How to Engage An Avoidant Ex In Longer Conversations

In my article on how to communicate and talk about problems with an avoidant, I explained how different attachment styles carry mental scripts or blueprints of how a conversations about a relationship problem will play out and end up with the conversation playing out exactly how feared it would. Even when we want more positive experiences and even try to be calm and confident, in the heat of the moment, under stress and overcome with emotion, we create situations that confirm the mental scripts we carry with us.

One of the mental scripts many people with an anxious attachment (and even avoidants themselves) develop after learning about attachment theory and attachment styles is that avoidants can’t communicate.

Can avoidants communicate? The answer is yes. Avoidants can communicate very well and can talk about a variety of subjects eloquently. Many avoidants are extroverted, chatty and bubbly and enjoy social interactions. Dismissive avoidant are particularly known for being assertive, outspoken, vocal about issues they care about and can be conformational. Fearful avoidants can also be confrontational but they’re much warmer, sensitive, excitement-seeking, and less assertive or outspoken.

But when it comes to communicating in close relationships, some avoidants struggle with emotional conversations especially if you’re constantly talking feelings.

How anxious attachment communicate vs. how avoidants communicate

Mikulincer and Florian in their study of emotional supportive interactions found that people with an anxious attachment style are not affected by emotional conversations and in fact place greater value on emotional communication than other forms of communication.

Emotional or affective communication is directed towards emotions (e.g. Do you love me? Do you miss me? Are you mad at me? etc) and asks for empathic behaviours (e.g. Can you see how much you hurt me? Do you even care? etc).

While this is an anxious attachment’s default form of communication, talking about emotions in an attempt to elicit an emotional or empathetic response is not a communication style avoidants feel comfortable with or understand most of the time. And when an anxiously attached person pushes for emotional communication or conversations, it confirms the negative mental scripts avoidants have about how emotions make one weak and needy.

Mikulincer and Florian’s research found that avoidants place greater value on instrumental communication or the exchange of information on the aspects or day-to- day needs of the relationship, e.g. “I’ll get some food on my way home”, “Is there any mail for me?”, “I can pick up the rest of my stuff on Friday” , “The realtor will be calling you about selling the house.” etc.

The goal is to pass on information as clearly, accurately and effectively as possible and “get things done” without the need for “sharing” feelings with one another.

Needless to say, people with an anxious attachment are not happy or satisfied with communication just on the aspects or day-to- day needs of the relationship. Mikulincer and Florian’s research showed anxiously had increased negative emotions after an instrumental conversation. This is because instrumental conversations do not provide the validation of one’s feelings that people with an anxious attachment need to feel heard and valued. They feel an avoidant ex is so cold because there is “no emotion” in their texts.

I can’t count how many times a client with an anxious attachment said to me, “He responds when I ask about his day or work, but he avoids any question about how he’s feeling” or “We talk every other day, but she never asks any questions about how I’m feeling or even doing.”

Unintended attachment style miscommunication

What is happening is two different attachment styles are trying to communicate and neither is really hearing the other. The person with an anxious attachment is trying to have an emotional conversation that validates their feelings but getting no emotional feedback.

For example an anxious attachment asks, “Do you even care?” and an avoidant responds “What do you mean?'” or “When have I not cared?” or “I show I care everyday”. Most avoidant exes never stop to think for a while that may be the reason an anxious attached ex keeps asking if they care or wanting to have care-oriented conversations is because they really, really want an avoidant to know how they feel and to know how an avoidant feels.

And on the other hand, anxiously attached never stop to think that avoidants aren’t thinking about relationships or feelings all the time (like they do). They’re mostly focused on day-to-day needs and getting things done, and find conversations directed towards emotions or how they (avoidants) feel or how and anxiously attached feels emotional draining, and often don’t respond because they don’ have the emotional energy for such conversations.

When an avoidant decant respond, instead of stepping back from conversations directed towards emotions, insist on talking about emotions and feelings (“I feel that this is something we should talk about” or “I feel like you’re pushing me away”).

