- Recognizing the signs of an avoidant attachment style is important to greater relationship satisfaction.
- Avoidantly attached partners appear aloof, indecisive, or not fully invested in a relationship.
- Partners of avoidantly attached people may feel unwanted, deprived, and alone in the relationship.
An estimated 1 in 4 adults has a dismissive-avoidant attachment style.
Persons with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style highly value independence, self-reliance, and autonomy. While these values can be adaptive and healthy, avoidantly attached persons also tend to downplay the importance of emotional closeness and relying on others. This can complicate intimate relationships.
A relationship with a dismissive-avoidant partner may feel tentative, distant, confusing, even heartbreaking. Such feelings tend to be felt most acutely by someone with an anxious attachment style, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum from avoidant attachment.
Dismissive-avoidant attachment—often termed "avoidant" for short—can range from mild to severe. It can vary from relationship to relationship and can change over time.
The following are seven tendencies of avoidant partners in relationships:
1. Avoidantly attached partners hesitate to embrace their partner or the relationship fully.
For example, people with an avoidant attachment style may:
- Hedge their answers when asked about a relationship's future.
- Get uncomfortable if a partner uses terms like "boyfriend," "girlfriend," "lover," or "couple."
- Say "I love you" sparingly, if at all.
- Use double negatives such as “I don’t not like you” or “It’s not that you’re not important to me.”
Avoidant partners may care about their partner but strongly fear rejection and losing independence. To protect themselves, they maintain emotional distance by not fully engaging.
The effect of an avoidantly attached person's lukewarm engagement: Their partner feels unwanted.
2. Avoidantly attached partners have restricted emotionality.
Avoidantly attached people struggle with feeling and expressing emotions. As a result, they may:
- Not know how to respond when a partner shares vulnerable feelings.
- Hold “stiff-upper-lip” or “just-move-on” attitudes, viewing distressing emotions as unproductive or a waste of time.
- Vehemently deny that they have strong fears.
- Seem able to shut off their emotions.
- Be conflict-avoidant. Because they dislike strong emotional expression and lack confidence in working through relationship conflicts, they may shut down or withdraw rather than talk through relationship issues.
The effect of restricted emotionality: Their partner feels disconnected.
3. Avoidantly attached partners downplay or minimize the relationship's importance.
Avoidant partners may:
- Decline to put a photo of their current partner in their home even if they have multiple photos of other people, including exes.
- Become uneasy if a partner posts pictures of the two of them on social media.
- Romanticize memories of one or more past relationships in ways that make their partner feel less cherished.
- View their work, hobbies, or other activities as more important than a primary relationship.
Avoidantly attached partners may know their partner wants more closeness and commitment and know they are letting them down. This can make them feel pressured, leading them to avoid or withdraw.
The effect of minimizing: Their partner feels not valued.
4. Avoidantly attached partners have difficulty with commitment.
Maintaining autonomy and independence is imperative for a person with avoidant attachment. The need to avoid the opposite experiences—feeling obligated, dependent, or trapped—is just as compelling. Autonomy and independence feel more important than feeling connected, intimate, and interdependent.
Struggles with commitment can manifest as:
- A history of leaving relationships or relationships that end ambiguously.
- Periodically withdrawing, telling partner a partner they need a break from the relationship.
- Announcing that they feel uncertain about their feelings and want to date other people.
The effect of commitment-avoidance: Their partner feels undesired.
5. Avoidantly attached persons keep partners at arm’s length.
For example, they may:
- Jealously guard their schedules and personal time.
- Become critical or fault-finding of their partner.
- Feel overwhelmed when a partner asks for more time together.
- Limit displays of affection.
- Cancel plans if they feel the relationship is getting “too close.”
If their partner questions these behaviors, avoidantly attached people may respond with matter-of-fact reasoning that makes logical sense to them but avoids acknowledging their underlying feelings. Their responses also overlook how their actions affect their partner.
The effect of an arm's-length stance: Their partner feels deprived.
6. Avoidantly attached partners send mixed messages or communicate indirectly.
Sending clear messages about how one feels depends on knowing what one is feeling. Many avoidant people are not in touch with their emotions. Thinking about emotions may cause them distress. As a result, they may feel lost when a partner brings up emotional or relational issues.
For example, if a partner says, “I would like a deeper connection” or “I want to get together more often with a schedule that I can plan on,” avoidantly attached persons may give a vague or unsatisfying response, change the topic, say their partner is too demanding, or not respond at all.
The effect of indirect communication: Their partner feels confused or unwanted.
7. Avoidantly attached partners seem distant or disengaged.
People with an avoidant attachment style can view others' efforts to become closer as needy. In response, they may:
- Fail to respond when a partner seeks reassurance or makes bids for greater physical or emotional connection.
- Become disenchanted with a partner or the relationship for no apparent reason.
- Call a partner “too clingy” or "needy."
- Tell a partner to find reassurance within themselves.
- Bury themselves in work or solo activities.
The effect of distancing: Their partner feels rejected.
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Levine, A. and Heller, R. (2010). Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find and keep love. Tarcher/Penguin.