Avoidance Behavior In Relationships: Your Survival Guide

Steffo Shambo

Updated on Aug 22, 2022

Being in an anxious/avoidant pairing can be heaven AND hell, at the same time. Today I’ll give you a troubleshooting guide for avoidance behavior in relationships, so that if you happen to be dating one of these men, you can enjoy the highs, and navigate the lows.

Table of Contents

An avoidant partner’s behavior can be extremely confusing. It can push even securely attached people towards some level of relationship anxiety. For someone who is naturally more anxious, this relationship can be hell.

Today I’ll explain how to deal with avoidance behavior in relationships, so that you can understand your partner and their behavior better, and therefore be less triggered by it.

Generally speaking, the man will be avoidant and the woman anxious. This is not always the case, but it is the most common dynamic. For the purpose of this article, I will speak of the woman as the anxious partner and the man as the avoidant. This can of course be flipped. But it is uncommon. Mommy issues in men usually lead to a man having a dismissive avoidant attachment style. Mommy issues in women do exist. And therefore so do avoidant women. But they are far rarer, for some reason.

The vast majority of people reading this article will be women with an anxious attachment style. Of this I am sure. Hence, I have geared it towards them.

If you happen to be an anxious man, all of the same advice applies.

The anxious avoidant trap

Most commonly, attachment issues come from an avoidant attachment style person being in a relationship with an anxious attachment individual. In attachment theory terms, this is called the Anxious avoidant trap. Aptly named because it’s incredibly easy to fall into. But much harder to get out of.

Woman hand reaches to the trap with rose

So what happens in the anxious avoidant trap? It usually goes something like this…

Intense attraction

Boy meets girl. The attraction is palpable. Sparks fly and the chemistry is undeniable. An anxious and an avoidant are intensely attracted to each other because it is a case of yin meeting yang. The anxious person admires the avoidant’s sense of autonomy and independence. An underlying daddy issue draws her to a man whose cold temperament echoes that of her father. The avoidant loves the sensitive, nurturing presence of the anxious.

At first, they seem to complete each other. Early in the honeymoon phase, the emotional walls of the avoidant are at their lowest point. They are capable of intimacy, connection and presence. But only up until a certain point…

… The point of being triggered.

The trigger point for avoidance behavior in relationships

The avoidant is only capable of a certain level of intimacy. When he perceives his woman as having come too close, he believes his independence to be under threat. Little does he know that it’s not his independence he truly fears losing. It is his safety. His very existence on the Earth itself. This is all connected to childhood, when an inattentive caregiver was unresponsive to his most basic of needs. During this fragile stage of life, when we are utterly dependent on caregivers for survival, he understood that intimacy and love were not to be trusted.

To an avoidant, intimacy therefore triggers feelings of unworthiness. Fears about rejection arise deep within his subconscious. He retreats, creates distance and pushes her away. This then confirms the worst fears of the anxious partner. That they are not good enough after all, and will be abandoned.

The anxious partner resorts to attention-seeking behavior in an attempt to close the gap. This triggers the avoidant to retreat even further. The anxious chases more. And so this delicate dance continues.

Both partners live inside of a constantly shifting spiral of shame, blame and guilt. Yet they remain so unfathomably magnetized to each other that they simply cannot leave.

Sad lonely girl sitting at the table

Sometimes for decades.

Are you feelin’ me?

How to handle avoidance behavior in a relationship: don’t take it personally

Dealing with avoidant behavior in relationships is a skill. It must be learned and practiced over time. You must train yourself not to take things personally. You must also stop projecting any of your own assumptions about your partner’s behavior, onto it. At first, it will be difficult. But as time goes on, you’ll find you are less and less emotionally reactive. This is a great coping strategy for avoidance behavior in relationships, that will also serve you well in life in general. It will benefit your health too, since living in a constantly triggered state is terrible for your nervous system, and overall wellbeing.

Remember: others’ problems with us are very rarely personal. We are all acting out of our own childhood wounding, past traumas and patterning.

The moment this clicks, ALL of your relationships will vastly improve. And there is no better situation in which to practice this attitude than a highly triggering romantic relationship.

