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Why Anxious and Avoidant Attachment Attract Each Other

Insecure attachment styles that seem opposed tend to form relationships.

Key points

  • A relationship between people with anxious and avoidant attachment can have a push-pull dynamic.
  • Anxious and avoidant partners may also seek their partner's traits due to wanting those traits in themselves.
  • Self-awareness, understanding attachment styles, and therapy can help develop secure attachment.
Wonderlane / Unsplash
Anxious and avoidant attachment styles can attract each other.
Wonderlane / Unsplash

Attachment theory suggests that how we form emotional bonds in early childhood influences our attachment styles and behavior patterns in adult relationships. According to research by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby and developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, there are three main types of insecure attachment: anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

People with an anxious attachment style and those with an avoidant attachment style are often attracted to each other. Why does this attraction happen when it appears that these attachment styles have such different needs?

Anxious Attachment Style

People with an anxious attachment style tend to fear abandonment and seek closeness and reassurance from their partners. They may feel anxious and insecure when their partner is unavailable or distant, often seeking constant validation and reassurance. Anxious attachment can develop from inconsistent care, in which a child’s caregiver alternates between intrusiveness and emotional distance.

Avoidant Attachment Style

People with an avoidant attachment style are often uncomfortable with emotional closeness and may value their independence and autonomy. They may feel uncomfortable with intimacy and may tend to distance themselves emotionally or physically when relationships become too close or demanding. Avoidant attachment can develop when a child’s caretaker doesn’t show nurturing behavior, instead being consistently emotionally unavailable or unresponsive.

Attraction Between Anxious and Avoidant Attachment Styles

The dynamics between anxious and avoidant attachment styles can create a push-pull relationship dynamic. People with an anxious attachment style may pursue closeness and reassurance from their partner. People with an avoidant attachment style may feel overwhelmed by what they perceive as neediness or demands for intimacy. This difference between the two attachment styles can lead to a cycle of pursuing and distancing behaviors in which no one gets their needs met in the relationship.

The attraction between these two attachment styles can stem from their unconscious desire to fulfill unmet emotional needs from childhood. Anxious people may be unconsciously drawn to avoidant partners because they represent a challenge or an opportunity to attain the emotional connection they long for. On the other hand, people with an avoidant attachment may be attracted to anxious partners because their pursuit and need for closeness reinforce the avoidant person’s need for independence and self-reliance.

Anxious and avoidant partners may also seek their partner’s traits due to wanting those traits in themselves. An anxious partner may wish to become more detached and autonomous to decrease their relationship anxiety. An avoidant partner may seek the need for intimacy their partner possesses because they think they are missing out on a crucial part of intimate relationships. However, what each partner seeks can also cause their undoing. What attracts us to another person also tends to gnaw at us over time.

The push-pull dynamic between an anxious and avoidant partner can be challenging and lead to a cycle of frustration and dissatisfaction. The anxious partner may constantly feel on edge and insecure due to the avoidant partner’s emotional distance. In contrast, the avoidant partner may feel overwhelmed and pressured by the anxious partner’s need for closeness. This dynamic can result in a cycle of emotional distancing and re-engagement, causing stress and instability in the relationship. A partner with an avoidant attachment may need a break from the relationship due to feeling overwhelmed, causing the partner with an anxious attachment to experience an intense fear of abandonment.

Reaching Secure Attachment

It’s important to note that not all people with anxious or avoidant attachment styles are attracted to each other, and attachment styles can vary within individuals over time and across relationships. If a person wants to work toward gaining secure attachment, it can take time and effort, but the benefits are significant. If you want to work toward secure attachment, consider meeting with a mental health professional to discuss how family-of-origin issues might impact attachment. A crucial step to moving toward secure attachment is to identify the roots of the insecure attachment and seek guidance in establishing open communication in your relationships.

People with secure attachment tend to regulate their emotions, can state their needs and wants directly but respectfully, and trust that their partner will make ethical decisions when they are apart. People with secure attachment aim for interdependence in a relationship, where the partners have their own interests and friendships yet have quality time together. Children who develop secure attachment feel comforted by their caregiver, who is also responsive to their needs. People with secure attachments may not enter into relationships with people who have anxious or avoidant attachments due to self-awareness that their needs will not be met in the relationship.

Developing self-awareness, understanding attachment styles, attending therapy, and learning effective communication can help people navigate anxious-avoidant relationship dynamics and build healthier and more securely attached relationships. Developing secure attachment in a relationship takes both partners’ time, patience, commitment, and effort. If your partner isn’t interested or ready to take that step, seek guidance on your own.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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