I had a chat with a client last evening that prompted me to write this article. For confidentiality reasons the details of our conversation are intentionally vague but the focus of our chat is not.
She contacted me because she’d read my articles on Understanding Your Avoidant Ex. She had questions about her ex’s behaviours:
- Listening, asking questions and taking an interest in her but revealing very little about himself (typical dismissive avoidant);
- Being so private that they’d been dating for 10 months and she had never seen inside his home, never met his family and only met two of his friends (typical dismissive avoidant).
- Choosing to spend time especially during the holidays with his family and friends over spending time with her (not necessarily an avoidant thing);
- Cancelling dates because he was tied up at work or too tired (not necessarily an avoidant thing);
- Not responding to texts for days and then reaching out like everything is okay (typical dismissive avoidant);
- Going out of town and only telling her he was out of town because she asked where he was (partly dismissive avoidant but more like someone who doesn’t care about how she feels or the relationship);
- Saying he wasn’t ready to stop seeing other women after she had told him she wanted to be exclusive and he nodded in agreement (partly dismissive avoidant but more like someone who told her what he thought she wanted to hear but had no intention of following through);
The list is long but that’s not why I wrote this article. The reason I wrote it is because I see more and more women and men attribute all a current partner or ex’s behaviour to him or her being an avoidant.
It used to be he or she is “an introvert” then it was “commitment phobe” (even when they had been dating for only 2 months or they were fighting too much that no reasonable person would want to commit) and now everyone seems to be jumping on to the “avoidant” wagon.
It’s important that you understand both your attachment style and your partner or ex’s attachment style. Too many “you are too needy/suffocating me” , “you don’t care about me”, “you’re selfish/narcissistic”, “I can’t give you what you want”, “we’re not compatible” etc., relationship problems can easily be resolved with an understanding of how the other person attaches and detaches, and what makes them feel safe and secure.
But it’s equally important to understand that just because someone is an avoidant doesn’t mean all their words and actions are explained by them being an avoidant.
For example, some people cancel dates because they value their independence over a relationship (typical dismissive-avoidant), but others cancel dates more than once because they genuinely have busy careers or have other equally important commitments (e.g. school exams, parent with shared custody, someone caring for a sick parent, etc).
An avoidant or anxious-fearful ex will for example stop responding because they are pulling away (deactivating or disengaging attachment) but a securely attached ex will also stop responding or change the subject if you keep picking fights, creating drama, talking about the break-up, pushing for closeness or to get back together. They stop responding not because they are avoiding emotions (dismissive avoidant) but because you are acting unreasonable or they don’t see how talking more about the subject is going to help or make things better.
A securely attached ex may also cut off contact if you keep violating boundaries they’ve set (e.g. don’t send too many texts, don’t contact my friends or family, don’t come to my house/work, don’t send me gifts or do things for me etc). They stop responding not because they are avoiding connection but because they are enforcing a boundary.
So, before you conclude “my ex is an avoidant” (which they may be), look at your own behaviours first. Sometimes a little self-reflection is all that is needed to interrupt the deactivation of attachment if your ex is an avoidant or anxiously-fearful.
A little self-reflection can also help you see what you are doing to get the reaction that you are getting from your ex, and correct or change those behaviours that are causing your (avoidant, anxiously-attached or secure) ex to act the way they do .
I am not saying that your ex’s behaviours are excusable or not hurtful, all I am saying is that you can only own and work on your part of the dynamic.
When your ex sees that you are making a genuine effort to understand why they needed to do what they did they way they did it, (e.g. cancel a date more than once, stop responding, lie about not seeing other men or women etc.) and that your efforts are aimed at trying to establish emotional security and trust for both of you (not just for yourself), they will be more understanding of your own behaviours and more comfortable trying to make the relationship work.
As I discussed in my series on Can A Dismissive-Avoidant Ex Want You Back? even avoidants are capable of love, of being sensitive, considerate and caring, and when the relationship offers the safety and security they need, they can be as committed to the relationship as someone who’s securely attached.
But if you are convinced or have proof based on past behaviour that no amount of understanding on your part or efforts aimed at trying to establish safety, security and trust for both of you will make a difference, then you need to be honest with yourself. Is the situation far gone that letting go and/or moving on is the only option? If you do get back together, what kind of relationship will you have without safety, security or trust?
If your ex’s behaviours – avoidant or not – are straight up mean, inconsiderate, insensitive, selfish or uncaring then you need to be honest with yourself about whether this is how you want to be loved. Sometimes wanting someone so bad blinds us to the fact that the object of our desire is incapable of love, incapable of meeting our most important needs, and incapable of being the partner we need and want.
Ignoring all the signs or dismissing them as “avoidant behaviour” is not respecting and loving yourself enough to do what is right by you – and you wonder why your ex doesn’t respect or love you enough to do what is right by you.
It’s unrealistic to expect (and too much to ask of) someone else to love and respect you when not even you loves and respects you. It’s like sitting next to a plate of food and complaining that no one wants to feed you.