Avoidant behavior is not a pathology

If you’re trying to figure out how an avoidant individual works, you’ll probably read about it until the cows come home.

Much of what you read will argue that this behavior is a personality disorder or a pathology. This is highly misleading. Whatsmore, this misconception leads to poor relations between anxious and avoidant partners. It is perfectly common to have an avoidant attachment style. It makes perfect sense in the context of the individual’s upbringing.

If you pathologize your partner’s behavior, you run the large risk of taking on the rescuer role by trying to ‘fix’ them. This puts your partner in the victim role. They become disempowered and before you know it, you’re locked into the drama triangle. For this reason, you must not make your partner feel like they are broken, or in need of rescue.

It is also extremely irritating to be told that you are wrong and constantly criticized. This can become gaslighting, and must be avoided.

Exercise compassion

Instead of pathologizing and criticizing, you want to try and find equal ground with your partner. It’s called the anxious avoidant trap for a reason. If you’re having issues, triggers can come from either of you. Remember, you both have an attachment style that has good and bad sides to it.

Exercising compassion means viewing things through the other person’s lens. Try and see things from their perspective. If you have just had an argument and your partner asks for two days of physical distance, don’t respond to this by becoming enraged and accusing them of not loving you. Don’t automatically fall into the victim role. This will just perpetuate the problem.

Be compassionate. And kind. Understand where they are coming from. An avoidant attachment style means that safety is found in solitude and distance. Just because your experience of safety is different, doesn’t mean that they are wrong.

Bringing a bit of compassion into the situation may diffuse the charge and bring you out of the trigger loop.

Exercise compassion

Instead of pathologizing and criticizing, you want to try and find equal ground with your partner. It’s called the anxious avoidant trap for a reason. If you’re having issues, triggers can come from either of you. Remember, you both have an attachment style that has good and bad sides to it.

Exercising compassion means viewing things through the other person’s lens. Try and see things from their perspective. If you have just had an argument and your partner asks for two days of physical distance, don’t respond to this by becoming enraged and accusing them of not loving you. Don’t automatically fall into the victim role. This will just perpetuate the problem.

Be compassionate. And kind. Understand where they are coming from. An avoidant attachment style means that safety is found in solitude and distance. Just because your experience of safety is different, doesn’t mean that they are wrong.

Bringing a bit of compassion into the situation may diffuse the charge and bring you out of the trigger loop.

Leave shame and guilt at the back door

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of not introducing shame and guilt into the equation.

Do not feel ashamed that you find your partner’s behavior upsetting. You are neither needy nor a burden. You’re differently wired, and the product of a completely different childhood and upbringing.

Equally, do not guilt trip your partner for upsetting you.

Someone with an avoidant relationship style does not see close relationships the same way as you do. When you accept this, it’s easy to understand why they do things differently.

Don’t start swimming in stories of you being a love addict with attachment anxiety. This won’t help in the least. The further that you go into your own attachment issues, the more likely you are to trigger your avoidant partner. You will then descend into another trigger loop.

The other side of this is blaming your partner. This goes back into the idea of thinking that there’s something wrong with him. That he is avoiding love. Avoidant men are not necessarily love avoidant. They feel love, sometimes very deeply, and therein lie the fears that can show up. Don’t forget: what you see in his behavior may look like a completely different story.

The importance of communication

I know, I know. You’ve probably heard the same thing ten thousand times: ‘communication is the most important thing for a healthy relationship’. But in the case of a relationship where one partner is avoidant, it really is true.

Let’s see how it can help in the anxious avoidant relationship.

Ask for what you need

As the anxious partner, it is your responsibility to practice continuously communicating your needs. It is unlikely that the avoidant man in your life will volunteer to do so, especially because this will just create more intimacy.

Practice asking for whatever you need in order to feel safe and loved. Anxious partners are naturally more empathetic and attuned to the needs and emotions of others. Avoidants on the other hand did not have the chance to practice empathy and sensitivity during their childhood. They were left to their own devices. They therefore became highly attuned to their own needs and able to self-soothe effectively. But their ability to predict and intuit the needs of others remained undeveloped.