What an avoidant ex wants vs. what an anxiously attached ex feels 

Sometimes what an avoidant ex or anxiously attached ex wants is what they call a “normal conversation”. The problem is, a “normal conversation” or “good conversation” means one thing to an avoidant and another thing to an anxiously attached.

Neither conversations directed towards emotions and feelings or communication on day-to-day needs and getting things done is bad or wrong. When all conversations are about “feelings”, the relationship feels like everyday venting, problems are magnified, and negative emotions and general negativity becomes the mood of the relationship. Very often resentment on both sides grows hindering progress towards actually dealing with the problems in the relationship and finding positive solutions.

On the other hand, when all conversation are only about day-to- day needs of existence, things like sharing, reassurance, empathy, appreciation and discussing problems in the relationship which are vital for a relationship to function and be healthy happen less often. For most exes with an anxious attachment, there is no point in reaching out, trying to have conversations or even being together if conversations are just about day-to-day functioning.

Instead of holding to the belief that anxiously attached communicate and avoidants can’t communicate, both avoidants and anxious attachment need to learn to ”communicate” with each other for the relationship to be healthy let alone function.

Emotional communication is extremely important because this is where connection happens. It enables both of you to open up and be vulnerable with each and express your needs, wants, and concerns. It also allows for both of you to express love and admiration for one another and improve the quality of your relationship. Without emotional communication there is no connection. What you have is often weak emotional bonding and lack of intimacy.

Instrumental communication is equally as important because this is where relationship day-to-day life happens. Instrumental communication helps create structure and boundaries for interacting in the relationship and enables both of you get things that achieve short and long-term goals. It allows you to objectively express and talk about your differences without getting caught up in your feelings and emotions, and focus on your strengths as a team and make your relationship stronger.

Always think about the person with whom you are communicating

Anxious attachment and avoidants can learn to communicate with one another if you:

1) Are willing to understand where the other person is coming from, appreciate how they’re most comfortable communicating and meet them where they’re at rather than trying to change them to who you think they should be, what you believe they should say and how you want them to act. This is a form of unacceptance and rejection.

2) Learn to use some emotional communication here and some instrumental communication there depending on the situation and context. If you’re an avoidant, you can put your anxiously attached ex’s need to talk about feelings (theirs and yours) above your own, which will likely make them feel heard, valued, reassured and less anxious. If you’re anxiously attached, you can put you avoidant ex’s need not to talk about feelings above your own need to talk about feelings, which will make an avoidant less likely to be emotionally overwhelmed, non responsive, or want distance.

That was a good conversation!

A good conversation is one which ends with an anxiously attached ex feeling heard, valued and reassured and an avoidant ex feels less stressed and respected. This is possible when you’re present with each other in a positive way and not thinking the other person doesn’t care, is doing something wrong, is out to hurt you or has something fundamentally wrong with them because they’re not communicating the way you want them to.

My clients who get this and have a different mindset to communicating with avoidants find that when they are open, interested and welcoming of their avoidant ex’s way of communicating, their avoidant ex reciprocates by allowing space and time for emotional conversations. With time the quality of their conversations improves, their avoidant ex engages more and conversations last longer in text, on the phone and in person.

But clients who insist an avoidant must change to an anxious style of communication find themselves frustrated on a daily basis because avoidants are not wired for emotion-loaded conversations and/or even empathetic responses and find them draining especially if every conversation is about emotions and feelings.

I’ve already written an article on how people with an anxious attachment can improve on their communication and create a safe environment in which a fearful avoidant ex or dismissive avoidant ex can want to talk about the problems in the relationship. In my next article, I give advice to both fearful avoidant exes and dismissive avoidants on how to overcome their fear of emotional conversations that ask for emotional responses and/or empathic behaviours. Feel free to forward this to your fearful avoidant ex or dismissive avoidant ex because they need to read this.

RELATED:

How to Bring Up Relationship Problems With An Avoidant Ex

How Do You Reassure A Fearful Avoidant Ex?

Why An Avoidant Ex Pulls Away After An Argument (STOP IT)

How to Be Consistent With A Fearful Avoidant Ex

How Can Anxious And Avoidant Exes Establish Boundaries?

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