How to make an avoidant feel safe should be your number one priority if you want your fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant ex to come back.
Feeling safe is a term used to describe confidence and trust in a connection whether we’re with a loved one or apart from them. Feeling safe also describes confidence coming back or reconnecting after a deactivation, temporary separation or a break-up.
While individuals with an anxious attachment feel safer when with a loved one and often feel unsafe when apart from them, avoidants tend to feel safer when with a loved one if they feel safe to leave each other after being together and to come back after being apart.
This difference in what feels safe for someone with an anxious attachment and what feels safe for an avoidant is the reason for so many problems in anxious-avoidant relationships and the cause of many anxious-avoidant break-ups.
Individuals with an anxious attachment feel unsafe in the relationship because avoidants 1) don’t provide the affection, validation and the reassurance anxious partners need to feel safe, and 2) often deactivate and distance from an anxious partner without any effort to try to make them feel safe about the temporary separation. Avoidants on the other hand feel unsafe in the relationship because anxious partners 1) struggle with regulating their emotions and finding their own independence, and 2) when an avoidant deactivates, anxious partners act needy, clingy, manipulative or rejecting, which makes avoidants feel unsafe to come back after being apart.
Making an avoidant feel safe should be your number one priority
Making each other feel safe should be the number one priority of both individuals with an anxious attachment and avoidants. But unfortunately, after a break-up, both attachment styles make little to no effort to make the other feel safe. In fact much of the advice and strategies on getting back an ex is about doing the exact opposite of making an ex feel safe. Like most people, you may not even be aware that many of the things you are told get an ex back only makes them feel more unsafe and insecure – and may even damage any confidence or trust your ex may have in the connection you once had.
1) An anxious attachment ex who already is scared of separation will feel unsafe trying the relationship again with someone can easily cut them off and leave them feeling abandoned.
2) An avoidant ex who already has fears about coming back after being apart will feel unsafe coming back to someone who has a hard time dealing with separation (which avoidants need from time to time).
3) Even when these strategies and advice work to get back an ex, the anxious-avoidant dynamic doesn’t change. The relationship continues to struggle because neither person learned how to create safety for the other or is trying to make the other feel safe – and most people end up breaking up again.
This article and in fact my whole site and body of work is about feeling safe and having an unshakable confidence in a connection with an ex, and creating the environment for a more secure dynamic and relationship to grow and flourish.
Here are 12 things that you can do to make an avoidant ex feel safe:
1. Give an avoidant the space they need
What makes a fearful avoidant feel safe and what makes a dismissive avoidant safe may slightly differ, but one thing they both need is space to self regulate their emotions (and actions) and regain a sense of safety.
When an avoidant needs space, let them have it. It’s not personal. Often times avoidants aren’t distancing from you (the person), they’re distancing from closeness and vulnerability, 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. More: 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.
Learning to be around an avoidant without waiting for a specific response, working for a specific outcome or doing anything for them to love you and care for you creates a sense of safety and security.
2. Don’t rush or force closeness, be patient
People with an anxious attachment require more time, affection, and emotional sharing to feel that they are close to someone. Fearful avoidants who view themselves as undeserving of love and support find closeness threatening because it may lead to rejection. Dismissive avoidants who minimize and deny the need or desire for closeness find it suffocating. But not only do avoidants fear and deny the need for closeness, but they are also more sensitive to someone wanting more of their time, space and affections.
To create safety, be honest with your feelings and intentions at all times but emotionally open up and share your time, space and self incrementally as things progress. Don’t demand more of an avoidant’s time, space and affections than they can give at the moment. In my experience, often times avoidants end up not coming back not because they didn’t want to but because they felt hurried and made a decision not to come back because they felt pressured. Let them come closer as they feel safe to do so. Your patience in the short term will pay off in the long term.
3. Regulate your emotions (tone down the drama/conflict)
Arguments, outbursts, wanting to talk about relationship problems or about your feelings all the time, complaining about not being happy, consistently worrying and talking about an avoidant wanting space, over emotionality – anything and any situation that makes them feel that they need to deal with your emotions make an avoidant unsafe.