Avoidance behavior in a relationship can therefore lead to you feeling ignored and uncared about.

If you are dating an avoidant, do not expect them to meet your needs automatically. You must speak up, and give clear instructions. If you want things to be crystal clear, write a relationship contract. Inside of it, you can include things such as ‘tell me that you love me at least once a day’, or ‘ kiss me on the forehead before you leave for work in the morning’.

Avoidant partners will usually want to meet your needs. They just need a little helping hand in order to understand how.

Boundaries

In addition to asking for what you need, you must establish healthy boundaries.

boundaries in scrabble letters

Boundaries come very easily to the often harsh and withdrawn avoidant. But much less easily to an anxious person, who typically resorts to people pleasing and ‘yes mode’ in order to gain the love and approval of others. This typically has the opposite effect. A people pleaser is generally disrespected and trampled over.

Stop overreaching and running around after people in order to try and ‘get’ love. Love does not need to be earned.

If you don’t even know where to start with this? Work out what it is that you want in life, the things you enjoy doing… ALONE… and do those things much more. This will solidify your sense of self. Someone with a stronger sense of self is more able to say ‘no’ to things.

Anxious partners typically grew up in homes where there was enmeshment. They unconsciously recreate this enmeshment within their romantic relationships. After a while, they don’t know where they end and their partner begins. Putting up boundaries and creating a solid sense of self will help. These things help to build resilience, self-identity and ultimately, a more secure attachment style. Someone who is solid in their sense of self is better able to handle a breakup, which is the anxious person’s greatest fear.

WATCH FREE TRAINING NOW

Boost your confidence, master your sexuality, and find your purpose.
So you can reignite the passion in your relationship or attract your perfect woman.

Observe his willingness to change

So, you’ve taken on board that it is YOUR responsibility to ask for what you need. Great. Next, observe how he responds. This is a major telltale sign of a promising (or not) relationship.

You will likely have more needs than him. This is ok. Again, don’t shame yourself. There are no rights and no wrongs. Only contrasting experiences of the world and of intimate relationships.

Observing his desire to amend behavior to meet the needs you have expressed is very telling. If a man is willing to show up for you and begin to change his behavior, even if in minuscule ways at first, then there is hope. Willingness to change is everything. And is a big indicator of his level of commitment towards you and towards the partnership.

Let’s look at a practical example. You are the anxious partner. Your primary love language is touch. Your partner is more avoidant. He was not given much affection as a child, so naturally, touch is not how he gives and receives gestures of love. In this case, you must ask him for more physical affection.

If he responds by increasing his gestures of affection towards you, this is a positive sign. Even if the progress is very slow. He has taken on board the feedback. He’s striving to meet your needs, however unnatural it may feel to him. Remember: avoidance behavior in relationships keeps the avoidant person feeling safe. They will probably have big fears attached to unlearning this behavior. Take it slow, and always be compassionate.

When it may be time to throw in the towel

Unwillingness to bend in accordance to your needs is not a promising sign for a long-lasting, healthy relationship. In this instance you should express the need a few more times. Then, if it is still being unmet, seriously evaluate whether you want to be with this person for the rest of your life, or not.

Sometimes we prolong our suffering simply because we have ‘invested time’ in a relationship, when really the best thing to do for both people is to leave.

Leaving any relationship is hard. Especially if you have been together for a long time. But hard things can still be right things. Just as easy things, like staying, can be wrong.

If you can’t decide whether it is best to stay or go, ask yourself this question:

“Do I want to live like I currently am in this relationship, unchanged, every day, for the rest of my life?”

If the answer is no, and you are with an avoidant partner who doesn’t care that their behavior constantly triggers and upsets you… You have to muster the strength to leave. Dismissive avoidant attachment treatment is DEEPLY troubling for an anxious individual. I advise you not to remain with a stubborn avoidant partner, for the sake of your life’s enjoyment.

When secure dates avoidant

You might be wondering how the secure attachment style deals with the dismissive avoidant attachment treatment. Truth is, the pendulum can swing either way.

