One of the things that frustrates anxiously attached exes and fearful avoidant exes trying to attract back a dismissive avoidant is how slow they are to respond. For example, you text a dismissive avoidant on a Friday afternoon and they respond on a Tuesday morning and it’s like everything is okay.
This kind of contact where an ex responds days later and sometimes doesn’t respond until you reach out again is so difficult and can feel unsafe when you have an anxious attachment or are a fearful avoidant leaning anxious.
When you have an anxious attachment or are a fearful avoidant leaning anxious, when you text someone, you expect them to respond right away or within a few minutes because that’s what you do; you respond right away. You don’t make people wait for a response, leave then on unread or ignore texts. You believe that it’s “disrespectful” to make people wait for a response, leave then on unread or ignore them. It shows you don’t care about them.
This is how someone with an anxious attachment is programmed to believe and think but this is not how someone with a dismissive avoidant thinks or even what they believe.
To understand why a dismissive avoidant ex is slow to respond and sometimes ignores texts messages, it’s important to get into their mindset and beliefs about contact.
How do dismissive avoidant exes approach contact with an ex?
These day, everyone who is independent, self-reliant, is protective of their individuality or isn’t acting needy and clingy is called a dismissive avoidant. Everyone who ends a relationship because they’re unhappy or because the relationship is unhealthy and sometimes clearly toxic is a called a dismissive avoidant. Everyone who has problems articulating or communicating their emotions and feelings is called a dismissive avoidant even when they could have other non-attachment related problem that makes dealing with emotions in general hard for them. Even people who lack sexual desire for different reasons (including depression or some medical issue) is a dismissive avoidant.
A dismissive avoidant attachment describes someone who has a firm belief that they and only they can take care of themselves, and others will try to take their independence away if they let them get close. This is the trait of a dismissive avoidant that we mostly focus on, but it’s just as important to understand that a dismissive avoidant is also someone with low attachment anxiety and high attachment avoidance.
Low attachment anxiety means that you’re not constantly worried that someone will leave or abandon you. High attachment avoidance means that one avoids seeking out others for their attachment needs. A combination of not worrying that others will leave or abandon them and not feeling that they need others for their attachment needs means that dismissive avoidants are the least likely attachment style to seek contact or actively encourage connection.
The reason I emphasize this is because a combination of low attachment anxiety and high attachment avoidance more than wanting to keeping others at a distance sometimes explains how dismissive avoidants approach contact with an ex they still have feelings for. It’s true that dismissive avoidants consciously and subconsciously use contact to keep people from getting close, but your dismissive avoidant ex may not be trying to keep you from getting close. They may actually want you to contact them and even want connection. But you’re anxious attachment mind typically goes to “They don’t want contact, I should leave them alone” or “They need space, I need to step back” etc.
A dismissive avoidant not responding vs. taking their time to respond
For a dismissive avoidant, as long as there’s no conflict or “bad feelings” between the two of you, everything is fine.
Many dismissive avoidants will tell you that it just doesn’t register to them that you’re waiting for them to respond. They don’t wait for others to respond to texts, why would you be waiting for their response? You must have something else important to do than wait for someone to respond. If they have something else important to do, they’re not going to drop everything to respond to a text (from an ex). And sometimes, they’re just not in the mood for contact; they’re not going to ‘force’ themselves to respond because you’ll get upset or leave them.
This doesn’t mean a dismissive avoidant doesn’t want contact or connection; it just means that for a dismissive avoidant, it doesn’t matter if they respond immediately or respond later. It also means that it doesn’t matter to a dismissive avoidant ex when you respond or even if you respond to some texts and respond to others. The lines of communication are open, the two of you aren’t having an arguments or angry at each other so everything is fine.
What do you do when a admissive avoidant is slow to respond?
1) Don’t demand that they respond or “call them out” for not responding
This is hard to hear and it hurts. When you’re in a relationship, it’s a reasonable to expect that when you reach out, the other person will respond. That’s the unwritten “social contract” of relationships. When you break up, that contract is dissolved. You’re not in a relationship anymore, your ex doesn’t owe you a response just like you don’t owe them contact. If you don’t want to reach out, don’t, but if you are the one who wants your ex back, you’re going to be the one trying to make that happen. They’re not required to respond or take you back.
