If you have an anxious attachment and trying to get back with an avoidant ex, you can’t but help feel rejected and unwanted by your avoidant ex. Almost all of my clients tell me they feel like the process of getting back together with an avoidant is one-sided because they’re the ones expected to give an avoidant the space they need, the only ones who have to be careful about how they reach out and communicate with an avoidant ex, the only ones told to do all the work of trying to make the relationship work. And they’re not wrong. The responsibility of making a relationship work or of getting back together most of the time falls on the person who wants contact, connection, and ultimately a relationship, unfortunately, most of the time this happens to be the ex with an anxious attachment and not the avoidant ex.
The reality is in the beginning of trying to get back together, you are the one who wants an avoidant ex back and wants the relationship to work, that means you’re going to have to do all the work of reaching out, trying to emotionally connect, set the tone of your conversations, pace things out, show that you’ve changed, try to get an avoidant to meet up, etc. That’s the realty of trying to get back with an avoidant. Expecting an avoidant to step up and do their half of the work when they have one foot (and sometimes both feet) out of the door is setting yourself up for failure.
This doesn’t mean they will not step up later on, but in the beginning, the other person has to want to play first before you can say the ball is their court. Maybe they haven’t even seen the ball. Maybe they’ve seen the ball but are still angry and don’t feel like playing with you. Maybe they’re distracted with other things going on into their life that have nothing to do with you. Maybe they don’t like the way you play and tired of playing with you. Maybe they found someone else to play with. And because your ex is a fearful avoidant, maybe they don’t trust your intentions and want to see how long you’ll persist before giving up.
That begs the question: How patient should you be and how long should you persist with a fearful avoidant ex?
How long should you keep trying to get back a fearful avoidant ex?
I want to say, as long as it takes, but that’s not realistic when dealing with a fearful avoidant’s disorganized attachment style where two things can be true at the same time. This is why they’re considered the most confusing attachment style. With securely attached, they’re consistent in how they care and love when things are great and when things are not good between the two of you. With people with an anxious attachment, they’re consistent with how much they need love, care, attention, reassurance etc. With dismissive avoidants, they’re consistent with how much they need their independence and keep the people they love at a distance. With fearful avoidants, you get a mixed bag of needing love, care, attention, reassurance and needing their independence and keeping you at a distance.
A fearful avoidant’s “come close, go away” mixed signals don’t just confuse the people who love them, they confuse themselves too because they can’t understand why they can want something and not want it at the same time.
How patient you should be and how long you should persist with a fearful avoidant ex will depend on if you’re getting more “come close” than “go away” signals. Getting to where you get more “come close” signals requires a lot of patience, and I mean like a lot. The worst thing you can do to your chances of getting back with a fearful avoidant ex is to be impatient or seem to pressure them into making a decision.
Fearful avoidants are maximizers. They try to choose the option that will give them the maximum confidence that they’ll not regret their decision later on. And even after making a decision, some fearful avoidants back away from their decision for fear that they made a decision they may regret later on. You see why I say you need a lot of patience?
Showing a fearful avoidant ex that you’re in it for the long haul
Being patient with a fearful avoidant means that you have to let go of an anxious attachment’s need for immediate responses, answers or solutions and the tendency to push or demand for change. Instead of responding with frustration or attempting to extract an instant reply, show that you understand their fears and their need to proceed cautiously, value their pace and respect their boundaries, that your intentions are genuine, and that you’re there for the long haul, not just a quick fix for your anxiety.
Persistent comes from the Latin verb “persistere” which means “to continue with strength. There is healthy persistence and unhealthy persistence. Unhealthy persistence such as denying or pretending the break-up never happened, text bombing, randomly showing up at an ex’s house or work or hangout, stalking them on social media, obsession or outright harassment is not showing anyone that you are there for them for the long haul. It’s instead showing them that you have serious issues, and they should be afraid of you because you’re capable of making their life miserable and even harming them.
Healthy persistence when trying to attract back your ex means doing the hard work to create a safe and secure emotional environment and show your ex a better vision of what can be. It’s true that the work of making a relationship work cannot be done by one person, but one person can change the dynamics of a relationship by becoming the stabilizer in the relationship.
One person can provide the safety and security the other needs to feel that the relationship is worth another chance. For example, if you show consistent safety and security, a fearful avoidant ex feeling safer will slowly start responding with more warmth and engagement. All the fears and hesitations they had about the relationship not working begin to melt away as they realize that your consistency is grounded in understanding, acceptance and putting in the hard work. This will then make you feel reassured that your fearful avoidant ex also wants to make the relationship work.
Fearful avoidants need consistency, consistency, consistency
Just patience and hanging in there and not giving up is not enough to get a fearful avoidant ex back. Fearful avoidants need consistency. They need to see that you have the ability to be consistent even in uncertainty. But as I write in many of my articles, being consistent with someone who is inconsistent is a challenge. Because you have your own attachment triggers, it can feel like walking on eggshells especially in the beginning when there is a lot of uncertainty. This is when the doubts about whether it’s even worth it to try to get back together, and the frustration that you’re reaching out and they’re not engaging or even responding are the strongest.