In one direction, the secure individual will calm the avoidant person’s need to create space and flee. Their less reactive nature results in the avoidant partner feeling less triggered, and able to breathe. For the secure person, they don’t take the avoidant’s need for space personally. Their sense of self is much stronger. Hence they don’t suffer nearly as much as an anxious would when paired with the evasive avoidant.

In the other direction, the secure person can become anxious. They will adopt the personality and behaviors of an anxious individual. It is important to note that in a different relationship, with a partner who is NOT avoidant, they would remain secure. Generally, the more intensely avoidant someone is, the more likely their partner is to be pushed towards the anxious end of the spectrum.

There is one key difference between a secure-avoidant and an anxious-avoidant relationship… Typically, secures don’t tend to stay as long in situations that don’t fulfill their idea of a healthy relationship. It takes the anxious person far longer to leave, if they ever do so.

​The avoidant partner and sexual intimacy

Sex can be tricky for someone with an avoidant attachment style. Due to their intense intimacy issues, sexual intimacy can feel unsafe. If your avoidant man doesn’t want to sleep with you, try not to take it personally. It’s an incredibly painful problem and can make you feel unattractive and rejected. But it’s really themselves that they are rejecting, and not you.

If you are openly communicating about the issues in your sex life, you can try proven techniques like sensate focus therapy.

Couples sex therapy is also a great option. Being in the presence of a qualified, experienced practitioner can really help diffuse otherwise tense, uncomfortable conversations.

If the issues in your sex life are going unspoken, it is time to lay the cards on the table. Problems don’t get fixed if they lay swept underneath the carpet. Be brave. Speak up. Don’t remain silently unhappy.

When an avoidant appears to love everyone but you

One thing that you may find puzzling is the fact that your avoidant partner does not always act, well, avoidant. They can have amazing friendships and be there for their friends through thick and thin. They can even be very affectionate in their friendships. Sometimes the anxious woman will wonder, “why can’t he be like that with me?”

It all goes back to what feels safe. Friendships can never reach the level of intimacy that romantic relationships can. Their friendships don’t feel so imposing and they typically have more space to breathe. Friends don’t get upset when you don’t text them back for a few hours or a few days. Nor do they try to control them, or assert the same level of influence, judgement or criticism. Partners do. Especially anxious partners.

Avoidants feel immense pressure from their romantic relationships. Even when this pressure is somewhat or largely imagined. The closer you get to them, the more avoidant they can become.

Evaluate whether you really want to be with an avoidant

Of all the attachment styles, avoidants are the most convinced of the benefits of their attachment style.

Their avoidance behavior in relationships keeps them feeling safe. They have sold themselves on a story that attachment is unnecessary and everyone else has attachment issues but them. Because they believe their story so strongly, it can be difficult to get an avoidant individual to change. Generally, it will be others that need to change and morph around them.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t have the capacity to be self-reflective or grow. They absolutely can. However, it takes a lot more for them to want to. Choosing to be with an avoidant person is therefore something one should consider carefully. This is even more of a serious decision if you are anxious. Choosing whether an avoidant partner is really right for you is a key element of healing anxious attachment.

Even as a secure attachment individual, dating an avoidant can be challenging. You are generally sucked into someone’s reality of how an adult relationship should be, with your version being dismissed (pun intended). You can find yourself stuck in a deeply troubled relationship. Due to the stickiness of the anxious avoidant trap, it can be hard to get out. If you do decide it’s time to do the hard thing, surround yourself with friends, envision the life you want to live, and remember what I said above. Hard things to do can still be right things to do.

Avoidance behavior in relationships: when both partners say YES to change

Of course, this is not the case in every situation.

Many avoidants are well aware of their issues. They recognize the detrimental effect they have on their life, and the lives of those around them. They are able to reflect objectively upon the common thread connecting all of their failed or difficult relationships.

An introspective and self-aware avoidant man can crave intimacy and connection so deeply that he is willing to pick up the buck, and start to change.

If you are in a relationship with an avoidant man who desperately wants to change, there are many tools that can help him. Books such as ‘Wired for Love’ by Stain Tatkin are practical guides for couples who want to build a secure, harmonious relationship.

