How To Date Someone with an Avoidant Attachment: 14 Tips
We all have different patterns of behavior when it comes to dating and romantic lives. How we act in our relationships largely depends on our past experiences, or what psychologists like to call: our attachment style. Some people have secure attachments, while others might have developed insecure attachments. It can sometimes be challenging to support a partner with an insecure attachment style. That is why today we will discuss how it is to date a person with an insecure, avoidant style, and share how to better support them in order to foster a loving, fulfilling, and healthy relationship.
Understanding Attachment Styles in Adults
Attachment theory was initially developed in the 1930s by British Psychologist John Bowlby. Bowlby observed the relationships between infants and their primary caregivers, usually their mothers. He investigated how their relationship was formed and developed during the years. Bowlby explored how the infant felt when their primary caregiver was around and what happened when the caregiver was not present. Similarly, he analyzed the reactions of the infant when the caregiver returned. Building on Bowlby's theory and research, psychologist Mary Ainsworth categorized the different behavioral patterns exhibited by infants into four different attachment style groups. Bowlby and Ainsworth hypothesized that the emotional bond we form during our childhood with our caregivers would serve as a template for our adult relationships. The style we develop during our childhood will affect how we relate to our partners and friends for the rest of our lives.
The 4 Types of Attachment Styles
Attachment theorists categorized our attachment styles into four types; dismissive-avoidant, preoccupied, fearful-avoidant, or secure. These four types are defined based on the level of anxiety or avoidance we experience in our interpersonal relationships. In other words, our attachment style relates to how we cope with perceived threats in our relationships and specifically the degree we use anxiety or avoidance coping mechanisms. The four styles represent four different ways of relating or attaching to another human being.
So, do you have a dismissive-avoidant, preoccupied, fearful-avoidant, or secure attachment style?
You can consult this blog or video explaining all four in detail if you would like to find out. In the present blog, we will focus on avoidant types, namely dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant partners, and how one can support them.
The Dismissive-Avoidant Style
The Fearful-Avoidant Style
Am I Dating Someone with an Avoidant Style?
The odds are that you will have met and maybe even dated an avoidantly attached partner, or perhaps even you identify with that style. That’s alright; attachment styles are deeply-rooted self-protective mechanisms that take time to change. Here is the most essential advice to support an avoidantly attached partner:
Make feelings safe again.
It sounds simple, but in reality, it is not. Most of us don’t even know the primary and secondary emotions, let alone know how to identify them or even share them. Even people raised in supportive families have commonly found themselves not sharing emotions because they never learned how to do so in their family context. Emotions were signs of vulnerability; and were interpreted as too much, dangerous, reasons for conflicts, and not as important as other familial needs. Therefore, they were suppressed. It is vital to help the partner and yourself accept that all emotions are valid, deserve to be shared, and are there for a reason. To suppress and avoid them only consumes energy otherwise better spent. Be careful; to say it is safe to share is not enough. You need to be open to all emotions; otherwise, you just confirm to them that it is not safe to share how they feel. How do you do that?
How To Date Someone with an Avoidant Style: 14 Tips
There are several steps you can take in order to foster a supportive and healthy relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style. Some suggestions include:
1. Get to know what being avoidantly attached feels like.
Watch this short video to understand better what an avoidant partner may experience in relationships.
2. Give them space to think before you have a discussion.
Bombarding them with questions is too overwhelming and has the opposite effect. When in an argument, you can also propose to take a break. But agree that you will resume the discussion when you calm down—allowing them to self-regulate.
3. Actively listen to them.
Don't jump in every sentence they say, correct them, or defend yourself. You just confirm that feelings are dangerous and shouldn’t be shared.
4. Acknowledge and validate.
Acknowledge and validate how difficult it is to express even a tiny bit of their emotional world and struggles. Be clear in your mind that you’re not there to fix them. You can only be a supportive partner who understands their fears and triggers.
5. Be a role model.
Most of us want to change other people. Nevertheless, changing ourselves is a more powerful tool than we realize. Be the calm, vulnerable and secure person you strive to be, and your avoidant partner will also start feeling safer. It can be challenging to resolve issues with a conflict-avoidant partner. In those cases, the best approach for communicating with your avoidant partner is to do the opposite to them. So, for example, be open about your feelings but don’t sound needy or demanding. Instead, express your feelings openly and assertively.
6. Reassure them that their feelings and worries are not a burden to you.
On the contrary, tell them that listening to them brings you closer to them and strengthens your relationship.
7. Don't judge what they say.
They're trying to figure out how to express feelings and emotional statements. It's better to guide them and provide them with vocabulary, instead of judging them.
8. Understand that this is their way to protect the relationship.
Understand that their way to protect the relationship is to express their feelings as little as possible. It's a distorted idea they learned from childhood. Kindly explain why that might not be working.
9. If you have a different attachment style, they can be different.
Don't take everything personally. It often isn’t about you.
10. Don’t get stuck in rigid roles.
If an avoidant partner is always the one distancing or seeking independence and you are constantly seeking closeness, you can become trapped in those roles. There are probably times when you desire freedom and space, just as there are times avoidant partners wish for intimacy. The more you allow yourself to voice and follow your authentic needs, the more room you give your avoidant partner to move beyond the avoidant role.
11. If your attachment needs are not satisfied, ask for what you want rather than complaining about what you don’t want.
Make your needs clear and allow them to do the same. You may use these skills of assertiveness to do so.
12. Work towards growth and aim for a secure attachment.
Both you and your partner will need to compromise for the relationship to work. You may need to give your partner more space than you might like, and your partner may need to push him or herself to be closer at times than they might want.
13. Get help.
You might realize that you need some help either through individual or couple’s therapy. This can also be useful for you to understand your attachment style and what type of relationship is right for you.
14. Lastly, please don’t forget It takes two to tango.
If your attachment needs are not satisfied besides your personal or collaborative efforts, allow yourself to decide it’s time to leave. Closing a relationship can be harsh but always creates time and space for new reflections and people to come over ♡
Written by Alexandra Symeonidou, Intern Psychologist at AntiLoneliness
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