Dismissive 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 worry that you’re unhappy and they’re to blame for your unhappiness and pull away.
To make an avoidant feel safe, try to regulate or deal with your emotions on your own and learn to communicate your feelings without making an avoidant feel that your feelings and emotions are something they need to avoid or distance from. More: Why An Avoidant Ex Pulls Away After An Argument (STOP IT).
4. Communicate vulnerability
An avoidant ex is likely to feel that being vulnerable is safe if you model safe vulnerability. Safe vulnerability is being able to share your thoughts, views, opinions, feelings, beliefs, experiences etc. in a way that is safe and connecting rather than threatening, alienating or isolating. This includes being able to tell what to be vulnerable about and when it’s safe to be vulnerable.
Modelling safe vulnerability is so important for avoidants who are afraid of opening up and “exposing” themselves to hurt, judgement, ridicule, manipulation, being controlled etc. They need to see that you are capable of creating a safe space for yourself to be vulnerable before they can feel safe being vulnerable with you. If you disregard your own emotional safety e.g. talk about your thoughts, feelings, etc., without regard for the situation or consequences, why would they want to be vulnerable with you?
Modelling vulnerability takes time. You can start for example with some of your day-to-day experiences and your feelings about it without expecting an avoidant to listen, validate or share their day or feelings with. 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 safe 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’ll make an avoidant feel safe knowing that you value their input or support and can ask for it but can manage most things on your own.
5. Give an avoidant time to respond
Communication especially where emotions are involved is harder for an avoidant than it is for you (anxious or secure attachment). Sometimes it can feel like an avoidant is being polite, cold or distant or doesn’t want to chat when it’s really that they don’t know what to say or are still processing the information and what they feel about. Give time to respond in their own time. It can take an avoidant from hours to days to respond. Don’t keep texting to try to jolt them into responding or make them respond faster.
You may also find that avoidants especially fearful avoidants tend to overreact to minor upsets and act cold and distant (and even mean). If you sense that they’re upset, calmly end the conversation and give them time (hours to days, depending on the level of upset) to calm down. Some distance makes avoidants feel safe but not too much distance that they deactivate.
To create safety for both of you, and avoid things from spiraling out of control, learn to self-soothe without needing reassurance from an avoidant. Check with yourself if you are responding to what is actually being said (or done) or reacting to how you feel about it. Most of the time, it’s our reactions to our own negative feelings that get in the way of a constructive communication.
6. Don’t force an avoidant to talk if they don’t want to
Avoidants in general (dismissive more than fearful) have limited emotional bandwidth and unfortunately anxious people have excess emotional bandwidth and a need to expend of the excess. “Talking” about anything emotionally stressful uses up a lot of an avoidant’s emotional that bandwidth. Even when the conversation needs to be had or the avoidant themselves brought up a concern, when things get heated or the conversations gets “too emotional”, avoidants feel unsafe. Trying to avoid the stress of a difficult emotionally laden conversation often leads to avoiding the person altogether, and to even a break-up. And by the end of most relationships, most avoidants are emotionally depleted and need self-care.
When an avoidant doesn’t want to talk, don’t force them to talk even if you know directly dealing with issues is better than avoiding them. In these kind of situations, make keeping the lines of communication open your main goal. Open lines of communication even if they’re are avoiding the issue has a calming effect on avoidants because there is no requirement for them to invest time or emotion. Keeping the lines of communication open also prevents triggering feelings of shame and guilt. But perhaps more importantly, open lines of communication even if an avoidant is avoiding difficult conversations communicates to an avoidant that you’re capable of holding a safe space for them think about the issue in their own time and at their own pace.
If you are emotionally invested in resolving the issue, try to see if you can reframe your perspective and see the situation in a different way, therefore resolving it on your own. More: How To Approach An Avoidant Ex About A Problem.
7. Let them feel they’re in control
Personal control or a sense of control makes avoidants feel that they still have their independence and not under someone else’s control.
To make an avoidant feel safe, let them feel that they are in control of what happens to them or 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. Even if you think you can do it better than they can, find ways to offer your help but in a way that an avoidant feels that they control or have a choice in what happens or their own outcomes.
