Relationships: Running on someone else’s schedule?

Running on someone else’s schedule? If you find yourself feeling low and not very important or special to someone you are dating, chances are they have an avoidant attachment style of relating.


Here are some of the clues that might help you make sense of your loneliness and how you feel from within this relationship.

A big clue comes from the description really. Being avoided doesn’t feel very good for anyone, most especially by a close friend or a lover, or a family member for that matter, if closeness is what you need and want. Isn’t the whole purpose or definition of a relationship about sharing and connection?

Not for them.

So let’s put some information and clarity around this space you find yourself in, probably mostly thinking that it’s because there is something you profoundly lack, as well as there being something wrong with you. There isn’t. 

You are dealing with someone that needs space and distance like oxygen and for whom expectation leaves them searching for a hill they can run for or the nearest exit sign! This can be a friend a lover or even your own child, but bets on for sure it really hurts.

The avoidant explained

For the avoidant person, emotional intimacy and connection come sparingly so keeping up with their mixed signals becomes exhausting, as well as trying to keep up with their changeability. Here we can bring in their coping strategy of 'intermittent reinforcement'. I have another published article written on intermittent reinforcement for a deeper dive into that – 'Intermittent reinforcement: A relationship red flag.'

One minute the connection is there with them and you think, great, then the next it’s vapourised. Gone.

Confused? Sure you are and why wouldn’t you be? Being at the other end of this is bewildering. In the end, you really have to weigh up what you are getting from this exchange, or lack of it as it goes!

If it’s a friendship or a lover even, you can choose eventually to end the relationship, however, if it is your parent or your child, you have to find a way of protecting yourself from the feelings of rejection that come from it. I will go into this later on in this article.

They aren’t keen on walking together or holding hands, or sitting close either – this is a reliable clue. They will often walk ahead of you or behind you whilst walking somewhere together.

Whilst watching a film at home they might want to sit in another chair if they can, rather than together on the same couch. This isn’t so bad if you’re friends, but it doesn’t feel great if you are lovers. If this is a parent or a child, this flinching rather than a relaxed impromptu hug or kiss doesn’t give a warm message either. Chances are you don’t feel very loved.

They devalue quite a lot, which isn’t nice to be at the other end of. This can be subtle, but you will be “getting the message” for sure, even if you can’t explain it. This is a deactivating strategy to avoid intimacy.

Weirdly this is about survival for them, as indeed the same applies to other attachment styles. However, the strategy that might have ensured survival during childhood does not bring happiness in adult relationships and adulthood.

Sometimes living separately for them, even in romantic relationships or marriage, feels more comfortable for them, as well as separate bedtimes.

They aren’t keen on emotional discussions either, they will want to keep it as broad as possible, what you watched on TV or where you went or the state of anything rather than your feelings and your relationship. 

Socially they may shine and seem very engaging, which indeed they are – charming and amusing too – but getting 'deep' just isn’t their thing, unless, of course, they need something specific. There can be a raft of reasons for this.

Clear answers – no, there aren’t many given and you will find yourself running on their schedule for sure.

What l mean by this is you are often kept waiting as well as at a distance, because their comfort zone will be less, rather than more, and it will have limits that they will convey without any hesitation. You might have a lovely time with an avoidant friend or child or parent or romantic partner and want to build on this and get and get together again soon, and then find they will want to leave more time than you will around when you get together next. 

This obviously can make those at the receiving end of this feel somewhat rejected, and if you try to explain that in the name of being 'authentic' emotionally around them, that will make them feel pressurised because it will be felt as an expectation.

Does any of this ring true for you?

Emotional discussions – they’re not keen on those either – and want to change the subject. Vulnerable intimacy isn’t very comfortable for them.

Independence is king for them and they really don’t respect or find it easy for those who are the same, they rely on themselves and expect you and others to do the same.

Why do they do all this you might well ask?

It is very much part of a deactivating strategy that dilutes intimacy and attachment and what this represents to them, space and distance for them is very important. When dating an avoidant, they will be happy to leave introducing you to their parents or friends for a long time, which once again for the other person can feel very hurtful, and can often seem like it is and always will be “jam tomorrow”. 

There will be a lot of internal comparisons going on for them between you and their ideal boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, mother, father, or child, which makes it hard to tick their box, as it is a paragon they are comparing you to. Somehow you will always fall short enough for them to justify their need for boundaries and distance.

Paradoxically, when the relationship you have with them is either over, or there is so much distance between you for extended periods of time that belief in this ever getting sorted out will seem unlikely and you let the distance thing take over, they will then become able to hold it’s value to them truly dear, and you will be less of a threat to them.

Maybe by then, hopefully, you will have been worn out by this dance, because if you do let this hoped-for significance to them allow you to let them back in again, you will realise only too quickly how ephemeral it actually is and it will be back to space and distance in a nanosecond!

People who want real tangible felt closeness and intimacy don’t work well with those who crave the opposite, they don’t fit unless real and big compromises can be accepted on both sides.

It has been my experience that nobody wins here if that is the case.

Their rules are rigid and their justifications will be felt as normal, and more about what you somehow fall short of most especially if you need reassurance. If there is a heated discussion about anything, they will either explode or disengage. Communication will be tough, empathy is not high on their 'what is valued or needed by them' list. Relational development is unlikely.

All in all, it will be hard to know how they really feel about you. Worried a lot of the time about doing or saying something that triggers them into some form of disengagement.

What helps?

I think that this also depends on what kind of relationship you have with your avoidant. 

If you are friends then having other supportive friends that speak in your own emotional language and are more on board with closeness being a treasure and not a threat will definitely make things easier and make that friendship with the avoidant more a once-in-a-while thing when they can be on board to share time with you.

If you are lovers, that is a tougher call, and you will have to weigh up how that might truly affect your future happiness.

If the avoidant is an important close family member like a child or a parent, then taking a deeper dive into the understanding around this will be both informative and essential. Whilst you are getting the support you need having lower expectations and employing your own boundaries makes their need for distance and space hurt less, Al-Anon meetings and principles have a lot of sound advice and help to offer around loving people who are emotionally unavailable which is, in essence, the problem.

I hope that this article will be helpful and informative around the bewilderment that can be felt if you are having difficulty understanding the avoidant’s behaviour and consequently taking their need for space and distance hurtful. I have written other articles going into other dynamics of this kind of relationship in more detail, and successfully coached people on how to come out of the other side of difficult relationships, and/or live within them. You can take a look at my other articles via my profile. Becoming aware through understanding can make a world of difference and go a long way towards feeling like it is not because of who you are.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, N8
Written by Gail Berry, Emotional and Relationship Coach
London, N8

Written by Gail Berry Emotional Coach - both a therapist and an alternative medical practitioner who works with healing people’s core wounds and uses Bach Flower Remedies alongside talking and behavioural therapy to make real change and transformation possible.
07771 715072
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