Loving at Arm’s Length?
Are you married or in a serious relationship with someone who seems emotionally distant and tries to push you away? Or, do you ever feel like you don’t want to get too close to your partner or spouse, even though you love and care about them? If so, you may have had a relationship with someone with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style.
Attachment theory is a framework in psychology that explains how partners form and keep relationships. We all need to connect with others and seek relationships to meet this need. Our attachment style is shaped by how we were cared for when we were young, impacting how we deal with relationships for the rest of our lives. Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and schema therapy (ST) use attachment theory as a central part of their model, which we practice at Loving at Your Best.
There are four main types of attachment: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Focusing on one style, often called “Loving at Arm’s Length,” how can an avoidant-dismissive attachment style affect marriages and love relationships?
What is an avoidant-dismissive style of attachment?
A partner or spouse with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style tends to avoid getting emotionally close to their partners. They value independence and autonomy more than anything else in relationship dynamics, and they may think that being “emotionally dependent” is a sign of weakness. Partners with an avoidant dismissive style may also be afraid of being completely taken over by their partner’s feelings, which can influence them to pull away even more.
Partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may have had caregivers who were consistently emotionally unavailable. To cope with this lack of connection, they learned to shut down emotionally and rely on themselves for support. This strategy for dealing may have helped them get through childhood, but it can make it hard for them to make and keep close relationships as adults.
How does an attachment style that is avoidant-dismissive affect marriages and love relationships?
Marriage calls for a lot of emotional closeness and approachability. When one or both partners have an avoidant-dismissive attachment style, it can be hard to get to this level of closeness and keep it. Let’s look at how this attachment style can affect marriages in more detail.
Distance from Feelings
Partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may struggle to express feelings and connect deeply with their mates. They might not talk about how they feel or turn down their partner’s attempts to do so. This can make their partner feel alone and unsupported.
At times, the emotionally distant partner may not know how their behavior affects their partner. They might think everything is fine as long as there are no fights, but their partner might feel ignored and unimportant.
Fear of Getting Close
Partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may fear getting close to others, which is apparent when they feel uncomfortable with physical touch, like hugs or holding hands. They might avoid sex or find it hard to be intimate with a partner.
This fear of intimacy can create a wall between the two partners and make it hard for them to connect emotionally. The avoidant-dismissive partner may feel like their partner is always trying to get too close, making them anxious or panicky.
Difficulty resolving conflicts
Every marriage or love relationship has conflicts, but partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may find it hard to solve them. They may see disagreements as threatening their freedom and independence, so when they happen, they may pull away or shut down.
This can be frustrating for their partner, who may feel like they are always trying to solve problems in the relationship. The avoidant-dismissive partner may feel like they are being attacked or criticized, which can make them pull away and avoid the relationship even more.
People with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may be indifferent to their partner’s feelings and not care about what they are going through. They might think their partner’s need for emotional connection is a weakness or a burden, making them not understand or care about them.
Their partner may not feel heard and seen as important in the relationship. They may feel like their feelings and needs are being ignored or downplayed regularly, making them angry and pushing them apart.
Trust is an important part of any marriage. Still, partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may find it hard to trust their partner’s intentions or motives, and they may often be on the lookout for signs of betrayal or abandonment.
Building trust and a strong foundation of closeness and connection may become elusive in the marriage or love relationship. The avoidant-dismissive partner may quickly pull away or shut down at the first sign of what they see as a threat, hurting and confusing their partner.
How can a marriage improve between two partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style?
Even though having an avoidant-dismissive attachment style can make marriage hard, it is not hopeless. There are many things that couples can do to make their relationship better and grow closer to each other.
Raise your emotional sensitivity
Partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style might struggle to recognize and talk about their feelings. One way to improve this is to be more aware of your emotions and learn to recognize and name them.
Couples can practice this skill by taking turns saying how they feel and validating each other’s feelings. This can help the partner who doesn’t like to show their feelings become more comfortable, and it can also strengthen the relationship between the two people.
Vulnerability is an important part of getting close and feeling connected in marriage. Couples can work on being vulnerable by telling each other their deepest fears, hopes, and dreams.
The avoidant-dismissive partner may need to work on overcoming their fear of intimacy and opening up to their partner. Couples can gradually build a stronger emotional connection by taking small steps toward vulnerability, like talking about how they feel about something.
Get better at talking to each other
For a marriage to work, couples must be able to talk to each other. Couples can improve their ability to talk by practicing empathic listening, emotionally summarizing the core of their partner’s message, and staying away from criticism and blame.
The partner who is avoidant and dismissive may need to work on being more open to their partner’s needs and worries. By empathically listening to their partner and validating their feelings, the avoidant-dismissive partner can make the relationship more loving and supportive.
Advice for partners of people with an avoidant-dismissive style of attachment
If your spouse has an avoidant-dismissive attachment style, it can be hard to deal with the emotional distance and lack of connection in your marriage or love relationship. But there are some things you can do to make your marriage better and get closer emotionally to your partner.
Be Patient and Understanding
It can be frustrating and hurtful if your partner always pulls away or ignores your feelings and needs. But remember that your partner’s attachment style is probably deeply ingrained and hard to change.
Being patient and understanding can help make the relationship a more loving and supportive place. Instead of getting angry or bitter, try understanding your partner’s problems and working with them to build a stronger emotional bond.
Encourage Emotional Expression
Partners with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may have trouble expressing their emotions and find it hard to recognize and name their feelings. When you validate your partner’s emotions and encourage them to talk about how they feel, you can make your relationship closer and more intimate.
You can start by telling your partner how you feel and being honest and open with them. This can make it safe and easy for your partner to do the same thing.
Give your partner the space they need
Even though it’s crucial to work on getting closer emotionally, you should also respect your partner’s need for space and independence. Pushing too hard or trying to force an emotional connection can backfire and make the relationship worse.
Instead, balance showing your partner you care and giving them the necessary space. You can do this by talking to your partner openly and honestly and setting limits that work for both of you.
Take care of yourself to fight loneliness
It can be challenging and tiring to deal with emotional distance and a lack of connection in a marriage. Taking care of yourself and putting your emotional and mental health first is essential.
Practice self-care through exercise, meditation, therapy, or spending time with friends and family. Taking care of your emotional health can build a stronger base for a closer, more connected relationship with your partner.
Get help from a professional licensed therapist
Sometimes, a couple with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style may need help from a professional to deal with the problems that come with it. Couples can work through their problems and build a stronger emotional connection through marriage counseling or couples therapy at Loving at Your Best Marriage and Couples Counseling.
We can help the avoidant-dismissive partner figure out and deal with the root causes of their attachment style and teach them skills to improve emotional connection and intimacy in your marriage or love relationship. With commitment and work, couples with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style can work through the problems that come with it and build a stronger, more intimate connection.