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Avoidant Attachment: 13 Causes, Signs & How It Affects Relationships

  • Avoidant attachment develops when infants consistently have unmet needs, leading them to distrust their caregiver’s support.
  • Avoidant people maintain distance in relationships, even with spouses, believing in their self-reliance.
  • Accepting and committing to change is crucial in addressing avoidant attachment issues.

Often, people who have spouses with avoidant attachment styles feel as though they are the only ones invested in the relationship.

While they love their partners, they can’t help but feel that their relationship is one-sided. They are the only ones putting in any effort. 

To better understand avoidant attachment style, let’s take a closer look at the attachment theory.

woman looking at man who is looking at his cellphone

Attachment Theory

The attachment theory explains how emotional attachment between infants and their primary caregivers affects the child’s development, behavior, and relationships.

This theory was initially proposed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby and has been expanded upon by other theorists since then. It suggests that infants have an inborn need to be with their caregivers to survive. 

The type of attachment behavior exhibited by babies during distress depends on the quality of their care, and this pattern of behavior is referred to as attachment style. 

When a child receives consistent warm and responsive care, they are more likely to develop a secure attachment. The child feels safe and secure and can rely on their primary caregiver for support. 

A child’s internal working model, which represents the self and others, is formed from this relationship. It influences how they view themselves and others, affects their behavior, and shapes their development.

man and woman sit on opposite side of bed back facing each other avoidant attachment signs

Attachment styles

Early emotional experiences shape children’s beliefs about the trustworthiness and responsiveness of others.

If they are cared for consistently and responsively, they develop the expectation of being supported when needed.​1​

If, however, the caregivers do not respond consistently to the children’s needs, they will not expect support when needed and develop insecure attachment styles.

There are four types of attachment styles in children. Only one of them is a secure attachment type, while the rest are insecure.

Scientists have found that attachment theory can also be applied to adults.

As with child attachment, adult attachment styles play a significant role in interpersonal functioning, emotion regulation, and well-being. Adult attachment styles affect how people feel, think, and behave in intimate relationships.

The four main attachment styles in adults are:

man tries to get woman attention from behind avoidant attachment style signs

What is the avoidant attachment style

Avoidant attachment style is an insecure attachment style. Avoidantly attached people generally have a dismissive attitude towards close relationships*. They are often uncomfortable with intimacy and may seem emotionally distant. They may also have difficulty trusting others and may be hesitant to get too close. People with this attachment style tend to be independent and self-sufficient. They are often uncomfortable depending on others and have a hard time showing vulnerability.

*There is more than one type of avoidant attachment. Here we discuss the more common type: dismissive-avoidant attachment.

What causes avoidant attachment

When a child’s emotional needs are consistently unmet, mistrust develops, and they learn to avoid relying on others. As a result, the child develops distrust in others’ intentions and compulsive self-reliance.​2​

Insecure avoidant attachment in young children is an adaptive response to the lack of care from the attachment figure. A mother’s depression or a father’s absence might contribute to this.

In adulthood, an avoidantly attached person may perceive the social world around them as threatening or unhelpful. So, they do not rely on support from others to cope with life’s challenges. Their avoidant behavior is a defense mechanism.

Adult attachment is strongly influenced by one’s interpersonal relationships. But it is primarily associated with the following four factors.

Childhood attachment

A child’s attachment is influenced by parental care, sensitivity, and other environmental factors, such as parental criticism, hostility, avoidance, coercive discipline, maternal depression, the father’s absence, etc.

Social competence development

Early childhood experiences with primary caretakers can directly affect one’s attachment, but it can also indirectly influence it through the development of worse social competence and lower-quality friendships.

Adult relationships​3​

As important as early caregiving experiences are, other relationships throughout life are also important.​6​

Throughout life, adult relationships with parents, close friends, and romantic partners can strongly influence their attachment system.​7​

Temperament​4​ or specific genetic polymorphisms​5​

Some studies have also found a connection between difficult childhood temperament and avoidant attachment in adult life.

couple sit back to back avoidant attachment psychology definition

Signs of avoidant attachment

Here are the avoidant attachment signs in adults.​8–10​

  1. keep distance from others 
  2. push others away when they get close or show a desire for closeness
  3. lack of emotional closeness in relationships
  4. fears of intimacy
  5. difficulty trusting others and opening up
  6. unlikely to seek help in stressful situations
  7. trouble expressing their emotions
  8. seem distant or unloving
  9. self-reliance bordering on isolation
  10. confident in their ability to deal with problems themselves
  11. dismiss threatening events or needs for emotional support
  12. minimize the impact of positive emotions in social interactions
  13. suppress outward displays of emotions

Also See: What Is Anxious-Avoidant Attachment

couple hold hands over dinner avoidant insecure attachment

How to heal avoidant attachment in yourself


Healing begins with admitting and accepting your avoidant attachment style traits.

While this may sound obvious, it is challenging for an avoidant person to admit to their vulnerabilities because they have been denying the effects of their past all these years.

It is imperative to take this first step. Acknowledge your attachment style’s influence on your relationship if you want to improve it.


To change it, you must be committed to doing so. No one can change you. Only you can.

When things get tough, stick to your commitment and don’t give up.


Avoidant attachment affects one’s ability to form close and healthy relationships. 

It takes relationships to heal relationships, which is why therapy can be helpful. Psychotherapy provides the space and opportunity to form safe relationships with someone trustworthy.

Even if you wish to work on your own, getting professional help is still the best way to address attachment issues.

If the cost is prohibitive, search for Free Therapy in your local community or government organizations.

Couple therapy

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a highly documented method of repairing romantic relationships. EFT is based on an attachment perspective of adult intimacy. It is effective when used in couple therapy.​11​

couple avoids each other sits on couch could suffer from avoidant attachment disorder

How to cope with an avoidant attachment relationship

It can be frustrating if your partner has an avoidant attachment style. Partners with avoidant attachment styles in relationships may deny having a problem or refuse to seek treatment.

It’s not personal

Although it feels personal, avoidant individuals keep their distance or push others away due to their childhood experience, and it is not a personal reaction to you.

Encourage therapy

Encourage your partner to seek therapy and commit to the hard work. A person can’t change unless they are willing to do so. Counseling can help them explore ways to create healthier relationships and rebuild a secure emotional connection with others.


Don’t forget about your own needs. It takes two to make a serious relationship. It’s not all your responsibility. For this to work, your partner must also be prepared to participate and contribute.

The two-dimensional model

Some studies examine adult avoidant attachment as a multifaceted form of attachment where individuals exhibit avoidance behavior, but the underlying reasons for this behavior can vary.

A two-dimensional model is used to understand the distinctions in the underlying sentiments.

One dimension of this model is attachment avoidance. It indicates how much people base their attachment-related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors on the goal of protecting themselves.

People high on attachment avoidance are uncomfortable relying on others or allowing others to rely on them. Those who are low on this dimension are comfortable using others as a safe haven and a secure base

The other dimension, attachment anxiety, represents how much individuals are concerned about rejection and abandonment. Researchers have found two types of avoidant attachment differ in attachment anxiety.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment style is low in anxiety, and fearful-avoidant attachment style is high in anxiety.

Dismissive avoidants disregard the importance of relationships, whereas fearful avoidants avoid closeness out of fear of rejection.

When relating to others, people with dismissive-avoidant attachment styles are often angry and dismissive, while fearful-avoidants are withdrawn.​12​

In general, insecure-avoidant attachment refers to the dismissive avoidant attachment style.


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Updated on May 19th, 2023 by Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *