When trying to get back with an avoidant, it helps to accept that your avoidant ex will pull away and need space from time to time, and giving them space is the accepted response to them pulling away. But from a secure attachment point of view, it’s just as important to talk to avoidant ex about their need for space as giving them space if the relationship has to be safe for both of you, especially with a fearful avoidant ex.
Fearful avoidants want and desire closeness but fear getting close at the same time, and often feel conflicted even as they start to pull away. The anxious part of them fears that pulling away may upset you and may result in rejection and/or abandonment, but the avoidant part of them fears that not pulling away may result in them feeling emotionally overwhelmed, suffocated and unable to function normally. This conflict within a fearful avoidant can sometimes make a fearful avoidants become unusually loving and caring, and even needy and clingy just before they pull away, leaving you wondering what happened to cause the pull away.
The point I’m trying to make here is, just giving an avoidant space is not enough to make them feel safe if they think that them needing space is upsetting you, and you’re just saying you’re okay with it but later punish them for something they needed to do.
Saying to an avoidant you’re okay with them pulling away vs. being okay with it
If you have an anxious attachment and you’re reading this, you are probably thinking, if I tell my avoidant ex that I’ll give them space do what they feel they need to do, and it’s no big deal because I have my own interests and things to do, they’ll see I’m okay with them pulling away and not worry about me being upset.
How do I know this is what you’re thinking? Because people with an anxious attachment have a fear that people don’t want to be with them and engage in smothering or controlling caregiving to try to prevent others from leaving. The irony is that people end up leaving anyways, and the anxiously attached is left resentful and angry that they “tried too hard to love” someone who didn’t want to be loved or is scared of being loved.
Self-abandoning, smothering or controlling giving is defined as an over involvement in other’s problem-solving efforts and is often characterized by a persistent need to ignore your own needs in favour of focusing on the needs of others, which then becomes your definition of love. In romantic relationships, self-abandoning or smothering giving is often an attempt to nurture a partner to re-establish them as the secure base provider. It’s like a child trying to take care of a parent (without the skills or resources to do so), so the adult can take care of them.
Ignoring your own needs in favour of focusing on the needs of an avoidant is what I find disturbing with “go no contact” or “give an avoidant s much space they need” without acknowledging that an anxious attachment has needs too, and they’re just as important as an avoidant’s needs. People with anxious attachment style already have an unhealthy and even toxic habit of self-abandoning in relationships due to their fear that someone doesn’t want to be with them and will leave if their needs are not met, to tell them to completely ignore their own need for connection and “self-sacrifice” even more is essentially enabling an anxious attachment self-abandoning and over giving behaviours.
I’ve worked with many anxiously attached who believe that they have to act happy when an avoidant pulls away because this will show an avoidant that they’re okay with them taking space and not to worry about them being upset, but deep inside they’re not okay with an avoidant pulling away. They feel anxious, ignored, lonely and angry because they’re suppressing their own need for connection in favour of their avoidant ex’s need for space.
How to talk to a fearful avoidant needing to pull away
If your avoidant ex to feel safe pulling away and reaching out when they’re ready to re-engage and you also want to feel safe when an avoidant pulls away, have a conversation about it.
1) Be honest with yourself and honest with your avoidant ex about how you feel without trying to make your avoidant ex feel bad about needing space.
2) Acknowledge your avoidant ex’s need to pull away from connection to self-care, gain perspective, recharge etc.
3) Focus on a solution that works for both of you instead of focusing on the fact that an avoidants needs space and your feelings about it.
For example, you can tell them that it scares you when they pull away because you are afraid they’ll not come back, but at the same time you understand that space is important to them, and you want them to feel safe asking for space when they need it. Sometime apart is not going to hurt your bond but strengthen it be. You will be there for them when they’re ready, but you also want to know that they’re okay and be able to check-in without feeling like you are bothering them, but only of they’re okay with it.
This sounds scary, and your anxious attachment is probably thinking “will that not push n avoidant even further away?” From a secure attachment point of view being honest with yourself and honest with the other person and trying to find ways that both of your needs can be met in the relationship is only way the relationship can feel safe for both of you. If only one of you feels safe, the relationship is still unsafe.
What do you say to a fearful avoidant when they start pulling away?
