AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT:

RELATIONSHIPS

People with avoidant attachment can feel a deep-rooted aloneness, even while in a relationship. Those with a secure attachment style find it easy to accept their partners, flaws and all, to depend on them, and to believe they’re special and unique - but for avoidants that is a major life challenge. They might enjoy the company of others, but are quick to find fault and struggle to connect with those who attempt to form a bond with them. They always maintain some mental distance and an escape route, as feeling complete with someone else is very difficult to accept. They may yearn for a loving connection but find themselves running from scenarios where they are asked to commit—they cannot throw caution to the wind, and they struggle with spontaneity even when they see the value in it. In the face of real intimacy, they become uncomfortable and tend to slip away when things get serious. Even before they do, avoidants can be so afraid of giving too much and losing themselves that they give too little and ultimately push their partners away.

 

This comes from a deep subconscious assumption of abandonment - often some of their earliest developmental learning - that their attachment figure will hurt them in some way and will eventually reject them, particularly if emotions come to the fore. If someone tried to get close it is risking their non-negotiable self-reliance. The avoidant's brain was trained to switch off any attachment behaviour and to reject those that show it - any yearning for love and intimacy are viewed as weakness. These attempts to maintain distance in personal relationships are anxiety-driven - psychological independence feels more comfortable than emotional closeness. So avoidantly attached adults always move away from true intimacy in relationships. Avoidance is a protective manoeuvre — a pattern of relating which centres around regulating closeness and how much of ourselves we show (or are able to show) to others. This relational stance isn’t usually a conscious choice, but created out of early attachment experiences that shaped us.

Avoidants often end up in relationships by accident, because they subconsciously want to be wanted. Feeling not good enough and fearing abandonment, avoidants often end the relationship out of fear, in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meeting a partner causes unease, as they may have come to terms with the idea of growing old alone. To care about someone (the normal sign of growing interdependence and a healthy, deepening, blossoming relationship) becomes an unpleasant, dangerous thing - a weight around the avoidant's neck they must react against. The avoidant may then proactively leave, wanting to get rid of this unease and get back to the relatively easeful unhappiness of being alone.

Avoidant strategies take six months to a year to fully kick in for most people, as intimacy develops, early dating protocols and guards are dropped, and a partner starts leaning on them more within the transition to a serious relationship. At this point, although avoidants ultimately want connection and a secure long-term attachment like the rest of us, they will start to avoid it, self-sabotage and push away for protection. Having learnt not to expect to be reliably happy around caregivers - that love comes with a degree of neglect - they are always expecting something to go wrong, and their subconscious mind moves to recreate this output. They might be more likely to attach to things that aren't working well - if they can't see a reason that the relationship would end they feel trapped, so may need to break it on purpose. They will find ways to mess up relationships by acting out, finding any faults, inventing problems that don’t exist or coming up with reasons why the relationship shouldn’t continue. If things are easy and going well for too long they unconsciously assume pain is coming - they know they survived painful situations as a child so can do it again, and need to act to protect themselves now. This means avoidants can in fact end up by default together for longest with whoever will put up with not being treated all that positively, or doesn't treat them that positively themselves.

"After the 'falling in love' stage, secure relationships transition into an attachment relationship where the presence of the other has above all a soothing impact, in contrast to the early days of courtship where the presence of the other was chiefly exciting. If a couple stays together for a year or so they may transition into this relationship. In a secure couple both can be a source of soothing to the other, but for avoidants their partner is less likely to be soothing, they find the loss of initial excitement disconcerting, and a partner's expression of attachment needs can invoke avoidant withdrawing. So avoidant people find it harder to make the transition to an attachment bond and are more likely to leave a relationship at this point, prompted by an unconscious fear of dependency. This can be a trigger for coming to therapy - the wish to have a conventional family life but a history of always moving on after about a year to 18 months

Given that avoidant people are quite prone to having affairs, have less commitment and less pleasure in their relationships, why do they settle in couples at all? A theory is that investment (time together and shared activities) is weighed against satisfaction; thus when investment is very high we may stay together even if satisfaction is low. The further factor influencing this choice is the availability of alternatives, which has been changed by the internet."

