In a previous blog post, I talked about strategies for soothing partners with an anxious attachment adaptation. As we talked about before, understanding our personal attachment styles as well as our partner’s can help us deescalate tricky relationship dynamics before they become blow-out arguments. In this post, we’ll be talking about soothing strategies for folks with an avoidant attachment adaptation.
Personally, I think avoidant folks get a bad rap. I also understand why avoidant tendencies can be really triggering for people who are on the anxious side. The avoidant adaptation is characterized by retreat—pulling back from triggering situations, shutting down emotions in an effort to stay safe and avoid vulnerability, and pruning back their apparent need for connection. This does not mean that people who have avoidant characteristics are anti-social or are unable to love someone. Folks with this adaptation use these skills for a reason. We know that often times when they were younger, people with avoidant tendencies were not given consistent, positive relationship cues. They may have had a primary caregiver who was emotionally shut-down, they might have experienced neglect, or learned their environment was generally an unsafe place for them to express themselves and their needs.
For the avoidant attachment style, we know these things:
- when loved ones approach an argument with intensity, avoidant people become overwhelmed and quickly revert to old retreating patterns.
- avoidant folks rely on keeping calm and measured (only externally) in order to stay safe—so they appear flat and unbothered by the situation, but it’s not true. This skill has been developed to help them feel more in control of an out-of-control, unpredictable situation.
- when the relationship feels insecure, the avoidant partner may anticipate rejection and attempt to exit the relationship in order to avoid further emotional pain. There may be a focus on the negative aspects of the relationship or the things that aren't working, indicating fear of the relationship not working out.
- there is a need for spaciousness and independence in order to calm the nervous system.
Soothing the avoidant attachment adaptation will likely look different than soothing the anxious one. Where anxious folks may need closeness, avoidant folks may need a bit of space before they are able to fully engage. I encourage couples to take very short breaks from each other as they are learning to manage their attachment adaptations. This may look like saying “I recognize things are escalating right now. How about we take 10 minutes apart and then come back together to discuss this?” It is critical to set a time and stick to it; leaving things open-ended without a set reunion time can cause more distress and insecurity in the relationship.
Here are some examples of scripts to support folks with an avoidant attachment adaptation before an argument starts to escalate:
- I can tell you are feeling the need to have some space right now. I want to be sure you have that, and I want you to know I’m here when you are ready to talk with me.
- Would you feel comfortable taking a break for a few minutes? I recognize you need some time and it's important to me that you get that.
- I know it can be really scary to consider depending on me right now. I totally get that. I want you to know your needs are important and I am here for you when you are ready.
- There are so many good things happening in our relationship. Can we talk about those together after we've had a few minutes to calm down?
If you are someone with an anxious attachment style, allowing space for your partner who tends to be avoidant is not easy. This can be very difficult because the internal alarms are sounding that your partner may walk away, leave, or abandon you. I want to honor that and also note the importance of developing self-soothing skills in order to allow space for avoidant person. The more consistently we respond in an appropriate way to our partner’s attachment needs, the closer we grow and the less activated we are when we do find ourselves in a disagreement or challenging dynamic. In the future, we will explore how to navigate interactions between avoidant and anxious attachment styles and identify strategies to support those relationships.
What strategies have you found effective for self-soothing or soothing your partner during or after an argument? I'd love to hear them in the comments!
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