Dating someone with avoidant attachment can be undeniably complicated.
For instance, let’s say you’ve just started seeing someone new: the dates are flirty, the texts are frequent, and the conversations are electric. You’re just beginning to allow yourself to imagine “What if?” with this person when suddenly, you get the feeling that something isn’t right.
Perhaps they start to come up with flimsy excuses to cancel dates, and their texts are brief, detached responses. After what may have felt like a magnetic early connection, you now feel anxious, confused, and yearning for the other person’s attention.
If these scenarios sound familiar, you likely are – or may have been – dating someone with an avoidant attachment style.
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We all have an attachment style that affects how we behave in the relationships in our lives. Yet, the avoidant attachment style is characterized by a significant fear of intimacy. For this reason, avoidant attachers usually prefer to avoid situations in which they are expected to be open and vulnerable.
It’s not that they don’t want loving relationships – it’s just that it’s difficult for them to give themselves over to love. To protect themselves from feelings of rejection, an avoidant attacher will create strict physical and emotional boundaries. What’s more, they’re prone to pulling away from a relationship when they perceive that these parameters are crossed.
Yet, as Leonard Cohen once said: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” So, despite an avoidant attachers’ resistance to intimacy, it’s entirely possible for them to develop more secure actions in relationships with understanding, effort and consistency.
For this reason, this guide discusses:
Such caregivers may:
The causes of an avoidant attachment style
Traits of avoidant attachment in adulthood
Signs you might be dating an avoidant attacher
And tips for dating someone with an avoidant attachment style
What Causes an Avoidant Attachment Style?
According to Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, an avoidant attacher’s particular cycle of thoughts and behaviors stems from childhood.
Essentially, an attachment style is someone’s specific way of relating to other people based on how they bonded with their caregivers during their formative period (typically the first eighteen months of life). There are four different attachment styles: one secure and three insecure (avoidant, anxious, and disorganized).
When caregivers are attuned and responsive to their child’s cues, a child typically feels safe, supported, and loved. The child trusts that their caregivers will be there for them when needed – so they develop a secure attachment style.
In contrast, an avoidant attachment style develops when a child perceives that their caregivers repeatedly reject their need for closeness and affection.
These caregivers may not intentionally reject their child’s needs, but they may be misattuned to their cues – meaning that the child sees their needs as being infrequently met.
Initially, the child may persist in expressing their desire for intimacy and affection, but they perceive that their requests are repeatedly rejected. This perception usually results in the child shutting down their attachment system and fostering a premature sense of independence and self-reliance.
What’s more, once an attachment style is established, it tends to be stable throughout life and can impact how people behave in all types of relationships (but this doesn’t mean it can’t be changed!).
The Traits of Avoidant Attachment In Adulthood
Adult avoidant attachers developed strategies to protect themselves from potential rejection or hurt – such as putting up emotional barriers to push a potential romantic partner away and prevent the possibility of being spurned first.
Essentially, they choose the flight mode of the fight or flight response. However, this isn’t to suggest that someone with an avoidant attachment style doesn’t crave love – they do. They’ve just been taught from an early age that the people they love will disappoint them. Unfortunately, avoidant attachers’ actions often leave potential romantic partners feeling confused, frustrated, and disappointed.
In the end, these potential partners often feel like they have no choice but to move on from the relationship, reinforcing the avoidant attacher’s belief that those they care about will leave them.
7 Signs You Are Dating an Avoidant Attacher
Peoples’ life experiences often continue to influence their attachment styles as they develop, but there are still certain behaviors to be mindful of if you’re looking for signs you’re dating an avoidant attacher. Bear in mind: attachment styles tend to work on a spectrum, so you may find that the person you’re dating has only a couple of the following avoidant traits – or, alternatively, you might find that they have them all.
In a romantic relationship, someone with an avoidant attachment style may:
I. Withdraw from intimacy
Avoidant attachers have an innate desire to be loved and supported – just like everyone else. However, their childhood template for relationships taught them that they would be rejected for expressing their desire for affection. Thus, avoidant attachers’ are typically triggered by intimacy – they’re uncomfortable with being dependent on others because it exposes them to the risk of rejection.
For this reason, if you’re dating an avoidant, you might find that they pull away from your attempts at emotional closeness. They’re likely not doing so because of a lack of interest, but because their attachment system has been activated.
