26 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
  • December 1, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    I am in a so called relationship with an avoidanr attachment type person. He is reliable about dating often and drives quite a distance to see me regularly. He has just recently become aware of his problem and the cause, but he is working hard to understand it and change, but it is a very slow process. This is the most frustrating relationship I have ever been in. It takes so much patience and understanding from me, and at times I feel that all choices involved are his only. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I do care and wish the best for him. I am trying to learn as much as I can about this attachment disorder and appreciate very much running across this article. Is there hope?

    Reply
  • December 2, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    I’ve been in a relationship with a person with avoidant tendencies for six years. It still helps to read these articles. Our relationship is stable, but not as deep as I would like, and I often feel like I’m really on my own. I no longer ask for changes, since although he has expressed desires to become closer in the past (only after I brought up my sadness or disappoinent) the changes we talked about never happened. I wish I would have understood better years ago that the depth and closeness I hoped for would never happen in this relationship. I don’t mean to sound cruel, but there is something missing in some people, and they have no way to see that. If you are thinking about taking a chance on someone who might be avoidant, please evaluate your willingness to let go of a lot of “normal” relationship advantages, and your willingness to accept that what little there is. If codependency is extreme unhealthy bonding, this is the opposite–extreme unhealthy distancing. It doesn’t mean there is nothing to love in avoidant people. They can have great characteristics. But relationally, they seem not to be willing to risk any vulnerability, or even to know what that is. They have to hold all the cards, can’t risk any form of rejection, and don’t do well in terms of expressing themselves. Caveat emptor.

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    • January 20, 2020 at 11:33 pm

      Very well said. I am in what appears to be a similar “relationship” and agree with every word. As difficult as it is to go through this, I’m coming to understand I’m not the only one.

      Reply
    • May 1, 2020 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Mia. I have been married to an avoidant for 6 years after having met online. Only learned today that this is a “thing” not at the psychotic level. I am determined to stay with him; he is gentle and sweet, when he is ready to be there, and he has a great sense of humor, when life is simply happy.
      The more I suffer over my suffering, the more suffering I generate.
      I’ll depend on other support systems going forward and love him for who he is.

      Reply
  • January 2, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Thank you, this is so helpful, though, after the fact. I just found this article after the end of a 5-year relationship with a dismissive avoider. He broke it off twice and came back both times, apologizing to me. (He had some family issues going on the first time and I understood that and told him that I would be here for him). I tried to be understanding, but, at the same time, I realized that I ignored my needs. I really did love him and still do. I just wish he felt like it was worth working on. There was so much good in our relationship and I wanted to work on things and move forward, but he didn’t and wasn’t willing to work on anything with me or with himself.

    I don’t understand how to be in a relationship with an avoider because it seems as if avoiders can’t ever really be in a relationship. It seems that they’re only good at superficial, or, surface-level relationships where there are no expectations and they don’t have to be vulnerable. I wonder if there are any success stories out there…though, from reading comments on this article and others, I don’t think that number is very high.

    Reply
  • January 5, 2020 at 9:48 pm

    An acquaintance once told me he has an anxiety disorder, he does not want insight to his own emotional life, he does not value emotional maturity, he does not value closeness, he is ok without all that stuff and he certainly won’t consider changing.

    Wow. Mind boggling. At least he saved me the effort of trying to be friends.