- Attachment & the Defence Against Intimacy

However, "although avoidant individuals may look less attached in many situations (e.g., being more interested in extra-relationship sex, grieving less intensely following breakups), they are likely to be attached to their primary relationship partners in very real ways. Their reasons for being involved in long-term relationships are probably more or less the same as the reasons of nonavoidant individuals. Their level of concern and autonomic arousal over loss are similar to those of nonavoidant individuals - what makes them different is simply that they can shut off thinking consciously about this painful topic at will. 

 

Although avoidant individuals may be relatively successful at regulating attachment-related distress much of the time, their ability to relate to others is severely hindered by their repertoire of defensive strategies. Their close relationships are less intimate, interdependent, satisfying, and long-lasting than those of secure individuals. Barring clinical intervention, however, avoidant individuals are likely to find themselves in an inevitable paradox: on the one hand, they, like anyone else, desire closeness and intimacy with others. Yet, on the other hand, the experience of closeness is likely to activate defensive processes that make those very experiences unlikely. But therapeutic interventions have the potential to help avoidant individuals overcome their fear of intimacy."

- Avoidant Attachment: Exploration of an Oxymoron

Read about marriage to an unaware avoidant here:

 

"'The most common reason that my patients, male and female alike, cite as why they cheat is because they don’t feel that they can count on their partners. That special emotional connection they once shared has all but vanished.' But with the Avoidant Personality the emotional core of the person deeply rejects and blocks all attempts to create that kind of connection.  In most cases being married to an Avoidant Personality shatters all hope of achieving emotional fidelity. They want the appearance of marriage for the safety, public appearance and companionship. In their heart they do not want true marriage involving unity and bonding They can look like they are living when they are just going through the motions. There is sex without bonding, conversations without sharing, life without real connection. Without personal sharing, openness, real intimacy and bonding cannot happen. 

 

Avoidant people may not realize how much their communication is avoidant as they may consciously want to have a companion. It is their heart (unconscious) that has shut down to being in a love relationship. As a result the person will give mixed messages. The pattern is characterized by shame - lack of early affirmation of the right to be a person. The Avoidant Person tends to avoid all risks, but where it shows up the most is with their partner.

The avoidant is misunderstood a lot. One may confuse their appropriate and friendly outward appearance with the potential for real love and bonding. Their friends and social contacts will not realize that their friend is avoiding sharing anything personal. If a friend is concerned with them, they will invest a lot of effort in correcting and persuading their friend that there is no problem. They are good at staying undercoverThey put much energy into managing public perception. You will see how they try to correct any confrontation or revelation about them. The same applies to professional contacts. They are very good at hiding, following the rules and mechanically meeting expectations. Only in marriage do you get partners who realize something is wrong; this isn’t a real marriage. This may take a lot of time. The marital partner feels vague dissatisfaction but can’t put a finger on it. For the sake of both partners in the silent divorce, this marriage must end, and a new one be created with professional help."

When reading about avoidants in relationships it is important to stress that these behaviours are often deeply unconscious and in that sense not an avoidant's fault. Babies developing an avoidant attachment pattern resisted and distracted themselves from their caregiver with toys - it can be programmed as deeply as from infancy. When they are aware of their behaviours it can be very upsetting and confusing for avoidants, and they carry a lot of shame over their avoidant needs. Part of what keeps them in the cycle is their inability to be vulnerable about these true feelings and desires - fearing the revelation would eventually push anyone away. So they sever their capacity for empathy and caring in order to wall off their inner world. Self-imposed loneliness is preferred over the risk of loss and failure. Often avoidants would rather hurt and even discard their partner than risk being too vulnerable to pain themselves, because ultimately they come from a position where everyone wants something from them and they need to protect themselves. Even when they're aware of how they're acting out, avoidants tend to assume that with the right partner these behaviours won't appear, outsourcing the responsibility. However the solution must come from within - not outside.

 1. "I Want You, But Go Away"

 2. Disconnection & Non-Reciprocity

 3. Difficulty Committing

 4. Avoiding Bonding Conversations

 5. Difficulty Responding to Signals for Reassurance

 6. Deactivating Strategies

 7. Secrecy

 8. Needing Space

 9. Doubts & Negative Thinking