13 thoughts on “16 Signs of an Avoidant or Unavailable Partner

  • July 6, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Guilty of this from what I now was childhood emotional neglect (CEN) by well-meaning parents. I read the book Running on Empty by Dr. Jonice Webb and recognized myself and my childhood. For me, relationship avoidance is a result of that and my husband is a casualty of it. CEN is at the root of many adult mood disorders and relationship problems. Correcting it is another problem. After living this way for so long, it becomes hard-wired and makes change very difficult. I struggle daily with this.

    Reply
    • July 6, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Hi Dove,
      Thank you for sharing your situation with the community. You seem to have self-awareness and a commitment to get healthier, and those are both huge strengths and advantages. Jonice Webb’s work is helpful and freeing as well.
      Best wishes,
      Dan

      Reply
  • July 7, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    One topic that rarely gets discussed in articles about attachment styles is how the same dynamics of insecure attachment can play out in non-romantic relationships such as between family members or friends.

    With the exception of items 1, 2, and 9, I experienced all of the issues mentioned with my older sister. We were together too much because we lived out in the country with only a couple other children within walking distance to play with. Mom and dad were also wrapped up in their own problems and delegate parts of parenting me to my sister.

    Reading the Heller and Levine book “Attached”, was a light-bulb moment for me. I never knew this was a pattern of behavior or that there was a name for it. I just wish there was more talk about how these dynamics can exist in any close relationship. People with an avoidant style who have power over another can cause a lot of harm. My sister’s attachment style and the power she had over me due to being older and left in charge have had lifelong negative effects on me. I so wish I had had a name for what was going on and could have known that nothing I did caused her to criticize and reject me. Thanks for reading this.

    Reply
    • July 8, 2018 at 12:05 am

      Hi Jane,
      Very good points. Avoidant and anxious attachment styles can be present in non-romantic relationships as well. Thank you for your comment.
      Dan

      Reply
  • November 29, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you for your article, Dr Neuharth. My partner is a dismissive avoidant. I’m left feeling quite down and defeated, as I am being left out in the cold at all times.
    I hold on to hope however, that my partner will eventually trust me and feel secure.
    Can a dismissive avoidant actually fall in love? I want to believe he could love me through his demeaning ways. What are those signs?

    Reply
    • December 1, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      Dear Janet,

      People with an avoidant or dismissive style can fall in love. However, they may express their love in ways that fall short of what their partners want and need.

      You wrote that your partner has demeaning ways. Love doesn’t demean people, so you may want to consider whether you want to accept demeaning behavior.

      Thank you for sharing your question and concerns.

      Dan

      Reply
  • March 2, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I am currently in a relationship with an avoidant. I never knew the name for it. Although drawn to each other, he has broken off the relationship 4 times, each time returning to say that he has figured things out and is now ready for commitment. We are now living together and I see him pulling and pushing and cycling through his avoidance behavior, something he doesn’t recognize easily. The feelings of hurt and abandonment are becoming a big wedge in my ability to ever trust him. We are both divorced, and he just can’t seem to get past the pain he suffered. I am having real thoughts about moving on for good. Life is too short to continue these painful cycles. He really needs help from a professional to better understand himself, and we could benefit from couples therapy . The last time we tried this briefly most of the time had to be spent on him because he was too out of touch. Very frustrating and lonely feeling!

    Reply
    • March 2, 2019 at 2:51 pm

      Well said. You capture the dilemmas of being with an avoidant partner quite poignantly. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the community. Dan

      Reply
  • April 4, 2019 at 11:37 am

    It took me a while to realise my partner is avoidant because he’s actually quite emotionally ‘needy’. He feels easily rejected, gets jealous if others look at me, gets frustrated if he doesn’t have my full focus when we’re together (which is kind of fair enough because I do get distracted sometimes), and experiences intense emotions – especially shame – if he feels he has upset me or got something ‘wrong’. He’s also hypervigilant to my feelings. At first, I pegged him as anxiously attached as a result of all of this, and didn’t mind it since I thought I could probably deal with too much closeness better than not enough. But over time, it felt like there was something missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Eventually, I realised that the relationship had become gradually one-sided and that I felt I had no support. He is not cold, actually, nor ungiving. In fact, he seems very kind and outside of our union shows great empathy. This is what first attracted to him, in fact, – that he was so considerate. But the relationship never got deeper than it was in the initial few months. I felt secure in the relationship at first and suggested we book a trip away together, for instance, and he agreed and put it in his diary but didn’t smile or seem excited or enthused about the idea. It was odd and made me feel uncomfortable but I didn’t know what to say. I later asked him if he was excited about going away together and he said “that’s ages away”. He finally told me he was looking forward to it the day before we left, but once we were there he was severely anxious all the time and it was difficult to have any fun at all.

