Some of you reading my articles and watching my YouTube channel have taken this to heart and sent me emails asking me what a secure attachment style looks and feels like; and how to make an avoidant feel safe enough to want to come back.
I heard you and will discuss how to make an avoidant feel safe; and 12 things that securely attached do that make an avoidant feel safe.
Making your ex feel emotionally safe and secure should be your number one priority
Attachment theory defines feeling safe or secure as having an unshakable confidence in the availability and responsiveness of a relationship partner.
The central premise of attachment theory is that primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant’s needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. While attachment bonds or relationships displayed in adulthood are not necessarily the same as those seen in childhood, availability and responsiveness are still the two main factors that facilitate and foster a sense of security, and stability in romantic relationships.
What this means that when a relationship partner is unavailable and unresponsive, the other partner feels unsafe and insecure. On the other hand, when a relationship partner is available and responsive, it increases the other partner’s sense of attachment security, making the relationship more stable.
This increase in attachment security is what has come to be known as “felt safety”. “Felt safety” is possible with someone who is available and responsive, and can provide a safe environment (or safe base) to practice feeling comfortable being close, and giving and receiving love without the fear of losing your independence or fear of being hurt.
12 things that securely attached do that make an avoidant feel safe:
1.Give an avoidant the space they need
When an avoidant needs space, let them have it. It’s not personal, so don’t take it personally. If they come close, rather than complaining about their avoidant behaviour, offer understanding and reinforce their positive actions.
Individuals with a secure attachment style understand that sometimes the person we love is not emotionally where we want them to be; and if you love them, you meet them where they are.
If an avoidant says “I need space” and you can safely and calmly articulate your feelings; it doesn’t hurt to admit to an avoidant that you need closeness to feel loved. Being able to openly talk about an avoidant’s need for space in a constructive way; makes an avoidant feel safe to communicate to you when they need space and for how long. (see: How Do I Give My Avoidant Ex Space? (And How Much Space)
You can also practice sitting with each other in silence and just being present. This can help an avoidant feel that they can ‘take space’ without leaving the room or going somewhere away from you.
2. Be patient and take things slow
What makes a dismissive avoidant feel safe is different from what makes a a fearful avoidant feel safe.
A dismissive avoidant attachment greatest fear is losing their identity in a relationship. This is why they are so protective of their independence; and why you shouldn’t chase a dismissive avoidant. Their second greatest fear is that no one can love them because they can’t love them back enough. They keep you at a distance because they believe that if you come too close, you will end up disappointed and/or hurt.
A fearful avoidant’s fear is that no one can love them because they are not good enough to be loved. Chasing a fearful avoidant makes them feel that you want them (more than they want you), and that means they’re good enough.
A securely attached person understands that most people with an avoidant attachment don’t even know that they are acting out of fear. They are patient and consistent which makes an avoidant feel safe.
To make an avoidant feel safe, don’t force your love on them; and don’t demand for more than they can give at the moment. Take things slow and your patience in the short term will pay off in the long term.
What “taking things slow” means different things for a dismissive avoidant and a fearful avoidant; and in the short video below, I explain the differences.
3. Tone down the drama
Nonstop drama, constant arguments, and emotional stress makes avoidants feel unsafe. Dismissives avoidant don’t have the skills and tools to deal with their own emotions; let alone other people’s feelings and emotions. They get easily overwhelmed and want distance. Fearful avoidants are highly sensitive to rejection and see drama, constant arguments as a threat to the relationship. They worry you might break-up with them, so they break-up with you first.
One trait that separates secure attachment from insecure is the ability to self-regulate their emotions and actions; and respond or act in ways that are appropriate for the situation. To make an avoidant feel safe, tone down the drama; better yet, cut it off.
4. Communicate vulnerability
One of the complains about avoidants is that they don’t open up about how they feel. To make an avoidant feel safe enough to open up, it’s important for you to share your authentic and imperfect self; and to model vulnerability.
One way to do this is open up about some of your day-to-day experiences and your feelings about it. Don’t pressure them to share their day or feelings with, because that’s not the point. The point is to show an avoidant that it’s okay to talk about things that are hard to talk about and help them embrace emotional vulnerability.
When communicating vulnerability, it’s important for an avoidant to know you can manage whatever you’re dealing with so they don’t feel the burden of solving your problems. If you need their input or advice ask for it directly and clearly. It will make an avoidant feel safe, knowing that you value their input or support and can ask for it. To a fearful avoidant, it means they are good enough. To a dismissive avoidant, it means you respect their knowledge, skills or talent.
