can anxious avoidant relationships work

Why do Anxious and Avoidant Attract?

If you’re reading this, you might identify as either anxious or avoidant. And if you’re more anxious, you might be wondering why do I attract avoidant partners?

In case the concept is new for you, attachment styles are the strategies different people use to connect to people they care about and the needs they have in close relationships.

Early experiences in relationships with other people, starting with the dynamics someone observes in their family of origin in early childhood, teach people what they have to do to get close to people when they need them.

The ways that people try to get close to others when they are under stress and the underlying needs they express are categorized into 4 different types of attachment styles:

  • Secure– send clear signals when they need their partner + have trust in them
  • Avoidant– have a hard time relying on others + uncomfortable getting too close
  • Anxious– fear they won’t be able to reach their partner + need a lot of reassurance
  • Disorganized– send mixed messages of their needs + and have a hard time trusting

The most common pairing of romantic couples, is when one partner is anxious and the other is avoidant.

The Secure Relationship tackles the question of how these people find each other in the first place. I’m going elaborate on that wisdom, grounded in emotion focused therapy, and share with you why it’s almost inevitable that anxious and avoidant individuals find and attract one another.

Plus, I’ll give you some steps regarding what you can do if you find yourself in this pattern of relationship.

anxious and avoidant relationships

Why Do Anxious and Avoidant Attract?

People with anxious attachment styles tend to have a deep emotional need to be wanted, seen, and important to someone. They may constantly wonder- why do I attract avoidant partners?

When avoidantly attached people pursue anxiously attached people at the beginning of the relationship, they can fulfill this need, making the anxiously attached partner feel special and unique in the eyes of the other.

People who are anxiously attached have often not experienced healthy, secure relationships in their lives. Those that offer consistent stability and assurance. As such, they don’t really know what to look for in a partner.

They may mistake the initial pursuit as love and care that will carry the relationship, only to realize that the sustainable support they need is a different need that the avoidant partner feels unequipped in providing.

For avoidant partners, emotions can be so overwhelming that they actually haven’t felt a lot of their own experiences. These are people who don’t lean into closeness with others. Those who numb out their emotions with substances, and avoid expressing their thoughts and feelings.

When an avoidant partner links up with an anxious partner, the anxious partner might feel and express so much that the avoidant partner actually starts to feel, vicariously through them. It helps them to get a taste, albeit from a distance, of their own emotions and experiences. Which of course, is the central thread of feeling alive.

Anxious partners often feel so many emotions so frequently and have not learned how to organize, manage, or process them.

Avoidant people often have a sense of not being enough, not being able to get it right, and not being able to fix or be useful.

When anxious partners offer their emotions and inner thoughts to avoidant partners, avoidant partners may read this as them having done something right, to be worthy of this openness.

Eventually, avoidant partners become overwhelmed with the emotions and needs of anxious partners. Which deteriorates their sense of “getting it right.”

So we understand how anxious and avoidant attachment styles can attract at the onset. But what keeps either of these attachment styles from bonding with a securely attached person first?

Anxious partners tend to have an unworthy view of their self as deserving of love. When security comes along, it may feel foreign (or “boring”) to them and they reject it. They instead choose the person who can’t show up the way they need them to, but feels more familiar to dynamics they have experienced in their life.

An avoidant person used to avoidant relationships might be used to this feeling of others needing them and not knowing what to do about it. They aren’t comfortable, but they assume this is how relationships work. And they coast as long as they can, because deep down, they know they do not want to be alone.

Secure partners have experienced functional close relationships. As a result, they are uncomfortable with anxious, insecure, and overbearing partners, as well as numb and unengaged ones.

This all happens on the subconscious level. Meaning, no one says out loud or to themselves “I don’t want to be in that relationship because they present a secure pattern and that feels unfamiliar to me.” Instead, you will often hear people saying that secure partners feel “boring” or that they lack a “spark.”

Avoidant partners

Can Anxious and Avoidant Relationships Work?

If you are wondering why do I attract avoidant partners, hopefully the dynamic is starting to make sense.

The needs and tendencies of anxious and avoidant people create a pursuer distancer dynamic, where couples get stuck in negative patterns of communicating and neither get their needs met.

Attachment systems are deeply engrained, and they are unconscious. Most people do not have conscious awareness of the reasons they avoid or cling to others.

So the good news is, while these dynamics can be painful, they are fixable and can provide couples an opportunity to heal the way they show up in relationships.

How to Make an Anxious Avoidant Relationship Work

Here are tips on how to make an anxious-avoidant relationship work.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Carl Jung

The first step in making any change is to create awareness around the current state. When you feel yourself getting upset with your partner, pause and consider:

  • What just happened? What triggered me?
  • What am I feeling in my body? What sensations come up right before I react?
  • What thoughts are going through my mind about them?
  • What thoughts are going through my mind about myself?
  • How am I feeling?

Your responses to the prompts above will start cueing your into your own attachment style. As your pattern becomes clear, you can make sense of why certain moments are upsetting to you and about what you need in those situations.

In relationships that have a lot of love and connection but feel like they aren’t working, you are likely bumping up against one another’s attachment styles.

Once you have a sense of your own style, work with your partner to understand theirs. Consider their communication tendencies, where they get overwhelmed, and how they react.

Understanding each of your attachment styles will allow you to put together the pieces into a cohesive narrative about the ways you trigger each other and how you get stuck in the same conversations, also known as your negative cycle.

This negative cycle guide will more intentionally walk you and your partner through your current pattern and give you tips on creating a new one.

The goal of learning about attachment styles is to create a new environment, one of security where both partners reasonably:

  • Feel seen and heard
  • Send clear signals about what they need
  • Have their needs met
  • Meet the needs of the other

Attachment styles are complex. And our own patterns can be difficult to see when we are so close to them.

A neutral, trained systems therapist will guide you and your partner to see the patterns that come up when you get triggered. And will be able to help you see the dynamics you can’t see yourself.

A therapist will also guide you to process your emotions, share with each other, and create a new, secure environment that will sustain and support both partners over time. They will guide you in how to develop a secure attachment style, love and connection, individually and together.

Relationships are the mirrors that help us all to see our own opportunities for growth- it’s how relationships work. Hopefully this context can help piece together why do I attract avoidant partners.

Whether you are anxious or avoidant, if you can both hold the perspective that the relationship is offering both of you a ground for healing and moving into emotional connection, the work will take you far.

attachment styles in relationships

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One Comment

  1. A fascinating, in-depth explanation. And I love the Carl Jung quote!

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