[Note: if you arrived here looking for insight into a dismissive spouse or lover, this post is now a chapter in the book I’ve just published on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. Right now available from Amazon Kindle for $3.99, and a trade paperback is also available.]
Avoidants tend to be unresponsive to partner needs and unconcerned with the negative effect their lack of supportive communication has on their partners. How much does this lack of caring extend to their care for children? If you are married with children, you may have observed moments of caring interaction with them, but not as often as perhaps might be appropriate; and studies have shown that the typical avoidant is a somewhat negligent, emotionally distant parent:
Edelstein et al. (2004) videotaped children’s and parents’ behavior when each of the children received an inoculation at an immunization clinic, and found that more avoidant parents (assessed with a self-report scale) were less responsive to their children, particularly if the children became highly distressed; that is, when the children were most upset and most in need of parental support, avoidant parents failed to provide effective care.
The dynamics that make the Dismissive/Anxious-Preoccupied partnership so unsatisfying are repeated with children who try to get more attention from an avoidant parent. A child either learns not to expect emotional support (thus growing more avoidant themselves) or falls into the trap of requesting more and being brutally rebuffed by a parent who sees their needs as weaknesses to be despised:
As expected, avoidant individuals exhibited a neglectful, nonresponsive style of caregiving: They scored relatively low on proximity maintenance and sensitivity, reflecting their tendency to maintain distance from a needy partner (restricting accessibility, physical contact, and sensitivity), and tended to adopt a controlling, uncooperative stance resembling their domineering behavior in other kinds of social interactions….
Over time, children with an avoidant parent will look to their other parent for support. If the other parent is a sensitive caregiver, the child will model future attachment styles on that parent; but if the other parent is, for example, anxious-preoccupied, the child will more likely end up with some variety of insecure attachment type. Between the Scylla of the coldhearted dismissive and the Charybdis of the clingy, preoccupied parent, the child will not have a healthy model to work with.
If your partner is avoidant and you have had or intend to have children, it is especially important that you provide a good model of caregiving: there when needed, and only when needed; calm, cheerful, responsive, but not hovering. Consider carefully (if it’s not too late) how you might encourage your avoidant to handle your children’s needs with more attention and care; and if you are considering bringing up children in the critical years from birth to age 2, whether it might be wise to wait until either your partner has learned to be more supportive or you have found a better partner. Because a steady parent’s love and attention is so important to the emotional health of children, if you find you can’t be the steady one to give your children a good model because you yourself are off-balance from your avoidant partner’s lack of support, do what you have to do to make the environment better. It’s not just your current suffering that you should worry about—your children may suffer a lifetime of attachment dysfunction as well.
￼Here’s a report from a mother who has just about had it with both her husband and her dad, who show the same dismissive pattern:
My son was crying last night as he talked about how he could not ever talk to his dad about anything. I very much relate and I have great compassion for him. I want to be stronger for HIM.
This morning I went to the gym and there was some show about weddings. The fathers were walking the daughter down the aisle, so proud. Then the other day I saw an ad about graduation…again, the fathers were so proud standing right next to their daughters.
It hurts very badly. I recall inviting my dad to my college graduation and he said he had to work. He doesn’t care that I was with an abusive man in my marriage. Instead he speaks so highly of him, how he is the father of his grandchildren (who he can’t stand and had nothing nice to say about)…
Once when we were visiting, my son (then 10) had a febrile seizure. I told my dad I was taking him to the doctor. My dad criticized me for overreacting. When my older son had a seizure at 5 years old from a high fever, my stepmom acted like I overreacted when I took him to the ER.
And this adult survivor of dismissive parenting talks about how it felt:
My father is passive abusive. His emotional abuse is very covert. Mostly he just doesn’t care, doesn’t listen when I talk to him, doesn’t know anything about me, my life or my kids because he doesn’t care to know and he doesn’t listen to anyone who tries to tell him. To the general public, (and according to my siblings) my father is regarded as this ‘nice’ guy and he is never violent, never mean and never hurtful with his words, but the truth is that his relationship style is dismissive and disinterested all of which is very hurtful. I spent many years in childhood and in adulthood ‘begging’ (in all kinds of ways) my emotionally abusive father to notice me. The fact that he didn’t was and is very hurtful. There is a very loud message that is delivered to me when I am disregarded. The message is that I don’t matter, that I am not important, that I am not worth listening to and that I don’t have anything to contribute to his life. My father is emotionally unavailable, and that is very hurtful. Love is an action and love doesn’t damage self-esteem. Love doesn’t define a ‘loved one’ as insignificant.
After years of trying to tell my passive abusive father that his constant cutting me off whenever I tried to tell him about me, and that his lack of interest in my life was a problem for me ~ and due to the fact that there wasn’t any change on his part, I gave up; I finally realized that he wasn’t going to change.
More on Attachment and Personality Types:
What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
Anxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
“Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management
￼ Mikulincer, Mario. Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Kindle edition, loc. 8408. The Guilford Press, 2007.
 Mikulincer, Mario. Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Kindle edition, loc. 8418. The Guilford Press, 2007.
 “Emotionally Unavailable Father; The Message of Passive Abuse :: Emerging From Broken.” Accessed September 21, 2014. http://emergingfrombroken.com/emotionally-unavailable-father-the-message-of-passive-abuse/.