Happy multiracial couple warming up by red plaid

If you don’t think books are enough, I would suggest that your avoidant man checks out my free relationship training for men. I have helped countless couples move through avoidance behavior in relationships. They have restored that firey, passionate attraction that drew them together in the first place. After all, you have experienced the magic that happens when anxious first meets avoidant. The sense of completion and total, animal magnetism. You CAN get back to that. I promise. The training can help, and it’s completely free. Must be worth a shot, right?

FAQs

Do avoidant attachment men feel love?

Yes, avoidant attachment men do feel love. They feel it just as deeply as someone without an avoidant attachment style. But it manifests differently. Their love language tends to be different, which can lead their partners to feel like they are not loved.

What is avoidant attachment in relationships?

Avoidant attachment in relationships is characterized by a fear of intimacy. Love and connection don’t feel safe. The avoidant pushes their partner away and takes a great deal of space.

How do you overcome avoidant attachment in relationships?

If you are the partner of someone with this attachment style, you need to develop a stronger sense of self. If you are the avoidant person, you must work on your fear of intimacy

How do you deal with an avoidant partner?

Dealing with an avoidant partner first and foremost means dealing with yourself. You must build your sense of identity, become solid in your boundaries and learn to communicate your needs. This will reduce the amount of attachment anxiety you feel from an avoidant partner.

How is the avoidant attachment style formed?

An avoidant attachment style is formed when a child is emotionally and/or physically neglected by their care giver. The child learns from a very young age how to self-soothe. They also develop a fear of intimacy, due to inconsistency and inability to get their needs met by another human being. This results in a highly independent, withdrawn adult.

What does it look like to date an avoidant partner?

Dating an avoidant partner will look like a series of intimacy buildups, followed by strong withdrawals from the avoidant. An avoidant will continually come close and then back off. They may ask for more space than normal and put up strong boundaries.

What is it like to have an avoidant attachment style?

Having an avoidant attachment style is a way of keeping yourself safe. Although from the outside an avoidant may seem cool, calm, and collected, inside they feel even more anxiety and shame than an anxious partner. Being an avoidant is a lonely existence. Even if part of a romantic partnership.

What are some signs of avoidant attachment?

Signs of avoidant attachment include having firm boundaries, weakened empathy, fear of intimacy, and most importantly, withdrawing suddenly when a partner or lover has come ‘too close’. They may disappear for days at a time, asking for space for no apparent reason.

What can you do if your partner has a dismissive attachment style?

If your partner has dismissive attachment, you need to develop your sense of self. Then practice communicating with them. Ask for what you need and put up stronger boundaries. Evaluate their response to all of the above. If they demonstrate a willingness to change, there may be a chance for healing. But if not, it might be time to walk away and find a partner who is more secure.

Why do avoidant partners behave the way they do?

Avoidant partners are deeply wounded from their childhood experiences of neglect. They have a deep-seated belief that they are inadequate. They carry a heavy burden of shame and guilt. For this reason they are afraid of intimacy. If they are truly ‘seen’ by their partner, they will be rejected. Hence, they retreat.

What does it mean to be love avoidant?

Society has coined the term ‘love avoidant’ but this should really be ‘intimacy avoidant’. A true love avoidant would not experience loving feelings. Someone with an avoidant attachment style definitely feels love. But their response is one of fear and uncertainty. So they cannot embrace it.

Do avoidant attachment men feel love?

Yes. They absolutely feel love. Avoidant attachment men are deeply sensitive and feeling. Their response to this sensitivity is just different than someone who is anxious. This is due to radically different parenting styles they received as children.
Steffo Shambo

Steffo Shambo

Men's Relationship Coach

Steffo is the founder of The Tantric Man Experience, the #1 masculine mentorship program in the world. There he helps men in relationships reignite the passion to restore their marriages from the brink of divorce. And single men attract their dream women naturally with success. He's on a mission to guide men towards an intimate and meaningful relationship, and end the war with their sexuality, so they can finally become integrated men, fathers, brothers, husbands, and leaders in the world.

“It meant a paradigm shift in life.” – Patrik, Sweden
“Life-changing experience.” – Antonio, Italy

free training

Latest Posts

Comments

Share
Pin
Tweet