We’ve been analyzing attachment styles and breakups for close to ten years now and today we’re going to let you in on all of our findings.
Specifically, we looked at how attachment styles can help you win your ex back.
Though I can’t take credit alone. It was our real life success stories that gave us the insights we needed to make this article.
Let’s jump right in.
What Are Attachment Styles?
Well, simply put, Attachment Theory is a psychology model used to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans.
Now, there are many different types of attachment styles, but today we’re only going to focus on the four styles to understand if you want to get your ex back.
Four Attachment Styles:
- Secure Attachment
- Anxious Attachment
- Avoidant Attachment
- Disorganized Attachment
So, let’s take a minute to define each of these styles and give you real life examples.
The Secure Attachment
You are considered to have a secure attachment style if you are comfortable with intimacy; you’re not worried about rejection; and you are confident that your significant other wants to be in the relationship.
The Anxious Attachment
You’re considered to have an anxious attachment style if you have a greater need for intimacy and closeness. Someone with this style requires frequent reassurance of their partner’s love and commitment to the relationship.
The Avoidant Attachment
Those with an avoidant attachment style are extremely independent, self-directed, and often uncomfortable with intimacy. They’re basically commitment-phobes and experts at rationalizing their way out of any intimate situation.
The Disorganized Attachment
I’ll define the disorganized attachment style towards the end of this article.
First, let’s look at how these three attachment styles could manifest in your relationship with an ex.
Now, if you’re anything like me, understanding Attachment Style Theory can feel somewhat overwhelming, because there is so much research. So, allow me to simplify this theory by directly relating each of these styles to situations you may have encountered with your ex.
Identifying Your Exes Attachment Style
To pinpoint your ex’s attachment style, let’s rewind the clock and pretend you are the relationship again with your ex.
Let’s say you have been dating for two years and one night you decide to go out with friends to have fun, meet new people, and maybe have a few drinks.
You think, this is a fun and innocent night out – everything is great.
If Your Ex Has A Secure Attachment Style…
If your ex has a secure attachment style, they will be glad to see you and casually inquire about your night.
“how was your night?”
And the conversation will feel light.
They will not feel threatened at all by the fact that you went out.
If Your Ex Has An Anxious Attachment Style…
Now, if your ex has an anxious attachment style, in the exact same scenario they are going to be completely overbearing when you come home.
They will ask you a million questions and jump to conclusions quickly, maybe without you even verbalizing those conclusions.
Their questions will sound somewhat paranoid or angry, like
“Who did you meet?
Did he buy you a drink?
What’s up with that?”
If Your Ex Has An Avoidant Attachment Style…
Now, an ex with an avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, will act aloof when you come home. They won’t say that anything is bothering them. You’ll think everything is fine, but the issue will sit and stew beneath the surface.
That is, until you get into a fight a week or two later and they bring up the concern and accuse you of something you didn’t do.
At this point you may be wondering, why should I understand my ex’s attachment style if I can’t change it?
How To Get Your Ex Back Through Attachment Styles
Well, believe it or not, the attachment style of your ex may be the key to understanding how to approach them when you are trying to get them back. Knowing their attachment style will tell you not only what they need in a relationship, but the type of conversations you should have with them to get them back.
Of course, let’s not forget that compatibility is an important factor in any relationship, so it is equally important that you understand your own attachment style and how it relates to your ex’s attachment style.
Understanding your own attachment style is important, because psychologists have actually determined that some styles, like anxious attachment and avoidant attachment styles, are attracted to one another.
You can see where problems may arise between these two styles. And, we can back this up. From our experience in coaching countless clients and interacting with individuals in our private Facebook groups, usually one or both people who leave a failed relationship have an anxious or an avoidant attachment style.
These two styles combined doesn’t really yield great results – hence, the breakup.
But, there’s also something really cool that psychologists discovered about anxious and avoidant attachment styles as well.
I like to call the concept Secure Attachment Gravity.
