How long it takes a fearful avoidant ex to come back or even if they come back depends a lot on if they feel pressured to respond, to meet, to come back etc., or if they feel emotionally overwhelmed by the whole process of getting back together. They may feel that things are moving fast, that you’re expecting too much from them or feel pressured because of all the high expectations they have of themselves to “be enough” or “good enough”.
Even just thinking of responding, meeting up or getting back together is enough for a fearful avoidant ex to deactivate and even completely pull the plug on getting back together.
Why fearful avoidants get overwhelmed
A fearful avoidant attachment developed from having caregivers who were inconsistently available, inconsistently responsive, inconsistently loving and caring, or unsafe. These early experiences led to an attachment style that’s both anxious and avoidant, distrustful of others, behaves in ways that are inconsistent and hard to predict, gets easily overwhelmed and withdraws or pushes others away.
Because of these early childhood experiences, fearful avoidants come into a relationship already feeling conflicted and unsure if someone will be there for them when they need them or if they too will be inconsistently available, inconsistently responsive, inconsistently loving and caring, or unsafe. This means that a fearful avoidant ex can feel emotionally overwhelmed when you contact them too much, don’t give them space or get too close to them and a fearful avoidant ex can feel overwhelmed with anxiety when pull away, act indifferent or act like you you don’t want them back or have moved on.
A fearful avoidant’s conflict within themselves – wanting closeness with someone and feeling overwhelmed when they get close – is in itself emotionally overwhelming even without you saying or doing anything to make them feel pressured. When you add the expectations and pressures of being in a relationship, and an anxious partner or ex who constantly wants attention, reassurance and connection 24/7, or a dismissive avoidant who’s never there when needed for comfort and support, a fearful avoidant constantly feels overwhelmed.
How do you make a fearful avoidant ex feel less pressured?
Making an avoidant feel less overwhelmed or pressured is not as simple as telling them “there’s no pressure” or “don’t “feel pressured.” For someone who constantly feels overwhelmed, saying “no pressure” is likely to be perceived as pressure. It’s like “Now that you say it, I feel pressured.”
And you if you take the attitude “I don’t want you to be overwhelmed, so I’ll just leave you alone to deal with whatever is going on with you.” That may be interpreted as “When I need you to be consistent to feel safe, you’re unavailable and unresponsive. I thought you were different”. On the other hand, you can’t just keep texting, asking to meet and pushing your needs and expectations on someone who easily gets overwhelmed when things move too fast, or feels that you’re expecting too much from them and they can’t give you what you want or be there for you the way you want them to. So what do you do?
Taking off the pressure for a fearful avoidant ex to respond, open up or talk about things they’re not comfortable talking about, share, meet, get back together etc., will no doubt make them feel less overwhelmed but like I said, a fearful avoidant attachment is hard to predict. They may feel less overwhelmed because you’re “giving them space” or them may think you’re pulling away or moving on and get overwhelmed with anxiety.
Try to understand what makes YOUR fearful avoidant ex feel pressured or overwhelmed
First and foremost it is important to respect the fact that what constitutes “pressure” and what overwhelms an individual is unique to each individual and is valid whether you think it is valid or not. Two fearful avoidant exes can have the same experience and one feels pressured or overwhelmed and the other doesn’t. External factors such as job or financial stress, family medial issues, depression etc., can also make one fearful avoidant ex feel more overwhelmed than fearful avoidant ex who isn’t dealing with these other externa factors.
Some fearful avoidants exes will tell you exactly what overwhelms then and makes them very anxious or makes them want to pull away. If they do, listen and stop doing the things they’re asking you to stop doing. If they want you to stop contacting them too much, stop contacting them too much. If they want you to stop bringing up the relationship or break-up, stop bringing it up. If they want you to stop asking if you’re bothering them (seeking reassurance), stop asking if you’re bothering or if they want you to stop contacting them etc.
If they’re open to talking about what’s going on in their lives, or what they need to see happen in order for them to feel safe talking to you or coming back, ask questions to try to understand what makes YOUR fearful avoidant ex feel pressured or overwhelmed. Don’t always assume a fearful avoidant ex wants space, wants you to contact them less or wants to be left alone.
People who make general assumptions about what another person needs are not genuinely trying to know them as an individual or know their needs, let alone what makes them feel safe. As a coach, I can make general assumptions about exes based on my professional experience, but you can’t afford to do that if you are trying to get your ex back, especially a fearful avoidant ex who is hard to predict.
Look for patterns in your fearful avoidant ex’s behaviours
When working with my clients, we together try to look for patterns in their fearful avoidant ex’s behaviours rather than isolated actions or behaviours. Whether you see it or not, there is organization in a fearful avoidant’s disorganized attachment. It takes someone who genuinely wants to know and understand a fearful avoidant in a deep way, beyond their surface traits to see the organization in their disorganized attachment.
