The Avoid-Avoid Dance: Overcoming Attachment Fears

A unique pattern emerges when partners grapple with emotional avoidance – a strategy characterized by sidestepping confronting feelings or conflicts directly. This avoidance, sometimes cloaked beneath a veneer of tranquility, can inadvertently create a gulf of distance between partners, both on a physical and emotional level.

Allow me to introduce Sarah and Steven, a heterosexual couple in their thirties. Sarah is a talented musician, while Steven is an analytical data scientist. The couple, now parents of a young child, embarked on a journey with Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to mend their fraying relationship.

Dancing in Shadows: Unraveling the Avoid-Avoid Pattern

The heart of emotionally distant relationships centers around an avoid-avoid pattern. This pervasive dance revolves around evading confrontation and steering clear of emotional vulnerability. Sarah and Steven found themselves entangled in this web of distance, unknowingly stuck to this pattern. Their unspoken joint endeavor to avoid emotional risks paradoxically led to a widening chasm, leaving both yearning for closeness yet hesitant to express their vulnerabilities.

As the therapy session commenced, an air of discomfort hung over the room, manifesting the couple’s avoidance-driven disconnection.

Therapist: Sarah, could you delve into your emotions when Steven chose not to accompany you to the event?

Sarah: (gazing at Steven) Honestly, I thought it wasn’t a big deal. We could manage separately.

Steven: I had some pressing work, so I assumed it made sense for you to go alone.

Therapist: Sarah, how does Steven’s explanation resonate with you?

Sarah: (forcing a smile) I get it, work commitments are important. It’s no big deal.

Therapist: Steven, what thoughts arise hearing Sarah’s response?

Steven: (uneasily) Well, it sounds like she’s okay with it, so everything is good.

Peeling Back the Layers of Avoidant Attachment

The crux of the avoid-avoid dance lies in the attachment strategies each partner has woven into their psyche. Attachment theory postulates that these strategies are sculpted in response to early-life experiences, molding how individuals approach and maintain relationships. In Sarah and Steven’s case, their avoidance is an instinctual attempt to protect both their partner and the relationship, albeit through distancing tactics.

Sarah’s Shield of Avoidance

Sarah’s attachment strategy draws roots from her emotional upbringing. Witnessing her parents’ persistent disconnect, she internalized a deep-seated dread of conflict. This childhood experience solidified her belief that discord could lead to irreversible emotional detachment.

As an adult, Sarah adopted emotional restraint as a defense mechanism to preserve harmony. Her intention was to create a haven, where her emotional suppression would shield her partner from discomfort. Her avoidance emerged as an unsung gesture to safeguard their relationship, even at the cost of her own emotional fulfillment.

Steven’s Dance of Distraction

Steven’s attachment adaptation is a reflection of his past experiences. His attachment strategy was woven by his upbringing, manifesting as a strategy for emotional evasion. Growing up, Steven’s family emphasized emotional suppression, crafting an environment where genuine feelings were quickly buried for the semblance of calm. This atmosphere conveyed the notion that revealing genuine emotions might disrupt equilibrium.

In his relationship with Sarah, Steven’s attachment strategy took form. Expressing emotions often resulted in Sarah’s withdrawal, reinforcing Steven’s fear that expressing himself emotionally could rupture their delicate connection. His instinctual response was to mask his emotions, prioritizing harmony over vulnerability to safeguard their bond. Over time, Steven began associating emotional openness with disconnection and rejection.

To preserve their fragile union, Steven sought solace in distraction. His immersion in his work and external pursuits provided a refuge from the pain the emotional distance caused. This preoccupation served a dual purpose – shielding Steven from discomfort and protecting Sarah from perceived hurt. Steven’s busyness was an understated way of contributing to their relationship, driven by the fear that emotional expressions might exacerbate their emotional divide.

Reframing Avoidance as Protection

Through the lens of attachment theory, Sarah’s and Steven’s actions emerge as unconscious strategies to shield their relationship. The avoid-avoid dance, though disconnecting, stems from a place of love. Their attachment strategies, though distancing, are their best efforts to shield their partner and the relationship from pain and disconnection

Understanding this insight reframes their avoidant behaviors. Sarah and Steven can now perceive these strategies as mechanisms of preservation rather than personal shortcomings. Empowered by this newfound perspective, they embark on a journey guided by Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, eager to dismantle their avoidance dance and cultivate authentic closeness.

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Embracing Vulnerability: Bridging the Divide

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy becomes a haven where Sarah and Steven can untangle their avoidance patterns and take the emotional leaps required to rediscover intimacy. The therapist’s guidance empowers them to recognize the counterproductive nature of their avoidance strategies and encourages them to embrace vulnerability in order to reignite their connection.

Therapist: Sarah, could you communicate your true emotions regarding Steven’s decision to attend the event alone?

Sarah: (pausing) Honestly, it stung, Steven. I had envisioned us being there together, and when you chose work over us, I sensed a growing gap between us.

Therapist: Steven, what feelings surface as you hear this?

Steven: (softly) I hadn’t grasped that it would affect you this way, Sarah. I thought prioritizing work was the right move, but I now see how it impacted you. That’s not the outcome I desire for us.

Steven: (sincerely) Sarah, I want you to understand that my intention was never to make you feel secondary to my work. I believed managing things on my own would shield us from potential stress. I recognize now that my approach has been pushing us apart.