    We are now strangers and I’m ok with that.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    Hi I am currently in a long distance relationship for 9 months and discovered his attachment style, he is a 100percent the Avoidant . I am so relieved that the issue is not me, it makes me so sad and I wish I can help him, everything was so wonderful the first 2 months, though at that time I only met him 2x and we texted and spoke on the phone constantly, told me after 1 month that he loved me, met his sister and his daughters then he flew me out for a 10 day visit. At that time I noticed how distant he was with me, wouldn’t sit beside me on the couch, no hugs, no holding hands and the Physical intimacy Was not like it should be when it’s new, I noticed that he covered himself under the blankets so his body would not touch mine, and he barely kissed me, I would say he doesn’t know how to kiss. I asked him what happened which I realize now was my number 1 big mistake, I said you are so different texting and on the phone as you are in real life. That shut him right down, can not discuss anything intimate , can’t question the relationship. When I did question it he said why can’t we just leave things as they are? Why do I have to put pressure on all the time. I know that I have to leave and end the relationship but I just don’t know how, and I need to tell him about his problem but not sure how to. I love him dearly but I just don’t want to live like this, he was married and divorced 25 years ago and had one other relationship that was for 3 years and they never lived together.
    it probably was another long distance relationship where he can keep us at a distance and when he wants us he can see us. Another thing he is into pornography which I guess is common in the Avoidant , he also had a picture of his ex-wife and himself in happier times on his dresser which has never been displayed before.
    Our relationship consists of morning and night texting and I will not initiate anything, I leave it up to him, the odd time will ask how my day was and calls me once a week and the most we talk is 15 minutes and it’s always when he is on the run, keeps himself busy with work, now I see why. I can’t go on like this anymore, life is just to short we are both 62 years old.

    Reply
    • January 19, 2020 at 9:49 pm

      Hi Maria,
      Thank you for sharing with the community about your difficult situation. It is heartbreaking to love someone and want to feel a deeper connection and be continually rebuffed. You are right, life is short. At age 62, you still likely have decades ahead to create a fulfilling relationship. I hope you find the right person.
      Dan
      Dan Neuharth PhD MFT

      Reply
  • February 6, 2020 at 9:21 pm

    Wow. I’m so glad I came across this. I’ve been going through an extremely difficult breakup and trying to make sense of what happened. I can’t thank you enough for this article as it has really helped me.

    I was with someone who I had a friendship with for several years before getting together. We had a beautiful, mutually supportive friendship and a strong connection on an intellectual, emotional and physical level. But then a few months into our relationship he withdrew. Refused to respond to messages or answer calls. Cancelled plans last minute. Became secretive. Withdrew from friends. He always blamed it on work or parenting (50/50 custody) and made me feel like I was being unreasonable for wanting to spend time together or expecting a response to my messages. Every time I was about to walk away he would pull it together just enough that I’d stay. He’d say it was all him and I was better off without him and he felt so guilty for treating me so poorly.

    I knew he had emotional issues and trauma and I tried to stand by him because of the strength of our friendship. But whenever I needed that support back he was nowhere to seen, despite in the past being unbelievably supportive and encouraging through any challenge I faced. I’ve spent a long time working on being more assertive and expressing my needs so it was rather disappointing that despite me being really open about what I needed and expected from a partner he frequently failed to deliver.

    After months of this pattern he eventually ended things in the most avoidant way possible – a short ambiguous text message. He wouldn’t answer my calls or texts in response. Just silence.

    My grief over the end of this relationship (and friendship) has been so consuming. The lack of answers being the hardest part. But finding this really helped. Read the list made me feel like it was a checklist for what I experienced during and after our relationship. It was really validating, even if it was heartbreaking because it put into words some of the things I felt but didn’t want to admit.

    The part I’m still trying to understand is that he had been undergoing therapy during all this but actually seemed to progressively get worse over time. I felt like he slowly became more selfish, inconsiderate and unwilling to take responsibility for his actions. Is this something that can happen with avoidant styles when they are confronted with their issues?

    Reply
    • February 7, 2020 at 11:21 am

      Your intuition seems really well informed by your experience with this individual. That is not a loving relationship. When mine acted that way and declared she wanted to stay friends I told her I couldn’t for now, too painful. No contact since. These types want cake and eat it too. Unilateral decision making.

      Like you, I spent a great deal of time trying to understand. Why isn’t therapy working, why is she so guarded, so on and so forth. It seemed impossible for her to have non-trivial conversation without shutting down or getting nasty.