What Is Secure Attachment Gravity?
Psychologists realized that when an anxious or avoidant attachment style begins a relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style, they will begin to mirror their partner’s secure behavior. It’s sort of a case of follow the leader.
So, if you have a secure attachment style and your ex is an anxious or avoidant attachment style, they’re likely to feel more secure in the relationship because of your example.
Therefore, it’s important to understand your attachment style too.
Hence the name, secure attachment gravity.
Someone with a secure attachment automatically creates this gravity so that their partner naturally is pulled towards secure behaviors themselves.
Determining Your Attachment Style
Maybe you know without a doubt that you have a secure attachment style – that’s great. But if you are wondering how to determine your attachment style and your ex’s, there is a litmus test to find out.
In the 1970s, Mary Ainsworth, an American Canadian developmental psychologist known for developing the Attachment Theory, conducted an experiment she called “The Strange Situation”.
Essentially, this experiment involved parents bringing their children to Dr. Ainworth for a series of tests to determine their attachment style.
The experiment worked as follows: a mother brought her 8 to 15-month-old toddler to meet Dr. Ainsworth, who placed both mother and child in a room with a stranger. The mother then played with her child for about 15 minutes and then left the room.
The child’s reaction to their mother leaving the room indicated the child’s attachment style.
A child with a secure attachment style cried immediately for about 15 minutes before deciding to play, like nothing was wrong. When the mother returned, this child would greet their mother with open arms, and all was right in the world.
A child with an anxious attachment style often cried the entire time the mother was gone and, when the mother returned, she had a difficult time calming the child down.
A child with an avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, avoided the stranger for the entire duration of time the mother was gone and then ignored the mother when she returned.
Now, let’s talk about the fourth attachment style we haven’t addressed yet – the Disorganized Attachment Style.
A child with the disorganized attachment style would run and hide when the mother left and remain hidden when the mother returned.
Now, why would a child do this? Well, it was determined that these toddlers were abused. So, when their fight or flight response kicked in, they choose flight. In this situation, the children felt there was nowhere to safe to run, so they hid not only from the stranger, but from their mother too.
So, like Dr. Ainsworth’s experiment, reflecting on your ex’s childhood is the true litmus test for determining their attachment style.
As yourself, how did their parents treat them? What was their upbringing like? These questions will help you to determine their attachment style. While your conclusions may not be completely accurate, your assumptions about their childhood will help you to identify their attachment style and respond to them accordingly.
Let’s move on and talk about something a bit more interesting.
The impact attachment styles has on the no contact rule.
The No Contact Rule Based On Attachment Styles
If you aren’t familiar with what the no contact rule is then I highly suggest you read the massive guide I wrote on it here.
The short version; The no contact rule is a period of time where you purposefully ignore your ex with the intent of outgrowing them. Doing this successfully can result in them actually missing you.
Most people tend to look at the no contact rule in a way that will help make their exes miss them but what they themselves miss is the impact their exes attachment style and their own will have on it.
In an odd way you can predict how smoothly your no contact rule will go.
Our internal research has suggested that most of our clients tend to have anxious attachment styles and their exes tend to be avoidant so I’d like to focus on those two core tenets of the attachment philosophy.
Understanding Time Dilation Through Attachment Styles And No Contact
A time dilation scenario exists when you consider these two attachment styles and the no contact rule.
Our average client will experience a 30 day rule. This ultimately means for one full month they will be ignoring their exes (with a few exceptions.)
However, based on our clients attachment style we can infer a few things because of our knowledge on the time dilation.
Someone With An Anxious Attachment = 30 Days Feels Like 90 Days
Someone With An Avoidant Attachment = 30 Days Feels Like 10 Days
Ultimately we believe the reason close to 80% of our clients fail the no contact rule on their first attempt is due to the fact that they have anxious attachment styles and they allow their anxiety to take over.
We also believe the reason that close to 60% of exes won’t reach out to you during no contact is because they exhibit more avoidant behaviors.
