- People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style may appear aloof, resist commitment, and not be attuned to their deeper feelings.
- In relationships, avoidantly attached people may keep partners at arm’s length, send mixed messages, and struggle with intimacy.
- Partners of avoidantly attached people can modify their expectations, not personalize, and work on building their own secure attachment.
If you are in a relationship with someone with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, you may feel lonely, frustrated, not valued, or not desired.
Here are 10 approaches that can help:
1. Don’t chase.
When an avoidantly attached partner pulls away, pursuing them is likely to make them withdraw even more. As hard as it may be, give them space and let them know they will be welcomed on their return.
2. Avoid criticizing.
Avoidantly attached people are sensitive to criticism. Better to ask for what you want rather than complain about what you don’t want.
For example, if your partner hasn’t called in two days, rather than complain, tell them how much it means for you to have daily contact. Ask if they would be willing to try that for a week.
3. Be aware of your assumptions and perspective.
We tend to create narratives about our partners and gather evidence to support our views. For example, if you view an avoidant partner as uncaring, you may see the ways your partner falls short but overlook caring actions.
To avoid a negative narrative, be curious about your partner. Ask what they value and most treasure in life. Find out what bothers them and what they might like you to do differently. Listen without judgment.
4. Don’t make demands or ultimatums.
Some people with avoidant attachment may have grown up with demands to be a certain way, coupled with ultimatums when they fell short. Don’t replicate this.
While it can be hard when an avoidant partner seems stubbornly unreachable or dismissive, demanding change or threatening to leave will likely only harden their avoidant stance.
5. Approach emotions skillfully.
Try to center yourself before expressing strong emotions about your relationship. Strong feelings are overwhelming to avoidantly attached people. They will likely not be able to engage for long and may withdraw, leaving you even more hurt or frustrated.
Try a softened startup such as, “I feel upset and I want to talk about it with you so that I can move on. Are you willing to help me do so by hearing what I have to say?” Reassure them that they don’t need to fix your feelings; simply hearing your emotions will help. This can model emotional expression they can learn from.
6. Don’t rush in.
If you’ve been feeling held at arm’s length in the relationship and suddenly your avoidant partner moves closer, you may feel tempted to voice all your pent-up desires and concerns before the door closes again. Try not to do so. Instead, savor the closeness without pushing for more. This can allow your avoidant partner to tolerate more windows of closeness.
7. Give your partner a road map.
Your worldview and your partner’s may be worlds apart. Explaining your intentions when bringing up a sensitive topic can set an avoidant partner at ease.
For example, if you seek more closeness, say, “I really treasure closeness with you. I know you treasure and need your alone time. When we don’t feel close, sometimes I feel lonely or unimportant to you. I know you aren’t the source of those feelings and you don’t have to fix them. Would you be willing to talk about things each of us could do so that we both get more of what we need?”
8. Work to become more securely attached.
One opportunity of being with an avoidantly attached partner is to increase your self-reliance and ability to contain your feelings. Anxiety can bring out the worst in us, triggering primal fears and counterproductive coping behaviors.
No one person or relationship can meet all your needs. If you have an avoidant partner, seek multiple sources of comfort and support outside the relationship.
Paradoxically, when avoidant partners see you happily doing things without them, they may be drawn closer because it reduces their fear you are wholly dependent on them.
9. Reinforce positively.
What may seem like a baby step for you can be a giant leap for an avoidant partner. Many avoidantly attached partners know their partners are disappointed. They may feel bad about that but feel ambivalent about changing their deeply ingrained, self-protective style.
If they move closer or show vulnerability, no matter how small, celebrate that. Express appreciation and let them know how it makes you feel. Acknowledge that you know it can be hard. Validate and encourage any attempt at intimacy or emotional expression.
10. Don’t personalize.
When an avoidant partner withdraws or seems disengaged, remind yourself that this is how they cope with difficult feelings. Though it may feel deliberately aimed at you, it is an automatic emotional survival mechanism.
Avoidantly attached people have feelings, desire closeness, and experience emotional turmoil. They just experience and express feelings more subtly and indirectly than other people. You may feel hurt by their withdrawal or aloofness, but underneath their apparent indifference is fear.
Remember: You Have Choices
If you do many of the steps listed above, you will likely grow as a person and grow within the relationship. You should expect and ask for a similar commitment to growth from your partner.
If, over time, you see little effort on your partner's part despite your own work and despite voicing your needs, you may decide that moving on would be best for you. If you stay, do so out of choice, knowing the challenges and benefits, rather than out of false hope, guilt, obligation, or fear that you won’t find someone else.
If needed, seek therapy. Couples and individual therapy can help with attachment insecurities. Couples therapy can be a safe space for an avoidantly attached person to open up.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Fraley, R. C., & Roisman, G. I. (2019). The development of adult attachment styles: Four lessons. Current Opinion in Psychology, 25, 26–30.
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.
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524.