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:
Typical dismissive avoidant thing:
- Listening, asking questions and taking an interest in her but revealing very little about himself
- 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
- Not responding to texts for days and then reaching out like everything is okay
Not necessarily an avoidant thing:
- Choosing to spend time ( e.g. holidays) with his family and friends over spending time with her
- Cancelling dates because he was tied up at work or too tired
Partly dismissive avoidant but more like someone who doesn’t care about how she feels or the relationship:
- 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 they are “an introvert” then it was “a 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.