show up loving and caring, you can’t also be consistent.
If you want to convince a fearful avoidant ex that the relationship is worth emotionally investing in, stay the course and focus on the things that create safety and security.
2. Show you value the relationships that you have – right now
As human being we trust people who are there for us consistently through the good and bad times. Avoidants are not any different, but there is an additional layer to a fearful avoidant’s need for people to prove they can be there for them consistently.
Fearful avoidants are not used to being loved and cared for on a consistent basis. This is the one reason they’re afraid of getting too close to someone. They’ve convinced themselves that they shouldn’t get too attached or get used to being loved, cared for and wanted because the love, care, attention etc., will not last. When the relationship ends, they expect you to cut off contact and maybe never speak to them again.
Being consistent is showing a fearful avoidant ex that unlike everyone else who leaves, you’re sticking around through the good and bad. Sometimes sticking around means consistently reaching out even when a fearful avoidant ex is being guarded and distant. Consistently being kind and understanding even when a fearful avoidant is acting rejecting, apprehensive and distrustful. Consistently committing to a pattern of behaviour that builds trust and confidence in the relationship etc.
Other times being consistent is showing a fearful avoidant ex that you value the relationship that you have right now, and even if what you really want is to get back together, you are happy with where things are right now, and/or appreciate the progress made. This means not pushing for more connection than a fearful avoidant is ready for.
Some of my clients are surprised by their fearful avoidant ex’s response when they communicate and show a fearful avoidant that they value the relationship they have right now. Slowly they start to let their guard down, bring down the walls and move aside the barriers they’d erected to protect themselves. They see that they don’t need to protect themselves because an ex is consistently proving that their needs and feelings matter- and are not taking anything for granted.
3. Use language that supports and fosters a sense of safety and trustworthiness
Many people trying to attract back their ex don’t realize that the words they use don’t just reveal their intentions and motivation, they also reveal their trustworthiness. And when dealing with someone who already doesn’t trust people who say they love them; words carry an even bigger meaning.
When dealing with a fearful avoidant ex, your words and language should consistently answer the question “Can I trust you?” even when the question is not being asked. Sometimes this means learning a new communication style or communication skills (i.e. empathic communication, non-violent communication, cooperative communication etc.) and adapting words that may not be a part of your current word portfolio.
For example, over the years, I’ve found that using phrases like “I understand what you’re saying”, or “I appreciate where you’re coming from” or “I trust your judgment” when dealing with a fearful avoidant ex who’s conflicted and is putting up all kinds of emotional walls and barriers communicates that you can be trusted not to act rejecting when you don’t get your way. Instead of a fearful avoidant ex pushing back or pushing you away, these words encourage deeper conversations about why a fearful avoidant is conflicted, strengthen emotional connection and build trust.
4. Follow through and don’t give up so easily
Charles F. Kettering said, “It’s the follow-through that makes the great difference between success and failure, because it’s so easy to stop.
When it comes to being consistent with a fearful avoidant, follow-through is not giving up on them so easily. Most fearful avoidants have had people who say they love them “give them up” or “give up” on them, either through abandonment as a child or too many rejections or break-ups as an adult. As a result they’re always looking for words, actions, signs and reasons to confirm their belief that people who say they love them can’t be trusted not to leave (eventually). Many of the ways fearful avoidants go about finding out if they can truly trust you may seem like mind game playing (and they are), but they’re really a fearful avoidant trying to protect themselves from someone they don’t fully trust for some reason.
But even more importantly, being consistent with a fearful avoidant is following through on what you say (or said) you will do. If you say you will text or call, text or call. If you have plans to meet, show up. If you can’t for some reason follow through and do what you said you will do, communicate your reasons promptly, honestly and reassuringly.
If for example when they were breaking up with you, you told your fearful avoidant ex that you loved them no matter what or that you didn’t intentionally mean to hurt them, they’ll be looking to see if you meant what you said about loving them no matter what, and if you will purposefully hurt them; and may even say and do things to test if they can trust you to follow through on your words.
A fearful avoidant may even get close to you – respond to texts, engage and draw you in, then push you away, just to see if you will try to fight for them or chase them. Some fearful avoidants who ended the relationship because an ex was needy and clingy have told me that sometimes they don’t respond to texts for days or even weeks, or act “a little bit distant” to see how their ex will react or respond.
Sometimes a fearful avoidant will even tell you to move on and date other people because they don’t trust you to not cheat on them or don’t think you truly love them, then frequent your social media to see if you are seeing other people.
One client told me his fearful avoidant ex had told him she was seeing someone new and it drove him crazy to a point he wasn’t sleeping and wasn’t able to focus at work. He constantly checked her social media to see if she posted pictures of the new guy – she never posted any. After a month or so of anxious torment, he gathered the courage to ask her how the new relationship was going and she was like, “What new relationship?”. After he reminded her of what she had said, she said (and I’m not kidding!) “I was just testing you.” He’d acted jealous and controlling when they were together, and she ended the relationship because “he was so insecure.” And because he’d been telling her about the self-work he was doing and how confident in himself he felt, she decided to test him.
So if you’re trying to get back with a fearful avoidant ex who has built walls, and doesn’t trust you because of an argument or disagreement you had, a perceived difference of opinions, views or values due to a miscommunication or doesn’t believe that you can change, you have to consistently show up as someone who has changed for the better. A missed opportunity to show that you have changed or repeat of the old behaviour is going to put a fearful avoidant on “don’t trust” alert and cause them to be hypersensitive and hypervigilant to potential signs that you can’t be trusted.
5. Be consistent with what you say you want
As I’ve said in my articles, fearful avoidants are the most inconsistent of all the attachment styles, but fearful avoidants are also the attachment style that needs consistency the most.
Unlike individuals with a secure attachment who can tolerate higher levels of uncertainty, and dismissive avoidants who strictly control the experience of what happens to them, individuals with an anxious attachment and fearful avoidants have a harder time navigating uncertainly. For both anxious and fearful avoidant attachment styles, the more uncertain things are the higher the risk of getting hurt.
One of the things that creates so much uncertainty and risk for a fearful avoidant ex is inconsistency in what you say you want. When you say you want closure or send a text or email that says you want closure or sounds like you’re moving on, but also indicate that you want to get back together (now or in the future), or continue to pursue a fearful avoidant ex, it’s very confusing and stressful to someone who already has a disorganized attachment style.
Many of my fearful avoidant clients express a concern about being led on or their hopes being shattered. They want to know from me if their ex is just saying they want to move on (or moved on) or if they have you actually moved on and leading them by continuing to act like they want them back. They feel that if they ignore the message that their ex wants to move on (or has moved on) and they later get hurt, they only have themselves to blame because their ex told them they moved on and they chose to believe otherwise.
Being consistent in uncertainty means being clear about what you want with a fearful avoidant ex. If you want closure, ask for it, get it and move on. If you want to try to get back together, don’t send text message and emails about moving on and then continue trying to get back together.
When they expect closure and it doesn’t happen, most fearful avoidant exes become more distant and may even become hostile because the risk of getting hurt increased exponentially.