Attachment theory describes how you act and interact with romantic partners within relationships. There are four documented attachment styles, all formed at childhood from the child’s relationship with their primary giver caregiver.
In a 1970’s “a strange situation” study, children were left alone in a room with a stranger.
Children that fit into the insecure-avoidant classification did not react when the caregiver left. Instead of expressing any emotion at all, the child would play independently or interact with a stranger. When the caregiver returned to the room, the child would either totally ignore or minimally interact with the caregiver.
Psychologist, Mary Ainsworth, theorized by not showing any emotion, the child was instead masking his or her distress. She went on to say, the child felt it pointless to communicate their needs to their caregiver, as it seemingly had no effect. From childhood, these children learned that being attached or vulnerable leads to hurt and disappointment; a threat to his or her survival.
Those that grow up with an avoidant attachment style are fearful and suspicious of people and relationships. Romantic relationships in particular, make avoidants feel stifled and they are often described as cold and distant towards their partners, withholding love and affection.
How To Spot An Avoidant Attachment Style
They Send Mixed Signals
Avoidants don’t really know what they want. Your partner may withhold attention and affection from you, have trouble saying the “L” word or demand they live alone. In reality, avoidants tend to push people away, yet end up missing them. Avoidants also tend to overthink a relationship after it ends, yet are never able to come up with reasons why.
They Devalue You
Avoidants have impossibly high standards no one will ever meet. They have an unhealthy habit of idealizing a past partner than unfairly comparing all other partners afterwards. Avoidants fear losing independence by being entrapped by an imperfect partner. They can easily find fault with you because childhood taught them people will always disappoint you. Watch out for signs of nitpicking and undermining or belittling you in front of others. This behaviour is not only a way to rationalize your imperfection, but to make themselves look bigger.
Chooses Independence Over Intimacy
Childhood taught avoidants they are the only person needed to survive. Abandonment and disappointment make a very independent individual. Avoidants rarely ask for help. They prefer solo trips, vacations and to live alone. You may notice your avoidant partner has few close friends and family, yet those close to them they are fiercely loyal to. Avoidants are inherently mistrustful and suspicious of others. They find it difficult to be vulnerable and show emotion because to them doing so equates to weakness and threatens survival.
Idealizes Romance Over Acting on it
Despite your avoidant partner showing indifference to your emotions and rebuffing your affection, they are deeply romantic (in their mind, at least). Avoidants tend to yearn for those unavailable to them: exes or even dead or married persons. As much as they want love and romance, deep down they fear they are unloveable and destined to die alone.
They Sabotage Your Relationship
You may notice your partner doesn’t like to discuss or make any long-term plans with you. They might act secretly and hide things in a destructive way, i.e. substance abuse, eating-disorders, romantic affairs. You might even notice they withhold affection and attention as time passes in your relationship. Avoidants always have an exit plan for a relationship. Keep an eye out for abnormal boundaries like keeping your families from meeting, not sharing bank accounts or a home.
They Act Selfishly
Avoidants are selfish in relationships. They place a higher value on things like work, social life and hobbies over romance. Because they have proved their independence from early on, they have an inflated sense of self. Avoidants hate to have their ego attacked or threatened and will secretly become embarrassed, though you’d never know it. Sometimes they react with venom or belittle you to build themselves back up.
Solutions For Adults With Avoidant Attachment Styles
If you’ve identified yourself as having an avoidant attachment style, be gentle with yourself. You must admit your faults before you can begin the hard work — working on yourself.
Begin by recognizing how your childhood affected you. Understand the stories you told yourself as a child are untrue. If it’s available to you, talk to a therapist to help unpack your past in a safe, judgement-free environment.
Next, start to identify and catalogue your avoidant thought-patterns and behaviours (trust me, there will be lots). When you notice one of these thoughts, pause and notice what you are telling yourself about relationships — is it the truth? In reality, your loved one isn’t really trying to trap you or prove weakness by asking how you feel.
Solutions for a Partners of Avoidants
First, understand that it’s fear that causes your avoidant partner to act cold and distant, not in difference to your love.
If you think you’re dating an avoidant, recognize that it will do more harm than good to push them to talk or to accuse them of being avoidant. This will only cause your partner to shut down and grow cold, distant or even run away. Changing avoidant behaviours is not an easy task. It will take time and your partner is the one who needs to grow. You can only be supportive of their growth.
In order to help them, be upfront about what you want and need emotionally from your relationship. If your partner does something you like, let them know; praise their behaviour. Actively listen to them without jumping to a solution. Above all else, make closeness feel safe and be dependable. Avoidants inherently expect disappointment from relationships. You can prove otherwise.
Instead of pointing out your differences, try to build bridges of understanding with one another. Don’t try to change your avoidant partner. Know that the goal is to normalize intimacy and allow comfort when expressing emotion to you.