In my article on a fearful avoidant ex constantly testing you, I explained why individuals higher on attachment anxiety (anxious preoccupied attachment and fearful avoidants) constantly test their partners or an ex.
For purposes of clarity, testing or “secret assessment” is when someone says something or acts in a certain way just to see how the other person will react or respond.
Some testing behaviour such as to find out if you can trust someone or check on your status in the relationship especially when you’re uncertain in the beginning of the relationship is harmless. But constantly testing someone’s interest level or to prove how much they care, miss you or love you damages trust and reduces relationship quality.
Anxious attachment and fearful avoidant attachment styles mostly engage in testing behaviour to alleviate worries of rejection and abandonment especially when there is a high level of uncertainty about their status in the relationship, for example after a break-up. They engage in testing an ex to see if an ex is still interested, misses them, still has feelings, wants to get back together etc. But what often happens is that after every test instead of feeling reassured, they feel even more insecure about the relationship, and need to test you again, and again which in turn perpetuates/exacerbates worry about lovability and worthiness. But what about dismissive avoidants who are low on attachment anxiety, generally don’t worry about rejection and abandonment and don’t rely on feedback from others to determine their self-worth, do they also test you?
Do Dismissive Avoidant Exes Test You?
Yes, dismissive avoidant exes test you but their testing behaviours are more indirect and less frequent than anxious preoccupied attachment and fearful avoidant. There’s no “Do you miss me/us?” , “Am I bothering you when I reach out?” , “Am I contacting you too much?” “Do you need space?”, “Are you still attracted to me?” etc. reassurance seeking undertone common with high attachment anxiety tests. Dismissive avoidants generally avoid any appearance of reassurance seeking. In fact, a study on Adult attachment, worry and reassurance seeking (Wright, Clark, Rock, & Coventry) found that while attachment anxiety was associated with excessive reassurance seeking, higher attachment avoidance was not.
Some studies suggest that because dismissive avoidants have low anxiety, generally don’t worry about rejection and abandonment and don’t rely on reassurance seeking to determine their self-worth or status in the relationship, testing you may be a signal that a dismissive avoidant is reevaluating their feelings about you and about the relationship rather than testing you to see if you’re interest in them or to prove how much you care, miss them or love them.
Simply put: an ex with an anxious attachment and fearful avoidants test you to see if you’re still interested in them, still have feelings, miss them or want them back them, a dismissive avoidant ex tests you to see if they’re still interested in you, still have feelings for you, miss you or want you back. Individuals with an anxious attachment and fearful avoidants focus on “Do YOU like/want/love me (enough)?” while dismissive avoidant focus on “Do I like/want/love you (enough)? Though dissimilar, both testing approaches have the same goal, and that is to try to assess the potential for future risk before it can hurt them emotionally.
The ways that dismissive avoidant exes test you
To understand dismissive avoidant testing behaviour, it’s important to remember that people with high attachment anxiety (including anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidants) have a negative model/low view of themselves and believe that others don’t want to be with them. When they engage in testing behaviour it’s to test you to see if someone wants to be with them and how much. Dismissive avoidants a positive model/high view of themselves. A dismissive avoidant’s testing behaviour is most of the time test you to feel confident that you are the one they want to be with and/or they’re in the relationship they want to be in.
This is rare but sometimes dismissive avoidant test you to be confident that what they feel for you isn’t just lust but real feelings of love. Most dismissive avoidant relationships have either been “casual” or didn’t last long and many dismissive avoidants at some point or another in the relationship ask themselves “Am I In love?” . They’re just trying to make sure they’re “protecting themselves”, however, this doesn’t mean the behaviour isn’t hurtful, unhealthy, toxic or damaging to the relationship. Anxious or avoidant, people who need to “test” others need a lot of self-work.
These are the common 4 ways that dismissive avoidant exes test you. Fearful avoidants who lean avoidant or dismissive also engage in one or all of these testing behaviours.
Distancing is probably a dismissive avoidants and fearful avoidants who lean avoidant” go to test for every relationship situation or scenario. Using distancing as a test in different from the spontaneous and intuitive deactivation self-regulating of the attachment system. Deactivating is something avoidants need to protect an avoidant from getting overwhelmed and to restore normal functioning of the attachment system.