      Reply
    • February 10, 2020 at 9:35 am

      I’m truly sorry for what happened. I can empathize as I was in a 5yr relationship with my partner (who is a classic dismissive avoider) when he broker up with me in a phone call. I still have unanswered questions about my him too (he is also seeing a therapist), but, sadly, I’ve realized that I will never have answers. It’s a really difficult thing to accept and let go of, I struggle with it almost daily. This article helped me so much too–I checked off many boxes. And, reading other peoples’ experiences here in the comments gave me some comfort (? wrong word) and at the same time makes me really sad that there are so many damaged and traumatized people out there who involve unsuspecting people, like us.

      Reply
  • March 15, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    Hello,

    I am 5 months into a ‘friendship’, which began as an intimate ‘relationship’ (loosely worded) with a woman (46 y/o) that I believe is avoidant at the least, likely more going on. Her background is at 24 y/o had a child from a fling, short term relationship. Two years later entered into a marriage with a man 21 years her senior. Had two children with him. Claimed he was an alcoholic, molested daughter at age 6, I believe. Lasted 10 years; then immediately entered new relationship (online partner already procured prior to divorce). That lasted another 10 years, and (according to her) was bad from the beginning, although they were engaged. At end of that, she moved to the State I live in (she lived here previously). I met her online literally 2 to 3 WEEKS after she arrived in my State from across country with her 14 and 16 year olds. (She had profiles on multiple dating platforms)

    We did kind of hit it off, she barraging me with lovey dovey TEXTS, the usual hearts, emojis, etc. No real terms of endearment, though. Went on first date, was nice, but she was notably emotionless, almost introverted and silent. Had her over my house following week. She arrived in morning, left at midnight leaving kids home in new place, alone, in new school, no friends, etc. Had sex that night (she completely detached, emotionless) Saw her for following 2 weekends, both days, from morning to midnight, kids alone, same listless sex. (did not seem to concern her in the least that kids were alone again, after JUST moving here)

    We had a few MINOR ‘misunderstandings’ (my concern, primarily) when I was receiving no positives at all from her (No “I like you”, etc., nothing to indicate was even enjoying time together) Thought was just not into me. And she never said she even liked me. We ‘broke up’ (just a day or less no contact, by mistake, really). She interpreted each as a real ‘breakup’, followed by texts from her, each time, stating “it was nice knowing you, I’ll be bummed”, etc. Claimed I was abandoning her, and such. NEVER my intention.

    In late November entered a brutal ‘friend zone’, per her action, with the reason that I was not “secure”, since I had ‘bailed’ on her in the above mentioned way, just after meeting kids and family!. Refused my Xmas gifts, blew me off, basically ruined my entire Holidays with no apology at all for anything. Sent long text in January stating that I could do so much better, that I was the most unique, kindest person ever, that BS. Would not take my calls.

    In any event, she never went away, disappearing, then a week later a “Hey, how’s it going” text. Saw her on Valentine’s Day, ironically (not associated with the Holiday, just coincidence). Had a decent few hours, I said it was a great day, and no response from her. Hiked with her in early March. Went over to her place, got REINTRODUCED to kids, the very next day, her BIRTHDAY. Had nice day, she cuddled, and we talked, but out of blue said she had a Tinder ‘date’, just out of curiosity, where she met a guy in a supermarket parking lot, but “nothing happened”. She did state she took a $50 dollar gift card from him from the brewpub we went to on first date! (cant make this up) Whatever… She called me up following weekend, stating very sick. I came over bought her supplies, took care of her. No thank you (never a thank you, ever). Said “I really appreciate it”. In any event, we do talk (always text in past). She seems to be getting better, but is always distant, overall. Found that being a bit ‘bossy’ gets her to call very quickly. So, sorry for a winded ‘report’ As it stands, we are still talking, and will likely hang out. But no emotions at all, except for negative, and pity seeking/complaining. Mentions our ‘intimate’ past lately, and backs when I acknowledge her mention of it. Maddening. Thank you!

    Reply
  • April 16, 2020 at 9:13 am

    I mistook a friend as aloof.
    If I had the insight that I have now I could have understood her fears and discussed them with her and I could have correctly determined whether we could work it out. 😕

    Reply
 

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