    The other thing I initially liked about him was that communication was so easy. We actually share a few traits in that I have alexithymia (but I have received years of treatment) and still struggle sometimes to notice that I am experiencing an emotion and put a word on that emotion. I also tend to mix up emotional and physical distress, so sometimes I think I have a cold but actually I’m sad, for instance. I’m much better at labelling and managing my emotions nowadays but I’m still awful at expressing them non-verbally (apart from positive emotions), which is true of him too (although he has difficulty with positive emotions as well, I’ve noticed). For this reason, our ‘arguments’ have actually been rather mild-mannered conversations, but internally we both experience extreme stress during any conflict so that’s very difficult to manage. I guess the good thing is that we both do have empathy and we both do feel committed; whether that’s enough I’m not sure. We will have a discussion about what we can do to repair the rift between us and if it does not go well then I’m afraid as much as I love him and care about him, I will just have to move on.

    Anyway, I guess I wanted to say that it is not always someone who comes off as cold or who appears to have no needs. My boyfriend does not come off that way at all, but he has obvious (to me) fears of being close.

    Reply
    • April 4, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      Dear Anon,

      Thank you so much for your comment. You describe quite clearly the way an avoidant style can manifest in some partners, with a seeming need for closeness and reassurance, but an inability or reluctance to develop a deeper attachment. One hallmark of avoidant partners is the emotional connection from their end plateaus after a few weeks or months into a relationship and then never simply never goes any deeper, and you describe that well.

      In truth, we all need closeness. Even avoidantly attached people want closeness on some level, but their fear of feeling trapped is often stronger than their desire for closeness, so they cannot tolerate too much closeness. It is also true that in some instances people have what attachment-based psychotherapists call a “fearful-avoidant” style, in which they repeatedly cycle between an anxious style and an avoidant style.

      In any case, you are to be congratulated for your personal growth, not only in learning how to better identify and communicate your emotions given your alexithymia, but also in your plan to speak about your needs with your boyfriend in hopes of improvement and, if he cannot meet you there, assessing whether it would be best for you to move on.

      Thank you for sharing your post.

      Dan
      Dan Neuharth, PhD MFT

      Reply
  • August 29, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    My ex broke up with me for the third time three months ago. The “come close go away” pattern was present from the very beginning. When we first met she was married so we couldn’t have a relationship even though there were strong romantic feelings. A year later she contacted me, said she was “soon to be divorced” but I replied that my therapist and I agreed soon to be isn’t divorced. 9 months later she came into my work, told me she was now divorced. I said maybe when things settle down we could get coffee. She called the next day and invited me for a drink. She showed up dressed to kill, brought me a dozen roses, put her hand on mine as we talked, kissed me and played with my hair. She texted later that night saying she had a lovely evening. The next day I texted her and said I had been thinking about her a lot. She texted back and said can we talk tonight? When we did she said when I texted her it freaked her out and said she wasn’t ready for more than friends. We didn’t have contact for a while, she then said “I love you too.” For two years whenever I got too close she withdrew. She broke up first, wanted to try again two weeks later. Broke up the second time for two months (she online dated but nothing serious) and wanted to try again. She promised to be open and honest if she was feeling doubts but wasn’t and broke up again in May. I haven’t heard a word from her since. She broke up by text, saying she hoped I found someone who loved me liked I deserved to be loved.
    She wasn’t very affectionate, although liked holding hands. We were engaged for a while but she broke it off. She was secretive writing in her journal instead of talking with me. During all three breakups she was cool and detached, like Jekyll and Hyde someone I didn’t know at all.
    I am an anxious attachment style person so there has been too much hurt and lack of understanding or empathy on her part-as if she doesn’t care.
    And she has a toxic relationship with her mom. Who is very hyper critical and controlling.
    I don’t know if she ever really loved me.

    Reply
    • October 7, 2019 at 11:43 pm

      I’m sorry. I had similar experiences with a woman. It’s quite disorienting. But please allow yourself to be disappointed rather than confused. You see basically what’s going on there. Yours is a pretty obvious case.

      Reply
  • September 21, 2019 at 10:03 am

    This was really eye opening. Having painful times with my girlfriend and sorry to say she ticks nearly all the boxes. :/

    Reply
 

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