II. Feel uncomfortable with commitment
If your partner steers clear of making long-term plans or avoids discussing the potential future of your relationship, you may be dating an avoidant attacher. For example, if you wish to make vacation plans, ask them to meet your family, or propose any activity that could potentially bring you closer, they may shut down and withdraw from the conversation. What’s more, they may have a history of being the one who repeatedly ends relationships, as avoidant attachers are more likely to instigate breakups.
III. Dislike emotional expression
Studies have shown that avoidant attachers tend to use distancing tactics to avoid dealing with their partners’ distress or upset. Therefore, if you are dating an avoidant attacher, you may find that they steer clear of conflict, or prefer to use passive-aggressive strategies to respond to your expressions of anger or upset.
Yet, it’s not just in arguments that avoidant attachers prefer to distance themselves. They also may do so in general conversations where you express frustration with factors outside of your personal relationship.
Your avoidant partner’s actions may feel like disinterest in the relationship, but in actuality, it may be that they’re conditioned by their childhood to avoid expressions of strong emotions.
IV. Act fiercely independent
Studies have shown that people high in attachment avoidance are less willing than others to depend on their partners. What’s more, they also dislike their partners being overly dependent on them. This finding is likely due to the avoidant’s perception that expressing vulnerability is a sign of weakness. After all, as a child, expressing emotions and needs was frowned upon.
For this reason, if you find that your partner rarely asks for support, becomes uncomfortable when you require it, acts cold and aloof, or becomes annoyed when you thank them for doing you a favor – you may be dating someone with avoidant attachment.
V. Be misattuned to their own and their partners’ emotions
Since many of an avoidant attacher’s issues happened before they could express their needs verbally, they often struggle to put a name to how they feel. For this reason, avoidant attachers are often wide of the mark when attempting to identify their own or their partners’ emotions.
What’s more, this difficulty pinpointing emotions is exacerbated by stress or conflict – so an avoidant attacher may especially struggle to pick up on your feelings during or after an argument. Therefore, if you feel like your partner has difficulty interpreting what you say/how you act, they may have an avoidant attachment style.
VI. Sabotage the relationship
Avoidant attachers may be prone to sabotaging their healthy relationships. Their mistrust of their partners’ intentions, combined with their fear of intimacy, can sometimes lead to them subconsciously behave in a way that pushes their partners away.
The more emotionally close their partner tries to get, the more the avoidant attacher usually withdraws from the relationship, attempts to find faults in their partner, or acts sullen, cold, or childish.
VII. Romanticize past relationships
Interestingly, despite avoidant attachers being more likely to instigate a breakup, they may also sometimes wonder “what if?” about their previous partners. This form of thinking may be because someone with an avoidant attachment style is often triggered to end a relationship when it progresses past a surface-level connection – not necessarily because both individuals weren’t compatible.
Furthermore, because avoidant attachers typically push down their emotions after a breakup, they may not realize that they still have feelings for their ex until considerable time has passed. Unfortunately, unresolved sentiments may mean that they are less emotionally involved in their current relationship.
How to Date Someone With Avoidant Attachment Style
Despite popular opinion, it’s entirely possible to have a satisfying, fulfilling relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style. Although we stated earlier that attachment styles are stable, they are not a life sentence. Your avoidant partner can become more secure in their actions.
However, many people who find themselves dating an avoidant attacher and desire more security within the relationship may fall into the trap of thinking, “How can I make an avoidant love me?”
We want to assure you that it’s not your fault if your partner is emotionally closed off. It’s their responsibility to understand and work on their thoughts and behaviors within the relationship.
Still, there are steps you can take to support them on their journey towards a more secure attachment style:
Step #1: Take your own attachment style into account
Avoidant attachers are technically more compatible with certain attachment styles over others. For example, a secure attacher’s positive outlook on themselves and others means they are capable of meeting the needs of an avoidant attacher without necessarily compromising their own. Furthermore, their ability to regulate emotions healthily and respect for personal space means they may be able to help an avoidant attacher open up emotionally.
Interestingly, avoidant attachers are also pretty compatible with similarly avoidant partners. This effect may be due to the likelihood that they both prefer emotional distance and would respect each others’ needs and boundaries. However, avoidants’ attachment traits could be triggered by an anxious or disorganized attacher’s desire for intimacy and affection. Yet, this isn’t to suggest that a relationship is doomed due to the individuals involved attachment styles. With enough knowledge, understanding, and love, it’s possible to make the relationship work.
