How to be in a Relationship with an Island (Avoidant) Partner

by Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

In a previous blog post, I discussed the different attachment styles. If you are not sure which attachment style you or your partner is, you can take the Attachment Styles Quiz.

If your partner is an island and has an avoidant attachment style and you have a different attachment style, it can be hard to know what they need. We will help you understand their worldview and give you some tips so you can help meet their needs.

An Island may have had a childhood where there was a focus on performance and the self as more important that the relationship. As a child, their parent may have been unresponsive to their needs creating the need for them to go inward and become self-reliant.

In a romantic relationship, being close to their partner creates stress especially when there is conflict. They are usually the first to withdraw either by physically moving to another room or emotionally by being silent.

People who have such emotional styles tend to disregard the feelings of others. They also forget their own. They often see expressing emotions as a weakness. They often don’t handle negative situations like awkwardness and failure well. They are more logical and data driven.

How to relate to your Island partner

If your partner is an Island, there is hope for your relationship when you understand your partner’s needs and triggers are different from yours. You can help them lower the walls and let you in.

Here’s what you need to know

  • Islands don’t rush into things. They like to take it slow. They will take their time getting to know you, gauging whether you are worthy of their trust. Some do this by starting the relationship with a friendship first.

This is good — people often rush into relationships only to realize they weren’t compatible in the first place, and by racing towards a label or with an end goal in mind, they often miss out on obvious red flags.

  • Islands don’t express their feelings freely. Don’t press your partner to express feelings. Trust him or her to know when, and what to share. When asked about themselves, they will reply with one-sentence answers and make the focus of the conversation about you, hence avoiding talking about themselves. Islands are so adept at diverting the attention off them with their charming demeanor that it might be hard to see at first how guarded they can be.

The benefit of taking time to let people in, the relationships they do form are deeper and more meaningful.

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  • Islands value independence and autonomy. It will take time for your island to learn to rely on you, and you must be patient with them. They will need time away from others to recharge and do their own thing. They won’t be clingy or demanding. They won’t feel the need to know where you are at every second. They’re also not the type to change up their schedule for another person, and will appreciate when dates are planned and when their partner follows through.

The positive is you can have a healthy independence with an island. One of their strengths is being able to set healthy boundaries with others. They are also understanding of your need to go out for a night out with friends on your own.

  • Islands don’t like conflict. They have an extreme aversion for confrontation and expressing emotions, but just because they are reluctant to open up doesn’t mean they aren’t forthright about their feelings. It might take them a few hours, or even a couple of days to finally divulge what’s on their mind, and conflicts can be frustrating, as they can take a while to resolve. Honesty is important to islands because it helps reduce conflict.
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  • Islands are highly empathetic. Islands understand what it’s like to be hurt by someone, and will do all they can to make sure their partner doesn’t experience what they themselves went through. Most have experienced either from neglect or trauma from their childhood. They have experienced pain and loss, and as a result are more empathetic than others. Islands are best paired with people who are accommodating and compassionate, and whose attachment style is secure.
  • Islands know their weaknesses. Those who are interested in a committed relationship will do all they can to be present and mindful of their avoidant tendencies. It’s essential their partner understand how distant they can be, and not take it personally. This is simply how they are wired. If they repeatedly distance him or herself from you, you need to give them specific examples of what they do that makes you feel they are distancing themselves. They will appreciate your straightforwardness and take criticism well, as long as they know it will help them be better partners to you. They are definitely not the best at communicating, but encourage them and be gentle with them, because they will do what they can to make it work.

There is hope through understanding and patience for your Island partner.

Don’t fear if your partner is an Island and has an avoidant attachment style. You can still stay close to him or her if you have understanding for what it is like for them to interact and patience for the space and independence they need. While you may experience some frustration with your partner’s attachment style, there are also many benefits to being in a relationship with an Island. With understanding and support from you as their partner, your Island can move toward a more secure attachment style.

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas. Carlene can help you turn your differences with your partner into strengths that give your relationship a stronger foundation. To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.