8. Be supportive but non-intrusive
Research suggests that avoidants are more open to support when offered as useful information or a helping hand (acts of service) than they’re to encouragement, or advice intended to enhance self- worth. This ties in with an avoidant’s need to feel in control of their experience.
You undermine an avoidant’s attachment safety by:
- Making decisions for them that they can make for themselves;
- Providing advice or encouragement that is not needed or desired;
- Taking over and controlling an aspect of their life;
- Violating their boundaries or privacy.
To make an avoidant feel safe receiving support from you, let them make the major decisions and only step in to provide encouragement or advice if asked. More: How To Be Supportive To A Fearful Avoidant Ex – And Earn Their Trust).
9. Be trustworthy, reliable and dependable
Avoidants in general have a hard time trusting and 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 you’re losing control
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 you to do what you said you’ll do.
10. Be accessible and available
Being available is central to attachment security because it’s calming and reassuring to know that when you need someone to be there for you, they will be.
Availability when applied to adult relationship first and foremost means that can you be reached by text, phone call, email, social media etc. But availability also means that you are open to interaction even when you’re upset or vulnerable. With an avoidant ex, availability doesn’t mean waiting around for them to text or call you or orbiting in their personal space or social media. Being available means being accessible and a source of comfort when comforting is needed.
There are several ways that you can show an avoidant ex that you’re accessible and available without coming across as needy and clingy or don’t have a life of your own. This includes keeping the lines of communication open when things are good between the two of you and when they’re not so good, spacing your contacts, checking in periodically, taking rain checks when necessary etc.
11. Be receptive and responsive
“Now that I know about attachment styles, I can respond better” is a common thing many people trying to attract back an avoidant ex say. They believe that having an understanding or knowledge of attachment styles will make them a more responsive partner. But research (Winczewski, Bowen and Collins) has shown that what makes one a responsive partner is not just understanding or knowledge, “Having accurate knowledge in the absence of compassionate feelings may even undermine responsiveness”.
To be a truly responsive partner, understanding and knowledge must be accompanied by compassion and genuine empathy and caring. Compassion and genuine empathy and caring is important to avoidants who have childhood memories of being ignored, rejected, or of having no one present when they were in distress. You can tell them all you know about attachment styles but if they don’t feel genuine empathy and caring from you, an avoidant ex will continue to feel unsafe with you. All the talk about understanding attachment styles may even make an avoidant ex wonder if you’re really capable of understanding their needs.
To be truly responsive in a way that makes an avoidant feel safe, be present and receptive and convey warmth, empathy and sensitivity. Recognize their bids for connection and distress cues and respond in ways that make them feel listened to, understood, appreciated and valued. More: How To Respond To Avoidant Ex Trying To Get Your Attention.
12. 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.
To make an avoidant ex feel safe, be consistent in how you show up for them. Even when they’re pulling away or deactivating, don’t change how you’ve been showing them you care and love them. This is especially important when dealing with a fearful avoidant attachment.
Consistency is important for all attachment styles but more important for a fearful avoidant because it’s inconsistency that created their disorganized attachment style in the first place. They expect you to reject/abandon them (not be available or response), punish them for breaking up with you or put your own self-protective interests/agenda above theirs. Consistency means showing them 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. I’m the same person who fell in love you, and will remain the same throughout this process. More: How to Be Consistent With A Fearful Avoidant Ex (Get Them Back).
Two insecure people will always struggle to create healthy safe relationship
Just like I say to avoidants, don’t act conflicted, cold or distant and complain that someone with an anxious attachment is acting needy and clingy. They’re probably acting that way because you are making them feel insecure and unsafe. I’m also saying to you, don’t say and do things to make an avoidant feel unsafe or insecure then wonder why they’re confused, or being cold or distant.
When you say and do thing that make an avoidant feel unsafe and insecure, you’re essentially sending the message “Don’t come close, I’m capable of hurting you!”. You may be doing so many things not to push them away, but not doing enough to make an avoidant feel safe enough to want to get close, and come back. Think about that!
A healthy relationship can happen not because the other person stops being avoidant or anxious, but because one of you becomes more secure and becomes the secure base or attachment stabilizer in the relationship.
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!