Sarah: (softly) Steven, I recognize that you were striving to shield us, much like how I’ve been stuffing my feelings to prevent disconnection. I feel closer to you as we talk in this way. Thank you.

Therapist: (affirming) Sarah and Steven, your vulnerability underscores the depth of care and commitment you both share. Your instinct to protect the relationship is evident, despite how disconnecting it is. Acknowledging this avoid-avoid patterns that maintain disconnection and nurturing open dialogue forms the bedrock of rebuilding your connection, ensuring both of you feel the depth of love and care that is here.

Breaking the Cycle: Fortifying Bonds

Escaping the avoid-avoid dance requires confronting avoidance strategies head-on and taking emotional risks. Here are actionable steps to nurture connection:

  1. Acknowledge Patterns: Identify instances of avoidance creeping into interactions and recognize their impact. Explore internally why this feels like the best and safest move.
  2. Make the Cycle the Problem, Not Each Other: The problem is not the avoidant partner. The problem is our attachment strategies based on insecurity, influence us to behave in ways that reinforce the insecurity. Partnering up against disconnection by making it the problem. This alliance makes it easier to share fears and create emotional safety for vulnerability as each partner takes emotional risk.
  3. Share Fears Openly: Communicate attachment fears and past experiences contributing to avoidance.
  4. Active Listening: Attune to your partner’s words and emotions, demonstrating genuine interest.
  5. Validate Each Other: Acknowledge your partner’s emotions and experiences, regardless of alignment.
  6. Seek Professional Support: Embrace couples therapy to navigate these patterns together.
  7. Practice Patience: Transformation requires time; extend patience to yourselves and each other. When trying new strategies to connect, it’s easy to believe that success only occurs when our partner responds the way we want them to, but they are not always going to do that. Nor will we for them. The goal is to make space for trying new ways of being with each other emotionally and work together to tweak how we show up so it is healthy for all partners.
  8. Celebrate Progress: Each step towards vulnerability merits celebration, irrespective of size.

The path to dismantling the avoid-avoid dance isn’t without challenges, yet the reward of a profound, more intimate relationship justifies the effort. By embracing vulnerability, couples like Sarah and Steven rewrite their avoidance-driven dance into a duet of intimacy, rekindling the delight of genuine emotional connection.


For those seeking further guidance and support in reshaping these patterns, consider exploring the following resources:

Recommended Books: 

Workshops: 

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Can two avoidant attachment people be together? Yes, two people with avoidant attachment styles can be together. However, this pairing might present unique challenges due to the tendency of both individuals to shy away from emotional vulnerability. Their interactions may involve avoiding direct discussions about feelings or concerns, which could potentially lead to a lack of emotional intimacy in the relationship. It’s crucial for both partners to recognize their attachment patterns and actively work towards open communication and understanding. As discussed in the article above.
  2. What happens when two avoidant attachment styles meet? When two avoidant attachment styles meet, they may initially feel a sense of comfort due to their shared preference for personal space and independence. However, their avoidance of emotional expression and intimacy can lead to a superficial or distant connection. This can result in a relationship where both partners may feel misunderstood or neglected. Over time, if they don’t address their avoidant tendencies, it could lead to increased emotional distance and potential dissatisfaction.
  3. What are the two avoidant types in a relationship? In a relationship, the two avoidant attachment types are dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. Dismissive-avoidant individuals tend to minimize the importance of emotional connection and independence. They may avoid getting too close to their partner and prefer self-reliance. Fearful-avoidant individuals experience a push-pull dynamic, desiring intimacy but being fearful of it at the same time due to past experiences of inconsistency or rejection. Both types can struggle with forming and maintaining deep emotional bonds.
  4. What if I don’t know what I feel as an avoidant romantic partner? Navigating emotions can be challenging for avoidant individuals, and it’s not uncommon for them to feel disconnected from their feelings. If you find yourself unsure about what you’re feeling, it’s important to remember that emotional awareness is a skill that can be developed over time. Start by creating moments of self-reflection. Pay attention to physical sensations and bodily cues, as they can provide clues about your emotions. Engaging in journaling or talking to a trusted friend or therapist can also help you explore your emotions in a supportive environment. As you gradually tune into your emotions, you’ll begin to unravel the layers of your internal world and understand your feelings better, facilitating more meaningful communication with your partner. Remember, this process takes patience and practice, so be gentle with yourself as you embark on the journey of emotional self-discovery.
  5. What happens when two fearful avoidants get together? When two fearful avoidants (also known as disorganized attachment) come together, their relationship might be characterized by intense fluctuations between seeking closeness and pushing each other away. Both partners may experience inner conflicts between the desire for intimacy and the fear of vulnerability. This can lead to a rollercoaster of emotions and behaviors, with moments of intense connection followed by retreat and detachment. Slowing down and understanding these patterns in therapy can be very helpful to changing the dance of disconnection.
  6. What hurts a fearful avoidant? Fearful avoidants often struggle with conflicting desires for intimacy and autonomy. What hurts them is the internal struggle between their yearning for emotional connection and their fear of getting hurt or rejected. They may feel overwhelmed by emotions and may resort to distancing themselves to protect against potential emotional pain. Criticism or pressure to open up before they’re ready can also trigger feelings of insecurity and discomfort.

Remember that attachment styles are not fixed, and individuals can develop more secure attachment patterns through self-awareness, communication, and personal growth. If two avoidant individuals are committed to understanding their attachment styles and working on their relationship dynamics, they can create a healthier and more fulfilling partnership.

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