2) Don’t assume that a dismissive avoidant doesn’t want to talk to you
Individuals with an anxious attachment and fearful avoidants have high attachment anxiety, which means that you will always want more contact than a dismissive avoidant. It also means that you will be anxious, worried, restless, and feel intense fear when they don’t respond, leave you on unread or ignores your text. You see it as they don’t wat to talk to you or be with you. But dismissive avoidant don’t view contact the same way you do. When they’re slow to respond, it doesn’t mean a dismissive avoidant doesn’t want contact, it means that they have less need for contact and have less anxiety around it.
3) Don’t give a dismissive avoidant ex an ultimatum
Avoidants in general react negatively to ultimatums or don’t respond at all. Because you are the one who wants contact and connection more than a dismissive avoidant, you’ll be forced to walk back the ultimatum. In the process you lose the respect of a dismissive avoidant, and they may even feel less attracted to you.
What you need is to directly address a dismissive avoidant ex taking their time to respond like someone securely attached would do; set boundaries.
Communicating boundaries is critical to feeling safe and being safe for others
Securely attached set boundaries as soon as they find out that they’re dating a dismissive avoidant with low sensitivity to relational cues. They understand based on their internal working model that self care, self-responsibility, self-accountability, and self-respect are critical to feeling safe and being respected, and communicating with a partner or ex about attachment and relational boundaries is critical to the success of a relationship in general and to successfully getting back together.
They try to cover almost every aspect of connection and the relationship to make sure a connection or the relationship is safe and secure for both people. They are also open to further discussions and renegotiating boundaries if and when the need arises.
Setting boundaries for contact with a dismissive avoidant ex
Most anxiously attached and some fearful avoidants fear setting boundaries with dismissive avoidants because they’re afraid of how a dismissive avoidant ex might respond. They’d rather keep their frustration with a dismissive avoidant’s responses than risk pushing them further away with boundaries. What they don’t realize is that their frustration is slowly turning into resentment and their resentment is dripping into their interactions with their avoidant ex and poisoning connection. People who don’t feel safe are unsafe to talk to or be around.
The second reason anxiously attached fear setting boundaries is because they don’t know how. When they try to set boundaries, they make it about how they feel (which is always negative) and what someone else should do about how they feel. It often comes off as reassurance-seeking, complaining, accusations or criticism because anxiously attached people are mostly focused on “I want to feel safe, and this is what YOU need to do to make me feel safe”.
Securely attached are attuned to how they feel and how others feel and always seek to reconcile the two experiences to create safety for both parties. They may have observed that their dismissive avoidant partner or ex tends not to notice how their words and actions affect others, or notice it but minimize and dismiss others’ feelings, and so when they communicate a boundary, securely attached make sure that they’re heard and their feelings are respected but they do so in a manner that doesn’t interfere with a dismissive avoidant’s need for less contact and need to distance in order to self-regulate.
A securely attached ex’s boundary for contact with a dismissive avoidant ex would look something like this:
“I’m okay with a text every couple of days, but I’m not okay with a week with no contact. If I don’t hear from you for 3 days in a row, I’ll send a check-in text because I want to know that you’re okay.”
“I’m okay with reaching out first, however, I need to know that you want contact as well. I can only reach out 2-3 times with no response, if there’s no response, I will wait for you to reach out”.
Do boundaries work with a dismissive avoidant?
Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Dismissive avoidants have so many (often rigid) boundaries themselves, so they’re likely to understand why you need to set boundaries and may even respect you for finally showing some self-respect especially if they felt that you were obsessed with them and bending over backwards for them, which to someone with an anxious attachment feels like love but is a major put-off for a dismissive avoidant.
But some dismissive avoidants may react with feeling “controlled”. They’ll feel like you’re telling them what they can and can’t do. You may have to explain that the boundary is not about them, it’s about you, what you need to feel safe.
But if a dismissive avoidant ex doesn’t care about keeping the lines of communication open or isn’t interested in having any kind of relationship with you, a boundary is waste of time, and will not make a difference.
It’s important when setting a boundary to keep in mind that a boundary is not about bending the other person to your will or expectations, a boundary is about your safety, your self-respect and you communicating how you need to be treated while also respecting the other person’s needs and their need to feel safe.
It’s also important to keep in mind that boundaries are also a two-way sword. If you want to be respected and treated with respect, you also must respect the basic norms of social interactions and specific boundaries that other people set to protect themselves.
Respect for others’ boundaries is big part of being a person safe to talk to
One of the positive traits of a dismissive avoidant attachment is that they on most part respect other people’s boundaries. The other side of this coin is that they take it personally when you disrespect their boundaries, and anxiously attached and some fearful avoidants overstep boundaries quite a bit.
