If you’ve read many of my articles, you probably know by the now that the number one reason exes with an avoidant attachment style return is because they developed an attachment to you and may still be attached after the break-up.
But what does it mean an avoidant was attached or developed an attachment? If you think you just went through an avoidant break-up, you might want to read to the end.
Is it an avoidant break-up? Maybe and maybe not
You meet someone who clicks with you on all levels on a dating up and you feel so connected to them like you never felt with anyone before. You text each other every day, tell each other things you’ve never shared with anyone before and even if you’ve not met them in person, what you feel is more real than anything you’ve ever felt for anyone. Then they start pulling away. This triggers your attachment anxiety and the more distant they become, the more needy and clingy you become. You beg them to tell you if it’s over, but you never hear from them ever again.
Or maybe you met on app or were set up on a blind date and clicked from the moment you laid eyes on each other. For a couple of months things were really good. You didn’t see each other much due to your busy schedules but it felt like things were going somewhere. But by month 3 you start feeling like the relationship is not progressing. You decide that you want to tell them how you feel about them and ask if the relationship was going somewhere. They say they “like” you and enjoyed spending time with you but are evasive on where the relationship is going. Soon after that conversation, they started pulling away; barely responding, and taking days to respond. You can’t take it anymore and ask to meet because you want to know what’s going on, and their response is, “You’re an amazing person and I really like you, but I’m not really feeling it. I’m sorry.’
Did you just get broken up with by an avoidant or is it something entirely different?
A romantic connection without an attachment
According to two of the most prominent and respected researchers on adult attachment Mario Mikulincer and Phillip Shaver, an adult romantic connection can develop based on familiarity, shared interest and activities, or be exploratory, or sexual but not necessarily be attachment-oriented.
While some people’s attachment shows on the first date, after a few dates or weeks of knowing them, most people appear relatively secure when you first get to know them and can remain “secure” throughout the “honeymoon period” of dating (2 – 4 months). You’re both at your best behaviour trying to impress the other and in the process you’re not triggering each other’s attachment system. You’re just two people with a strong a romantic connection that may or may no not be attachment-oriented..
And this is where knowledge of attachment theory and attachment styles trips many people and even messes with their chances of making a relationship work or chances of getting back with an ex.
If you think every interaction with everyone you’re romantically attracted to or connected to is attachment-related, you start looking at how they fit into an attachment style and instead of trying to get to know them, you “profile” them as this or that attachment style. You even start having expectations from the interaction or connection, and treat the romantic attraction or connection like an attachment-related connection, when it’s not.
I’ve received emails and WhatsApp messages from people who had a one-night stand or a few casual hooks and caught feelings. They tried to reach out to the one-night stand and got no response, or tried to go from hooking up to dating and the other person wasn’t having it, and they be like “I’m sure they’re some type of avoidant, fearful or dismissive, I can’t tell. I told them how I feel, and I scared them away. How do I get them back? Please help, I’ll do anything you tell me.”
What you end up with is often based on how you feel about their behaviours rather than what you know for a fact about someone’s attachment style. Anyone not attracted to you, not interested in you or just not into you becomes an avoidant. Even someone just looking to get laid, a pick-up artist honing their skill, a “Nigerian prince” or your average catfish feels like an avoidant.
When they reveal who they really are, you can’t see it because you’ve convinced yourself that they are and avoidant and what you’re experiencing is an avoidant break-up.
What does attachment feel like in a relationship?
I hear from my anxiously and even avoidant clients, “My parents loved me…” and I believe them 100%. An attachment style is not about whether your parents loved you or not; almost all parents love their children in their own ways.
Attachment theory defines an attachment as the relationship between a child and a parent or caregiver with its purpose being to make a child safe, secure and protected. Even a loving parent can inadvertently create an insecure attachment in a child by how they go about loving them. This is why child psychologists focus on child raising practices to help raise more secure children.
Parent-child or caregiver-child attachment is different from adult attachment in that making “safe, secure and protected” goes only in one direction from caregiver to child. The child is not expected to provide safety, security and protection to the caregiver. In an adult attachment both people are expected to be both the user and provider of safety, security and support.
An adult attachment can therefore be described as a bonding experience in which two people both try to meet each other’s attachment needs and goals for safety, availability, responsiveness, support, consistency and reliability.
The key to an adult attachment is meeting each other’s attachment needs
This is why while other coaches are focused on no contact and ways to get an avoidant do this and do that, I lean really hard on trying to meet ALL of each other’s attachment needs.
Instead of trying to trigger an ex’s attachment fears and cause them to act out their insecurities and then call that love or “they came back”, use attachment theory and attachment styles for what it was intended for; to understand someone’s attachment needs with the purpose of making them feel safe, secure and supported.
When an avoidant feels the relationship meets their attachment needs, they develop and attachment or get attached to you. An avoidant who feels attached will go outside of their attachment programming and own comforts to meet your need for safety, availability, responsiveness, support, consistency and reliability because they don’t want to lose the attachment they have with you.
But because unlike people with a secure attachment style who’ve had years of practicing identifying and understanding other’s attachment needs and of making them feel safe, secure and supported, people with an insecure attachment had no role models for how to meet other’s attachment needs or even how to do it well. It’s the effort they put in that shows they’re trying, and that’s a good start.
Why avoidants who developed an attachment return
Feeling attached to an ex is the number one reason avoidants return to an ex. After the break-up, an avoidant will likely retreat to the familiarity of their attachment programming and act in ways consistent with their fearful avoidant attachment style or dismissive attachment style, but they never forget what it felt like to be attached to you.
For some avoidants, it’s the first time they felt someone understood what they needed and met their attachment needs or at least some of them. And if it’s also the first time they genuinely reciprocated the love, care and support they received, avoidants return because they miss the warmth and safety the relationship provided. I say “genuinely” because many avoidants pretend to show love, care, and support to cover up their attachment avoidance and benefit from the attachment resources the relationship provides.
And sometimes when an avoidants says, “I can’t do this anymore”, it’s not just the relationship they’re talking about, it’s also pretending to be what they’re not.
So while the number one reason avoidants return to an ex is because they developed an attachment and may still feel attached to an ex, not all avoidants return because they miss you. Sometimes avoidants don’t miss you but return to the attachment resources the relationship provided. This is why when an avoidant reaches out or comes back, it’s important to take things slow, so you can see it’s important to take things slow so you can see why thyy returned and if they’re using you to boost their ego back up before they leave and go find someone else.