Why Avoidant Women Change Less Frequently Than Avoidant Men

They don't have the same motivation to change.

Avoidant men and woman Viktor Gladkov | Canva
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After my podcast episode on avoidant wives, many men reached out for therapy or further questions. I have been talking about and working with avoidant women and avoidant men for the entirety of my career, and have noticed some differences in their presentation and trajectories of change over time, based on gender. Specifically, avoidant men change more readily than do avoidant women. Why?

Men with an avoidant attachment style are more common because society tells men to be strong, independent, and not show a lot of emotion. This may be changing over time, but it’s still the case that women are expected to be more emotional than men. This means that for a woman to become avoidant attachment, there is usually a deeper level of family of origin and individual-level issues than for a man, for whom avoidant attachment is more of the usual gender script.

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RELATED: 5 Signs You Have An Avoidant Attachment Style In Relationships

For example, even a man with a loving, secure family may learn at some point through sports or socializing that being too emotional will make other males look down on him or make fun of him. Women are rarely made fun of for being emotional or losing their cool. 

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Other women will bond with them over an emotional display, whereas a guy’s friend may look uncomfortable or ignore it. For men, saving face is king. Often, a man learns his script from both his family AND society. For instance, his dad used to tell him to “be a man” and “toughen up,” and then the coach told him the same.

However, for a woman to buck her gender script, which is that a woman should be more emotionally warm and vulnerable, she was likely exposed to an extremely cold family of origin, and often experienced deeply shaming experiences or even abuse. These experiences are often MORE severe than those that occur to men if we measure them against the sort of treatment a girl usually gets at home. Because little girls are more often comforted and told that their emotions are okay, when a girl experiences emotional rejection, it makes her MORE different from her general peers than when a male experiences similar rejection. 

Note that this doesn’t mean that both little boys and girls are deeply hurt by invalidating and cold parents. It just means that a female may have EVEN MORE of a guard up COMPARED to other women than a male does compared to other males, because of the normativity of teaching a “suck it up” attitude to boys. 

A girl who is not trained in empathy at home (because she doesn’t get much) quickly learns that she is different from her peers, and this makes her feel like a misfit and like emotional relationships may just be an uncomfortable area for her overall, thus making her withdraw even more.

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Setting aside these differences in how avoidant attachment is created in males and females, there is also the very practical issue of sex drive. Within monogamy, males have a higher sex drive than women.

Therefore, men have more of an impetus to work on their avoidant attachment if this style is stopping them from having sex with their wives. Women, whose sex drive drops more dramatically within monogamy the majority of the time, do not feel as motivated to work on themselves and grow more open and closer, because they are not also trying to get their husbands to be close in a different way.

Avoidant couple wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

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For example, a man who is closed off emotionally will often have a wife who is crying and saying he is a jerk and refusing to sleep with him. If physical touch is his love language, this would be a big motivator for him to work on himself. 

RELATED: How To Speak A Man's Physical Touch Love Language, According To 21 Men

An avoidant attachment woman with a low sex drive has approximately zero motivation to work on the relationship besides her love for her husband, which diminishes more and more the more he overwhelms her with criticism about how cold she can be.

This is not to say that avoidant women, like avoidant men, cannot change and grow. Couples counseling can be a great starting place, especially if empathy has been an issue. However, understand that it is hard work to look at the origin of your issues, work on creating new ways of being, and reckon with the scariness of putting yourself out there emotionally when you have had a protective guard in place for years. Understanding why your avoidant wife may struggle with change can help you gain a wider and more objective perspective, and can also help you see why, in some cases, change may never occur. 

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RELATED: What It Means To Have An Avoidant Attachment Style (& How To Change It)

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.