I’ll tell you what do not to say to a fearful avoidant avoidant pulling away first.
1) Don’t ask a fearful avoidant what’s wrong
Why they’re being distant, why they aren’t responding to texts (emails or calls?) or if they need space when they’re pulling away:
1) There is nothing “wrong” with an avoidant needing a little space in the same way as nothing is wrong with someone with an anxious attachment needing closeness. Both are needs, two sides of the same coin.
2) Avoidants don’t like it when you put them on the spot about their avoidant tendencies.
Fearful avoidants particularly don’t like being put on the spot because it triggers their fears about not being good enough. When you ask fearful avoidant what’s wrong, why they’re being distant or why they aren’t responding to texts, what they hear is , “You are not acting the way you should be acting and it’s making me unhappy”, and they’re not wrong. People who engage in smothering and excessive caregiving are never satisfied or happy in relationships, and often blame their unhappiness on their partners. It’s not far-fetched for an avoidant to think you’re unhappy with them wanting space.
2. Don’t keep saying “I’m here…”
Constantly telling an avoidant pulling away or has pulled away “I’m here for you” or I’m not going anywhere” etc., can feel like pressure or even an attempt at controlling them. Once is enough and most avoidant will respond with “thank you” or “I appreciate you saying that” , and that should be it.
Avoidants don’t expect you to wait around for them, don’t want to feel like they’re holding you back or feel like they’re a burden to you or the relationship.
3) Don’t lecture an avoidant on their attachment style
Avoidants complain to me about this a lot and anxiously attached people are so guilty of turning into therapist, a “relationship coach” or using weaponized therapy-speak and talking to an avoidant about how you understand an avoidant needs space to feel safe or understand that an avoidant needing space is not about you or understand how hard it is for an avoidant to be in a relationship etc. You think you’re being emotionally mature, reassuring or being a support system to an avoidant, but what many call therapy-speak is triggering to most avoidants. They feel like they’re being lectured or talked down to – and find it condescending and annoying.
Regardless of intent, there’s away to talk to someone you’re in a relationship with or want a relationship as an equal and without sounding like an “armchair psychologist”. Fearful-avoidants already don’t have a positive view of themselves (and of others), talk to them like a partner and not their therapist or relationship coach.
Use a soft start-up approach to talk to an avoidant about them pulling away
I have found that if you want a fearful avoidant to feel that you’re it’s okay for them to want space, use a soft start-up, for example:
1) “You have been distant lately and I’m starting to feel anxious”
Is not pushy if it’s coming from a place of genuine concern about their well-being and not trying to get reassurance that everything between the two of you is okay. Use this if things have been going so well and your fearful avoidant suddenly pulls away.
2) “I do not know exactly what you are going through, but I want to you to know that I am here to listen if you need to talk.”
Use this if you suspect or know that there may be some personal issues your fearful avoidant ex is dealing with. Letting them know that they have your support without coming across as analyzing their avoidant attachment style (a.k.a. therapy-speak), and/or trying to get them to communicate can make an avoidant feel less alone and may even open the door for a more thorough conversation.
These are just a few examples, come up with your own soft conversation start-ups, just make sure that you understand that your feelings may be coming from anxiety and you may be wrong and everything is okay.
Let your fearful avoidant ex choose how they want to respond or if they want to respond at all. If they want to talk about it, then talk about it without accusing them of making you unhappy or hurting you. If a fearful avoidant says there is nothing wrong or that they just need some space, don’t push for them to talk to you even if you think something is wrong. Let them know that if they need to talk, you will hear them out without judgement and without freaking out or threatening to leave.
If they say they need space and/or time for themselves, don’t beg or plead with them or give some “detached” monologue about attachment styles, how important it is to take space, etc. or act like their wanting space doesn’t bother you. Avoidants know it bothers anxiously attached when they need space or pull away, pretending that it doesn’t bother you makes you someone they can’t trust, and trust is just as important to avoidants as needing space from time to time.
So yes, your fearful avoidants needs space to feel safe, but you need to feel safe too. Ignoring your own needs in favour of focusing on the needs of an avoidant is not being safe. It may seem secure, sacrificing and loving behaviour but it’s actually an insecure attachment response from an excessive and smothering caregiver.
Remember, if only one of you feels safe, the relationship is still unsafe.