If you don’t yet know your attachment style, you can take our free attachment quiz and receive a profile outlining your personal attachment style and a brief description of its typical traits.
Step #2: Communicate your concerns calmly
Sometimes, dating an avoidant attacher may feel like you’re both speaking different languages. Whereas you may be driven to discuss your concerns or issues with the relationship, an avoidant attacher is more likely to try to sweep them under the rug.
You may find it helpful to instigate a discussion about your relationship in a calm, yet assertive manner, as avoidant attachers generally struggle to communicate how they’re feeling under duress.
Step #3: Allow them to take personal space when they need it
Avoidant attachers are prone to feeling overwhelmed by too much shared time with a partner – especially during or after intense emotional incidents. Although it may be difficult for you to do so at times, try to remember that taking time out is an effective deescalating strategy for someone with an avoidant attachment style.
In all likelihood, with time and patience, your avoidant partner may not need to take as much personal space.
Step #4: Remind them that you do things for them because you want to
Avoidant attachers are highly independent, so they often frown upon others’ attempts to do kind things for them. This reaction may be due to thinking they’ll be perceived as weak or that they’re risking being abandoned. Of course, within a relationship, most people like to make thoughtful gestures for their partners because they want to. After all, we tend to be especially altruistic towards the people we care about.
Keep your partner’s attitude towards these gestures in mind whenever you wish to do something nice for them. Try not to remind them of favors you’ve done for them in the past, don’t overinflate your kindness, and avoid poking fun at them for accepting your gestures. Doing so may be hard at times, but your partner may feel more secure about your intentions over time.
Step #5: Try active dates instead of sedentary ones
Avoidant attachers are prone to overthinking and overanalyzing a situation. Therefore, sedentary dates such as the cinema may provide too many opportunities to pick fault with the situation or relationship. Alternatively, active dates such as hiking, running, or sports you can both learn and bond over may help both partners relax and stay in the moment. Moreover, an avoidant partner may feel like the attention isn’t focused so much on them during an active date. So they might feel more relaxed and less triggered by intimacy.
Of course, this isn’t a long-term strategy – but it may help during times when your partner’s attachment traits are especially triggered.
Step #6: Look after your own needs too
It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that you are a unique individual with your own important desires and wants when you’re dating someone with an avoidant attachment. Therefore, to avoid losing your sense of identity, you should also focus on independent self-care activities.
These activities could involve spending time with family, engaging in a hobby, or developing a skill set – the critical factor is that they make you feel like the best version of you.
Step #7: Encourage them to try therapy
Therapy is an excellent way of helping an avoidant attacher understand and process their triggers within a relationship. Although they may not be comfortable with couples therapy (yet) – they may blossom during one-to-one counseling with an attachment specialist and figure out ways of dealing with their emotions in ways that won’t damage themself, you, or the relationship.
Final Thoughts on Dating Someone With an Avoidant Attachment Style
Although it may often feel frustrating to date someone with an avoidant attachment style, it’s important to remember that attachment styles are not necessarily “fixed” or permanent if the individual is willing to put the effort into positive change. Avoidant attachers can develop “learned” secure attachment by identifying their irrational thoughts about themselves and relationships, and they could change their attachment-related behaviors as a result.
Having said as much, it’s just as important – if not more – to take care of your own mental health. If you are experiencing prolonged distress or upset from catering to someone else’s needs in a relationship, or feeling like you’re not getting your own met – then it’s important to take early steps towards repairing this hurt. Our guide for choosing a mental health practitioner and how to practice emotional hygiene may help.
Curious to learn more about the avoidant attachment style?
Get the digital Avoidant Attachment Style Workbook to gain a deeper understanding of…
how the avoidant attachment style developed
how it influences different aspects of daily life, such as self-image, romantic relationships, sexual life, friendships, career, and parenting skills
how avoidant attachers can use their superpowers associated with their attachment style
how avoidant attachers can begin cultivating a secure attachment
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524.
Marshall, T.C., Bejanyan, K., Ferenczi, N. (2013). Attachment Styles and Personal Growth following Romantic Breakups: The Mediating Roles of Distress, Rumination, and Tendency to Rebound. PLoS ONE, 8(9), e75161.
Schumann, K., & Orehek, E. (2019). Avoidant and defensive: Adult attachment and quality of apologies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(3), 809-833.
Simpson, J. A., & Steven Rholes, W. (2017). Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships. Current opinion in psychology, 13, 19–24.
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