1. A fearful avoidant ex can be comfortable and feel safe with you contacting them every x number of days but feel overwhelmed if you reach out everyday. They can also be comfortable with x number of text exchanges everyday but feel overwhelmed if you try to push for more connection than they’re ready for or comfortable with.
2. A fearful avoidant ex can be comfortable and feel safe with short conversations but feel overwhelmed when you try to engage in lengthy conversations or ask personal questions.
3. A fearful avoidant ex can be comfortable and feel safe with texting or talking everyday but feel overwhelmed when you bring up the relationship, break-up or getting back together, or even anything that triggers negative emotions or anxiety in them.
4. A fearful avoidant ex can be comfortable and feel safe with them reaching out every once in a while you doing most of the reaching out, but feel pressured and overwhelmed when you ask that they step up and reach out more, or complain that you’re doing most of the work of keeping the lines of communication open, or trying to make the relationship work.
5. A fearful avoidant ex can be comfortable and feel safe with taking things slow but feel pressured and overwhelmed when you show that you’re impatient that things are moving too slow or taking too long.
6. A fearful avoidant ex can be comfortable and feel safe with being friends and let getting back together happen organically but feel pressured and overwhelmed when you act like you’re in a relationship or like they said that they want to come back.
No doubt about it, more frequent contact, longer conversations, deeper engagement, talking about things that are personal, them reaching out first etc., build momentum faster, but don’t push for more contact or engagement than an avoidant an avoidant is comfortable with. They’re avoidant, they’re not “sharers”, not they type to reach out just to reach out or keep an (uninteresting) conversation going just to feel connected. This means that an avoidant is never going to want as much contact, engagement or emotional connection as an anxiously attached. The more you push for more, the more likely that you’ll overwhelm an avoidant and they’ll pull back – and whatever momentum you had build will be lost.
What makes a fearful avoidant ex feel less overwhelmed vs what makes you feel safe
Sometimes the things that make a fearful avoidant ex feel less pressured or overwhelmed may not be things that make you feel happy, reassured or even feel safe. This is why communication is very important.
Fearful avoidants like dismissive avoidants tend to be focused on what makes them feel safe and not what necessarily makes you feel safe or even happy, especially when you’re broken up. Their avoidant deactivating coping strategies are not designed to protect you or preserve the relationship, but to protect an avoidant. What this means is that not taking your needs or need to feel safe into consideration is on most part not intentional. They’re just not thinking about it.
This can be really frustrating when you have an anxious attachment and I can’t count how many times an anxiously attached client has said to me something along the lines, “I’m doing everything to try to make them feel safe. I’m giving them space. I haven’t brought up the relationship or the break-up. I haven’t asked them to meet. But what are they doing to make me feel safe. Don’t my needs matter? Don’t I matter?”
I can clearly see where they’re coming from and agree with them one hundred percent. Your safety matters, your needs matter, you matter just as much as an avoidant. But you’re not going to make an avoidant see that your safety matters, your needs matter, you matter by engaging in protest behaviours. Neither of you is going to feel safe. All it does is continue an unhealthy and unsafe dynamic.
First determine if your fearful avoidant ex is genuinely invested in keeping the lines of communication open and not just breadcrumbing you or just politely responding. If they’re genuinely invested in keeping the lines of communication, use nonviolent communication to communicate what you need to feel safe. Communicate your need to feel safe and give time for things to change. If nothing changes, communicate your need to feel safe at least one more time. If your avoidant ex still doesn’t make any effort to make you feel safe, set clear boundaries and give some time for things to change. If nothing changes, leave. It’s hard to let go of someone you still love and care about, but if you don’t feel safe, you can’t make them avoidant feel safe, which means the relationship is not safe for either of you.
Leave a relationship that doesn’t make you feel safe but…
You have every right to leave a relationship that doesn’t make you feel safe, but here is the catch. The majority of people with an anxious attachment don’t seem to understand that they’re just as insecurely attached as avoidants, they’re just the other side of insecure attachment. They’re so focused on their ex’s avoidant attachment style and why it’s a “problem” and not on their own attachment style and why it’s a problem not just for avoidants but for themselves as well.
Before you leave a relationship or give up on someone you still love, make sure that you can genuinely look at yourself and be confident that you’re not part of the reason why the relationship didn’t work.
If you’re just focusing on how an avoidant is making you feel unsafe and haven’t done the work to make yourself safe to be with, you’re just as “unsafe” to be in a relationship with as an avoidant.