(Don’t worry we’re going to talk all about getting an avoidant ex back in a minute.)
First things first though, let’s move on and talk about your anxiety.
Your Anxiety May Be A Result Of Your Anxious Attachment Style
When it comes to breakups anxiety is a bit of a hot topic because of how common it is.
One look around our website and you’ll see a lot of articles about how getting your anxiety under control can help with your ex.
And how mastering your own insecurities might be the key to getting your ex back.
But one thing we haven’t dedicated an article on is the concept that your anxiety is most likely a result of your anxious attachment style.
Above I stated that we’ve found that the vast majority of our clients come to us with anxious attachment styles.
This means that they often pour their whole identity into the relationship with their ex.
But this, in and of itself, creates a self fulfilling cycle.
By pouring your whole identity into a relationship you inadvertently turn your partner off who begins to feel suffocated by you which ultimately ends in them leaving you.
“Don’t you have anything else to do?”
“You need a life of your own.”
“There’s more to life than us.”
These are often the statements exes make when dating someone with an anxious attachment style will make.
So, what’s the fix?
Well, a common theme you’re going to see throughout this guide will be one in which we recommend you begin the long arduous process of shifting your anxious qualities to more secure ones.
Usually the no contact rule is the best place to embark on a journey like this since you are literally ignoring your ex and you have nothing better to do but the work won’t stop when your no contact rule comes to an end.
In fact, I’m not sure it ever does.
I can commiserate with you.
I definitely grew up having an anxious attachment style. In fact, my very first relationship ever ended because of my anxious behavior.
I was terrified my girlfriend had a crush on someone else and this insecurity was behind every single fight we ever had whether she realized it or not.
I became controlling.
Picked fights any time she did anything that I deemed out of the ordinary.
I lied to gain sympathy.
All because I was insecure with myself and allowed my anxious behaviors to take over.
For the record, my anxiety wasn’t without warrant as when we did break up she immediately dated the person I feared most.
Yet it was me who drove her to his arms.
That’s the funny thing about relationships. It’s only after they are over that we see with clarity the truth we may not want to admit.
It was my fault.
Even now I look back on that time in my life, as young as I was, with disdain and I loathe how I acted.
In fact, I loathed how I acted so much that I promised myself that in my next relationship I would try to be more secure with myself.
And when that next relationship came I was, at first.
But the funny thing about anxious attachment styles is that they always have a way of cropping up.
For me it was always jealousy that would rear its ugly head and take over.
I became so concerned that I was being cheated on or taken advantage of that I would eventually erupt and go through my partners phone sure that something untoward was happening.
(It never was.)
For me the big paradigm shift occurred after I started this website actually.
Studying people who go through breakups gave me a perspective that frightened me.
I began noticing that almost always these relationships ended because of anxious attachment style behaviors or “loving too hard” as I came to view it.
I’d read these stories every single day and think,
“My gosh… that’s me. I’ve acted like that in relationships before.”
Here’s my ultimate point.
You may think it’s ok to have an anxious attachment style because it kind of is.
But what I’ve noticed over the years is how no matter how hard to try to hide the anxious tendencies they always seem to come to the surface in some way, shape or form.
And when they do… it usually cracks the foundation of a relationship to the point that the relationship ends.
If that’s not enough incentive to get on board the “secure attachment train” I don’t know what is.
Let’s switch gears and look at the avoidant attachment style in depth now.
Getting An Avoidant Ex Back
This might be the single most important section that I talk about today because I think people with avoidant attachment styles get a bad rap.
I’m not defending them by any means.
I’m simply pointing out that they are incredibly misunderstood.
In other words, the way they process breakups is going to be completely different than the way you or I process them.
If you asked me to describe someone with an avoidant attachment style in one word I would say that they are distant.
Now, the natural assumption with someone who is distant is that they aren’t interested.