5. Deescalate instead of escalate
Avoidants especially fearful avoidants overreact to minor upsets; and act cold and distant (and even mean). Try not to get defensive or pick a fight when they overreact (act needy or defensive) or act cold and distant. Calmly try to resolve the issue. Don’t let your feelings get in the way of a constructive conversation.
If the issue can’t be resolved right away. Ask that both of you take a few hours apart to cool off. It will help both of you approach the issue constructively. Distance makes avoidants feel safe but too much distance makes an avoidant; especially a fearful avoidant feel unsafe. A few hours is not too little and not too much.
6. Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to
If an avoidant doesn’t want to talk about something, don’t force them to talk even if you know directly dealing with issues is better than avoiding them. Just make sure you keep the lines of communication open because talking to each other even if you are avoiding the issue will make an avoidant feel safe.
7. Let them feel they’re in control
Avoidants feel safe when they feel that they are in control of what is most important to them. If for example they are doing a project that is important to them, and you want to be supportive; ask if you can help with little things here and there; things they are willing to let you help with.
8. Be supportive but non-intrusive
Support your avoidant’s goals, dreams, interests, hobbies personal journey, soul searching, growth etc. but in a non-intrusive way. Let them make the major decisions and only step in to provide advice, support and help (including financial) if asked. This ties in with an avoidant’s need to feel in control.
You undermine an avoidant’s attachment sense of safety by:
- Making decisions for them that they can make for themselves;
- Providing advice or support that is not needed or desired;
- Taking over and controlling an aspect of their life;
- Violating their boundaries or privacy;
- Trespassing or encroaching on their social support network.
9. Be trustworthy
Avoidants in general have a hard time trusting; and an avoidant may never be able to fully trust. But they see when you make the effort, and feel safe.
You show an avoidant that you are making an effort to gain their trust when you:
- Listen, empathize and respect their perspective
- Are open, honest and as transparent as you can be
- Take full responsibility for your actions
- Apologize when necessary, but don’t over apologize
- Don’t create drama but also don’t run away when you feel like we’re losing control
9. Be reliable and dependable
Be dependable but not dependent; especially with a dismissive avoidant. Reliable and dependable means you have yourself put-together. When you say you are going to do something, you keep your word. Knowing that you can be counted on makes avoidants who have a hard time trusting others feel safe. They don’t have to constantly worry that you will let them down or that they will disappoint themselves for trusting on you to do what you said you’ll do.
The goal should be interdependency where an avoidant can rely on you for some things; and you can rely on they for others.
11. Be consistent
Consistency is a unique trait of a secure attachment style. A securely attached person is the same person in all their different relationships; a significant other, family, friends, co-workers and even strangers. They are not one way with this person and in this relationship; and another way with someone else. Even in difficult emotional situations, they don’t change their behaviour to avoid thinking about, feeling, or doing difficult things. For instance, if you break-up with them, they are not going to suddenly cut you off. They will treat you like they treated you when you were together. And if you decide to cut off contact, they will respect your wish not to be contacted; and hold no resentment.
To make an avoidant feel safe, be consistent in how you show them you care when they lean in; and when they distance.
12. Be available and responsive
You make an avoidant feel safe by being responsive to their bids for connection. You also make them safe by being attuned and responsive to their distress cues; and not ignoring them. Instead provide comfort and/or assistance when needed.
If an avoidant says they want ‘space’ and no communication, respect their wish. But if an avoidant indicates they want ‘space’ but also want to keep the lines of communication open; make an effort to check in on them every now and then. Not too much. Every other day or 2- 4 days is reasonable.
If you are not doing these things, you are not making your ex feel safe and secure
This also means you are not pulling your ex closer. You may be doing so many things not to push them away, but not doing enough to pull them closer. The safer and secure someone feels, the closer they want to be.
A study found that one partner’s sensitive and responsive behaviours can buffer or reduce the other partner’s attachment anxiety; or avoidance during moments of relational tension; and can thereby foster attachment security within a relationship over the long run (Arriaga, Kumashiro, Simpson, and Overall).
In a longitudinal study of newlywed couples, researchers found that perceptions of partners as available and responsive were associated with reductions in attachment avoidance 12 months later, and that perceptions of partners as accepting and valuing one’s needs and goals predicted subsequent reductions in attachment anxiety. (Arriaga, Kumashiro, Finkel, VanderDrift)
The beneficial effects of a partner’s responsiveness were also observed by Lavi. In an 8-month longitudinal study with newly committed couples, it was found that anxiety and avoidance decreased as a direct function of a partner’s actual sensitive and responsive behaviours.
If you’re an avoidant, tell us what being safe means for you; and if you love an avoidant, tell us some of the ways you are making your avoidant feel safe. Remember, we’re in this together!