Anxiously attached don’t just have no boundaries or have weak boundaries and have difficulty saying “no” to things they don’t want, they’re also have difficulty accepting “no” to things they want or need. Because they have difficulty trusting that their needs will be met, they overstep other people’s boundaries to try to get their needs met.
Overstepping other people’s boundaries seems to get worse when an anxious person is hyperactivated and self-sabotaging. They push the limits of what an avoidant ex is willing to accept or can tolerate, and sometimes push avoidants to deactivate by over contacting an avoidant who has repeatedly made it crystal clear that they don’t to be contacted or wants contact but is so frustrated by an anxious attachment pushing to talk about things they’ve been repeatedly told to stop talking about because an avoidant can’t take it anymore.
One dismissive avoidant client who felt pushed to go no contact said to me, “I still love my ex, I still want to talk to him, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not going to let myself get “baited” into the same kind of arguments and drama and crazy stuff we’ve been engaged in for the past few months. There’s only so much one an take”.
I don’t personally believe that no contact improves anything. Yes, it sends a message that someone’s behaviour is unacceptable, and it may give one peace of mind, but its doesn’t do anything to improve the situation especially if you still love someone and want a relationship with them. I believe in communication and tell my avoidant clients put off by their anxious ex’s “too much” contact for two people who are not a relationship, set boundaries. For example:
“I’m okay with contact once a week or every few days (or whatever an avoidant is comfortable with), but I’m not okay with contact everyday (or not okay with good morning/goodnight texts or not okay with texting on weekends or not okay with drunk-texts etc.).
But some dismissive avoidant clients are too upset and angry that they have to “teach” another adult to respect a boundary for what contact is acceptable and not acceptable. They believe that an adult should know when they’re being “too much” and stop, and not have to be told.
Don’t just accept behaviours that make you feel unsafe
It’s okay to want your ex to make you feel safe and okay to as ask that they make you feel safe, but at the end of the day, you are responsible for your own safety. The need to make others responsible for your safety is what makes you feel powerless, unworthy of love, need constant reassurance, too afraid of losing someone and unable to completely trust others.
An important part of being securely attached is taking responsibility for your own needs and your own safety. This means setting boundaries and following through on your responsibilities for the boundaries you set. If you say, I will do XY if my boundary is violated, do XY. When you don’t enforce your boundary, you disrespect yourself, and that’s on you and not on an avoidant. Don’t disrespect yourself and expect the other person to respect you. If you’re not ready to follow through and enforce your own boundary, don’t set the boundary. A “boundary” you’re not ready to enforce is not a boundary but an insecure person’s threat or ultimatum. It’s useless at best and exposes you as unsafe at worst.
So if you’re working towards becoming more secure, don’t just measure your progress by how you don’t overcontact your ex (or self-regulate) but also measure progress toward developing secure attachment by looking at how much you hold yourself responsible and accountable for making you feel safe and how much you hold your ex responsible and accountable for your needs, safety and happiness.
If you’re spending more time and energy looking for reassurance from an avoidant and/or trying to make an avoidant see or understand that they need to make you feel safe and less time creating your own safety, you’re still relying on an avoidant for your happiness, sense of self-worth, and value. Still insecurely attached.
How contact can be respectful for anxiously attached and avoidants at the same time
Boundaries as I discuss in my article on Setting Boundaries An Avoidant Ex Will Respect are about loving and respecting yourself and loving and respecting your ex simultaneously. In order for contact to be respectful for both people, first you both have to recognize, acknowledge and accept that you have different attachment styles. Someone anxiously attached will always want more contact than an avoidant, and this means that most of the time contact will seem or be one-sided.
Find ways to get both of your needs met. For example, if you’re talking everyday for a few days and an avoidant is responsive and engaged, this meets an anxiously attached person’s needs more than an avoidants needs. And that’s a good thing. When an avoidant starts to take longer to respond and engages less but does not deactivate, it means that they’ve reached the limit of how much contact and connection that their emotional bandwidth can allow and need more space between contacts so they can self-regulate.
Don’t continue to reach out everyday to try to force contact to meet your anxious attachment needs and force an avoidant to deactivate, or “leave them alone” as this breaks connection and momentum. Every time you break connection and momentum, you have to build it back up. This slows things down and increases the amount of time it’ll take to get back together, and may even negatively affect your chances.