It’s at this point that many of my clients who were attracted to my advice because I do no advice or encourage no contact and instead encourage keeping the lines of communication open start considering “Maybe I should not reach out for a while” or “Don’t you think they’re having their cake and eating it too?”. Others start creating little arguments and conflicts here and there and even bringing in stress and emotional drama because they’re tired of waiting for a response, tired of being the one doing all the work of reaching out and feeling impatient about how slow things are progressing.
Consistently reaching out for some time, then stop reaching out only to come back later and start reaching out again, and consistently showing loving and caring behaviours and then becoming impatient, putting pressure and creating stress, not only shows inconsistency, but also creates anxiety and confusion in a fearful avoidant ex, and ultimately makes them not want to invest in the relationship.
Being inconsistent also tells a fearful avoidant ex that you don’t know what you’re doing and have no solutions for making the relationship work better. You try this for a short time and when you don’t get the response, attention or validation you’re looking for, you try something else and if there is still no response, attention or validation you’re looking for, you come back to trying what you’ve tried before. This is like flashing a red “Inconsistent. Unsafe” signal to a fearful avoidant who needs consistency to feel safe. It doesn’t inspire the kind of trust that communicates confidence in what you are doing.
Patience and safe consistency is about the everyday things you say and do
Patience, consistency and persistence must come from a genuine desire to be safe and create a safe and healthy relationship, not a place of manipulation. In your mind you may not see your own inconsistent words and actions as manipulation because you’re just trying to connect or get your fearful avoidant to respond or step up and do their part in trying to make the relationship work, but to someone whose attachment style programming has taught them that others can’t be trusted because most people are only interested in what they want, toy with other people’s feelings or are out to exploit other people’s vulnerabilities, your inconsistency is threating and feels unsafe.
Safe consistency is about being a soothing and reliable constant that a fearful avoidant can turn to when they feel stressed by life’s circumstances and chaos or feel confused and conflicted about relationship problems and decisions. It’s checking on them when they withdraw into themselves or feel depressed. It’s offering an empathetic ear when they need it most. It’s communicating your feelings, needs or problems in the relationship in ways that show understanding and empathy for how their attachment style works. It’s being genuinely invested in healing the fractures that shattered your bond, etc.
So if you’re going to show your fearful avoidant ex that you understand their fears and their need to proceed cautiously, value their pace and respect their boundaries, that your intentions are genuine, and that you’re there for the long haul, you must reflect this throughout the process of trying to attract them back.
Of course, this is not easy either. A fearful avoidant’s fluctuating between anxious (come close) and avoidant (go away) makes it hard to stick to any particular course of action. That’s why focusing just on their attachment style thinking that it’s how you attract them back is a mistake. The key is to focus on your own attachment style and consistently show up as safe. When you are being consistently safe, your fearful avoidant ex slowly begin to see that maybe, just maybe, the relationship is worth exploring. They can see your unwavering patience, persistence and consistency and start to see you not as a threat but as the stabilizer in uncertainty, and your efforts to make things work as well-intentioned.
When do you let go trying to get back with a fearful avoidant ex?
I kept this little inconvenient truth for the end for a purpose. It’s not what you may want to hear, but it may be exactly what you need to hear. Not everyone gets their ex back. Sometimes the break-up was the end and you have no chance of getting back together. Sometimes all the work you’re putting in to get back together is too little too late. Sometimes your problems can’t be resolved, and sometimes exes just don’t want to get back together. Not accepting your reality will keep you unnecessarily hanging in a state of uncertainty.
What I always advice my clients is, give yourself a time frame in which to try to change your attachment dynamics then every once in a while ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Should I keep trying or is it time to let go trying to get back with my fearful avoidant ex?” If you’re seeing more “come close” signals than the last time you did a situation assessment of where things are, then keep going. Every step forward however small or slow counts.
But if you’ve done everything right and done everything you can possibly to show your fearful avoidant ex that you understand their fears and their need to proceed cautiously, when you’ve consistently respected their boundaries, shown that your intentions are genuine, and that you’re in it for the long haul, when you’ve done all you can to create a safe and secure emotional environment and shown your fearful avoidant ex a better vision of what can be, and your investment in making things work isn’t changing anything or your fearful avoidant ex seems to be pulling further and further away, it’s time to accept that you did everything right but it was wasn’t enough to get your fearful avoidant ex back.
This is hard when you’ve invested so much emotion and hours of hard work trying to get back together. But even though it feels personal, like you’ve failed yourself, remember that someone not wanting to be with you is not a reflection of your worth. True, you were anxious and acted insecure and needy and codependent etc., and this caused the end of the relationship, and you may have changed and showed up better too little too late, but this is not a reflection of your worth. Your ex didn’t come back this time not because you’re not worthy of love and not for lack of trying on your part, but because there is someone else out there for you. All the work you put in working on yourself and everything you’ve learned about being a safe and secure partner makes you better prepared for your next relationship.
Sometimes your next relationship can come back as your ex and you’re both better versions of yourselves and ready to give the relationship another chance, and sometimes your next relationship will be with someone entirely new. And because of the work you’ve done on yourself and what you’ve learned, your experience will be different.