Question: I have read your articles on attachment styles and decided to read out. I am anxious preoccupied, and my ex is a fearful-avoidant. We have been together on-and-off for 3 years. When we first got together, my attachment anxiety was a constant problem but I have since worked on myself to become less anxious and continue to do so. My ex on the other hand has not and although I love him so much, I feel like I am constantly walking on egg shells trying not to do anything to make him not to ignore me and stop talking to me for days. I am the one always reaching out and trying to make peace. We never talk about our issues because he doesn’t want to talk about them. If I insist, he breaks up with me and immediately blocks me and cuts off all contact. After a few weeks, I find he has unblocked me and we begin to talk and eventually get back together. This has been pretty much the pattern for 3 years. All my friend and family tell me to make him know what it is like to miss me and not contact him, so he misses me. I did this a few times before I started working on my own attachment style and it worked sometimes and did not work other times. I always ended up reaching out first. Now that I am more secure, I see my ex’s behaviour as manipulation and just don’t feel comfortable responding with being manipulative myself. My question is, what can I do to make this relationship work, but more importantly, can it work with a fearful-avoidant?
Yangki’s Answer: I hear you and agree that a relationship with a fearful-avoidant (anxious-avoidant) is confusing and frustrating. They act like they want to be in a relationship with you and even seem emotionally invested but are also so fearful of rejection and not trusting by nature.
Blocking and cutting off all contact and then unblocking you after a few weeks is part because of the conflicted nature of fearful-avoidance. I said “part” because attachment theory explains how we connect with others especially the people closest to us, it does not excuse scheming and deceitful behaviour because manipulation is always a choice. Even people with a secure attachment style can be manipulative from time to time, they choose not to because they know better.
The avoidant side of a anxious-avoidant uses abandonment as a tool, and a weapon.
In the relationship, anxious-avoidants use “the silent treatment” to pressure, punish or manipulate and it does enormous damage to the relationship one of which is reduce the ability to communicate in a way that’s healthy and meaningful. When the relationship ends and usually for a good reason, anxious-avoidants use “no contact” to pressure, punish or manipulate an ex into coming back.
It’s an incredibly hard pattern to break and it doesn’t help that there are many ‘experts’ giving “make them give in” (silent treatment) and “make them miss you” (no contact) advice.
The irony is that these manipulative strategies prevent fearful-avoidants from experiencing the thing they desire the most (and fear the most) – deep connection and full intimacy in all it’s forms.
Can you still make it work? Yes, absolutely.
As you have seen first hand, a relationship with a fearful-avoidant is not easy. It’d be a lot easier if your ex was willing and open to working on becoming less fearful-avoidant and more secure, but in my experience, self-reflection and self-work is not something many avoidants are keen on. Many don’t see anything wrong with the way they are (they’re just protecting themselves), and even blame their partners for all the problems in the relationship.
This means the burden of making it work falls mainly on your shoulders.
1. When your fearful-avoidant pulls away or distances, try to understand what the pulling away is truly about. Is it because they feel things are getting too close (fear) or is it because they need space to rebalance as an individual (secure)? Then respond appropriately. Each of these require a different response.
2. Continue to work on being more secure and model (be a secure-base provider) to him what a secure relationship looks and feels like, and hopefully this will give him felt-security and make him more secure.
3. Walk away. Using abandonment as a weapon to pressure, punish or manipulate a loved on is an incredibly hard pattern to break because it works sometimes. It’s not a productive and meaningful way to deal with relationship problem and not a healthy way to be with someone but unfortunately some people make this choice.
Nobody in their right mind will blame you for saying “I deserve better, I can do better than my manipulative ex”.