An avoidant using distancing as a test is to intentionally to provoke a reaction or response. It’s to test how you will react to separation. If you react negatively (blame, criticism, needy, clingy or with drama/uncontrolled emotions) you failed the test. A dismissive avoidant’s interest lessens or even fades away, they feel they don’t want a relationship or to get back together. If you respond “positively” to a dismissive avoidant or fearful avoidant leaning avoidant wanting distance from you, you passed the test. It shows that you are capable of giving them space when they need it (which they do from time to time).
2. Pushing limits
Pushing you to see your limits is a common toxic way dismissive avoidants test you, and is worse with dismissive avoidant exes. They expect you to react to certain things in a particular way and intentionally push your buttons to see just how far they can take you. For example, a dismissive avoidant ex may:
- Behave in ways that they know annoy you and get you rattled (e.g. delay responding or mention an ex or talk about their dating life)
- Set stricter boundaries on how you contact them or when you see them
- Say or post something hurtful
- Make an “unreasonable” request
- Mention your flaw in front of friends or family
- Say something negative about themselves (repeat what you previously said about them or what they think you think about them), etc.
Passing the test on pushing your limits to a dismissive avoidant means that you are willing to put up with their “annoying habits” to prove your commitment.
Dismissive avoidants generally have a positive self-view and high self-confidence and are more concerned about them not being interested enough, not wanting a relationship or to get back together than the other way around. The irony is most dismissive avoidant relationships end because their partners don’t feel that a dismissive avoidant ex was interested enough, wanted a relationship (or to commit) or wants to get back together.
Because of their history of exes ending relationships because a dismissive avoidant ex was not interested enough, didn’t want a relationship (or to commit) or doesn’t want to get back together, dismissive avoidants test you to see if your reaction or response matches their past experiences. They say things like “I worry that I’m going to hurt you” or “You love me more than I love you”, “you are not someone I can see myself married to”, or “I’ll never get married” etc.
Most of the time dismissive avoidants mean these things, but they also say them to see how you react. Most people don’t pass this dismissive avoidant test because if someone believes a relationship is doomed from the beginning then what is the point of wasting time and effort to make it work?
4. Interest in alternatives
There is research (Dewall, Lambert, Slotter, Pond 2011) that shows that a dismissive avoidant attachment’s perception of relationships allows them to have independent concurrent “low-level commitments” based on the specifics of the relationship. Some of these “low-level commitments” are real love- triangles which is a test in their own right, but sometimes dismissive avoidants mention “interest in alternatives” as a way to test you.
A dismissive avoidant ex may tell you about someone they find attractive and even say they’d like to pursue a relationship with them, but they never do. This is a test to see your reaction to their “interest in alternatives” or even a “love-triangle”. A dismissive avoidant ex may also talk about an ex just to test you, or tell you a story of someone showing interest in them, or make you believe there’s someone else or introduce you to a good-looking platonic friend and observe your reaction. If you push for more details they shut the conversation down or laugh, tease you or accuse you of being jealous when “there’s nothing there”.
Dismissive avoidant reassurance seeking
While dismissive avoidant exes test you to see if they’re still interested in you, still have feelings for you, miss you or want you back, it’s still a form of reassurance seeking, one based on trying to control unwanted outcomes or uncertainty.
What does it mean when a dismissive avoidant engages in these type of more indirect reassurance seeking behaviour? Sometimes reassurance seeking by dismissive avoidants can repair distance and lack of closeness (Girme, Molly, and Overall. 2016). However, these positive effects do not work the other way around.
Most dismissive avoidants respond to an ex constantly asking “Do you miss me/us?” , “Am I bothering you when I reach out?” , “Am I contacting you too much?” “Do you need space?”, “Are you still attracted to me?” etc.with offering less reassurance, supportive comments, and emotional support. To a dismissive avoidant constantly testing to them for reassurance is equivalent to being needy which they find particularly off-putting.
Some of the arguments both individuals with an anxious attachment and avoidants give for “testing” someone is that they did it before in another relationship and “their true self came out”, and this may be true; but it doesn’t make constantly “testing “someone you claim to love acceptable or healthy. And if you’re constantly testing someone and they keep failing your tests, maybe you subconsciously know that the relationship isn’t healthy, safe or working and you need to do something about it or get out.