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How to Date Someone With an Avoidant Attachment Style

Ever tried to date someone who loves their space as much as they might like you? That confusion is what it can feel like to be with someone who has an avoidant attachment style. They’re not necessarily trying to play it cool, it’s just how they’ve learned to cope with emotions. Find out what’s key to maintaining a relationship with a partner who seems to prioritize their independence above all else.

What is an avoidant attachment style?

Our attachment style defines the way we interact and behave in relationships. There are four types: secure, ambivalent/anxious, avoidant, and disorganized. People with an avoidant attachment style may be uncomfortable with emotional intimacy and have a strong desire for independence. They’re often what people may call 'emotionally unavailable.'

They might struggle with noticing and expressing their emotions and needs, and disengage when emotional expression becomes difficult. Naturally, this can make it hard for their partners to communicate with them when talking about emotional issues.

What are the traits of avoidant attachment styles in adults?

There are a few distinct traits a person with an avoidant attachment style tends to display, here are some of the most common ones:

  • Highly values independence. They seem to prioritize this over almost everything else.
  • Uncomfortable with intimacy. It’s not that they don’t feel love or affection, but too much intimacy can feel like a loss of independence, which can mean feeling vulnerable or 'weak.'
  • Difficulty expressing emotions. Misunderstandings might be frequent, since they may have a hard time verbalizing exactly how they’re feeling when hurt.
  • Skepticism towards relationships. They might be cynical about the durability or need for close and romantic partners. They often minimize the importance of romantic relationships.
  • Keeps a wall up. They may doubt that true intimacy exists and consistently keep their partners at arm’s length. They often fear or avoid the potential pain that they believe comes with closeness.
  • Self-reliance in stressful situations. They take pride in their self-sufficiency in handling problems and avoid asking others for help and support — viewing it as a weakness, whereas independence is a strength.
  • Unlikely to show vulnerability or disclose emotions. Too much closeness or talk of emotion can feel 'unnecessary' or 'ridiculous.' Sharing their feelings or deeply engaging with others can feel deeply uncomfortable.

Signs you are dating an avoidant attacher

Even though there are some 'classic' signs, how each person portrays their attachment style can be unique. Here are some general indicators of what dating an avoidant partner could look like:

  1. Struggles to say 'I love you' often.
  2. Avoids deep emotional conversations.
  3. Needs more alone time and space than others.
  4. Inconsistent with their verbal or physical affection.
  5. Uncomfortable expressing vulnerability or 'weakness.'
  6. Avoids committing to plans, or plans seem last-minute.
  7. Downplays issues or the importance of the relationship.
  8. Seems to value their independence over the relationship.
  9. Has difficulty expressing needs or desires directly and clearly.
  10. Seems detached or indifferent during conflicts, showing less empathy.

Tips on how to date someone with an avoidant attachment style

Every relationship has its difficulties, but once you learn why and how your partner reacts the way they do, you can work toward compassion and healthier communication. Here are some ideas to keep in mind to foster a loving and supportive relationship with an avoidant partner:

Respect their need for space

People with an avoidant attachment style may easily feel smothered by too much time together or emotional intimacy. They often need breaks and alone time to center themselves and feel safe. For that reason, it’s important to respect their needs and not take it personally. It's not a lack of interest or love, it’s just how they know how to live.

Paradoxically, encouraging their autonomy can create a closer relationship. They may feel more understood and respected, creating more trust and appreciation.

Maintain your own independence

You might be used to doing everything with your partner, but if you’re dating an avoidant, it’s helpful to focus on your independence, too. Think of what hobbies or interests you want to create, and make time for fulfilling friendships.

Having a plentiful life on your own may allow both you and your partner to have a stronger sense of self. Importantly, it can also make you feel more fulfilled and less dependent on your partner. Your independence may give your partner the space they need while making your relationship more well-rounded and balanced. It can foster a healthier dynamic, where you both feel free and supported.

Try not to take it personally

When your partner withdraws or seems emotionally distant, it’s hard not to take it personally. Remember that their need for distance and alone time is about them and their needs. They’ve likely been behaving this way for quite some time since it is potentially their learned coping mechanism.

By not taking it personally, you might be able to avoid having your partner feel pressured for emotional availability — and the potential fights that might follow.

Be patient and open

While you can’t force anyone to develop patience and open communication, you can try to do it for yourself. Encourage non-confrontational communication to let them feel comfortable enough to open up. Patience without pushing is key, as well as celebrating progress and not perfection.

Set your limits

If you've been trying to improve the relationship and don't notice any effort on their end, it might be time to consider whether or not the relationship will work. Think of boundaries or limits you can set if you're feeling drained, exhausted, or hopeless. For example, setting a limit on how much more time you're willing to give of yourself to the relationship.

Always communicate your boundaries clearly, giving an understanding of your needs and expectations. It's not about issuing an ultimatum but more about honesty and respecting yourself and the relationship.

What causes an avoidant attachment style in people?

Our attachment styles often develop in early childhood based on our relationships with caregivers. It starts from six months of age when infants learn to anticipate specific responses based on their distress. Naturally, this shapes how they behave and cope with distress in the future.

For avoidants, caregivers were likely to be emotionally unavailable, intrusive, or consistently unresponsive to their needs. They may have been insensitive or even rejected their child, such as by ignoring, ridiculing, or becoming annoyed. Because of this unavailability, the child learns to rely on themselves — which is why independence feels necessary to survive. They start to lay low when upset and minimize their negative emotions to avoid rejection.

Rejection from caregivers in childhood can lead to the belief that seeking love, help, or expressing needs is futile or wrong. Naturally, this can make someone believe that vulnerability is a weakness, so intimacy feels awkward or unnecessary — something to be avoided.

How to know that your avoidant partner loves you

There are a few subtler ways to look for how your partner shows love, which might be:

  1. Action, not just words. Avoidant partners might have a hard time expressing their feelings verbally, but do they take action to show their commitment and love? For example, doing tasks you don’t like, taking care of things when you’re stressed, or showing up to an important event.
  2. Effort to connect. Your partner might not always connect in the way you’d like. But do they still make an effort to share or step out of their comfort zone for you? It might seem small to you, but if it requires great effort from them, it could be a sign of their commitment and feelings.
  3. Consistency or reliability. Consistency often looks different with avoidant partners. However, are they reliable in times of need?
  4. Respectful of your independence and needs. Just as they want their independence, an expression of love may be to respect and encourage your needs and alone time. If they value happiness outside the relationship for both of you, it can be a sign of care and understanding.
  5. Willingness to work on things. Are they open to change and improvement? This is one of the key factors in building a relationship of mutual respect and growth. It might not come quickly or easily, but showing a willingness to grow and adapt often signifies commitment and love.

In general, people with avoidant attachment styles have likely learned that relationships are a source of disappointment. This makes them distant to protect themselves from potential hurt or loss. By displaying healthy communication behaviors, your partner might come to do the same with time. However, that’s not a guarantee. If you’re feeling frustrated or unsure of how to communicate and move forward, it can be helpful to see a therapist.

If your partner isn’t interested in couples therapy, that’s not necessarily the end of the road. There are several models, like problem-solving therapy, that work to create change from one partner.

In the end, every relationship has its challenges. As you work through them, you can decide if you’re seeing a willingness on both sides to move toward improvement or not. Remember not to forget yourself and keep your needs in mind. With time, you’ll see if you and your partner are willing to build a relationship that fosters respect, compassion, and an openness to improve.

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