Yet I would say that isn’t true in an avoidant case. Their distance is a result of how frightened they are to get close and share truly intimate moments with someone.
It’s a coping mechanism if you will.
Above all someone with an avoidant attachment style values their personal freedom more than anything else. Often times when in relationships and things begin to progress and become more serious they feel like they are being suffocated because that freedom is being suffocated.
So, they become distant.
The misunderstanding comes in here. Most people view their distance as if they don’t want a relationship.
That’s not true, they do, sometimes more than anything else but they build this narrative up in their head that they aren’t worthy of one.
“Why does this always happen to me?”
It’s because that need for personal freedom is so strong within them that they don’t even realize it.
So, now that we have a basic understanding of how avoidant exes view relationships let’s switch gears and talk about how to re-attract one.
What Actually Works To Make An Avoidant Ex Want You Back
The way I see it there are really only two components that need to be present for an avoidant ex to want you back.
- They need to think there’s no chance of the two of you getting back together.
- Only talk to them when that nostalgia has kicked in.
(I’m talking about that first component.)
Component #1: Why It’s Important For Your Ex To Feel There’s No Chance
This stems directly from understanding how someone with an avoidant attachment style processes nostalgia.
Avoidants easily feel suffocated when they are smothered with too much attention and that’s one of the reasons why most of our clients with anxious attachment styles fail in getting their exes back.
We know that a lot of the people coming to ex-boyfriend recovery or ex-girlfriend recovery have anxious attachment styles so they want to fix the relationship as soon as possible.
That obsessive desire to instantly fix things will not work with an avoidant because they will not miss you until they believe you’ve truly moved on and let go of them.
They need to believe that you’re unavailable before they allow themselves to miss you. Knowing that you’re no longer available takes off any pressure they might have about missing you when there’s a chance of getting back together.
Component #2: Only Talk To Them When Nostalgia Has Kicked In
Every single interaction you have with an ex who is an avoidant has the potential to scare them away.
Basically, every interaction with your ex has the potential to disrupt their automatic avoidant triggers and make them feel uncomfortable emotions or guilt.
In this sense, the more you engage in conversation with them, the clingier and more “unmissable” you are.
So, our way around this has been to wait until nostalgia has kicked in.
Usually this means you aren’t going to want to even attempt to contact your avoidant ex until your no contact period is complete.
Preferably a 45 day no contact.
Remember, time dilation for avoidants is very much a real thing.
Where Do Narcissists Fall In Attachment Styles?
Our final section will be about a difficult topic, narcissism.
I’ve long been on record before saying I’m not a huge fan of helping clients try to win back someone who is a narcissist.
To the best of my recollection I don’t think it’s worked out very well for any of the people who have managed to get their narcissist exes back.
Nevertheless, there are valuable attachment style lessons that can be learned by studying them.
First things first, what is narcissism?
Narcissist Ex: Someone who cares only about themselves. Admires themselves greatly.
Generally speaking these are the common traits of a narcissist,
- Delusions of grandeur
- Inflated sense of self importance
- Seeking constant praise and admiration (not reciprocal with it)
- Exploits others and has no shame in it
- Bullies others
But believe it or not there are two types of narcissists.
According to Lisa Firestone PH.D., there are grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists.
- Grandiose Narcissists: Arrogant, entitled, envious
- Vulnerable narcissists: Seem insecure, focus on themselves, constantly seeking reassurance from others.
Or as I like to put it in my head canon.
Grandiose Narcissists are extroverts whereas vulnerable narcissists are introverts.
Yet their attachment styles completely differ.
A grandiose narcissist is likely to have an avoidant attachment style whereas a vulnerable narcissist is likely to have an anxious one.
Makes sense if you really think about it.
The grandiose one is arrogant and entitled and values freedom above all. They have convinced themselves that it’s ok to be a lone wolf which is completely in line with avoidant tendencies.
Vulnerable narcissists are completely seeking reassurance all over the place which is completely in line with anxious tendencies.