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Since attachment styles describe people’s instincts toward relationships, combinations of attachment styles have very predictable results in relationships.

Ideal

Secure x Secure

These are generally stable, healthy relationships, because both people value connection and communication. They experience ups and downs, joy and hurt, and mistakes and immaturity like everyone else. Since they aren’t afraid of vulnerability and owning who they are, relationships trials are typically perceived as areas to grow instead of threats to the relationship.

Care Required

Anxious x Secure

Anxious partners often eventually find their way to a secure partner after repeated heartbreak. The safety and reassurance provided by security will be healing for the anxious partner – if they let it in. The security of a partner who is consistently available and caring can make the anxious partner finally feel the safety they long for.

However, if the anxious person relies entirely on their partner to make the relationship stable, they will eventually feel “bored” and leave to seek the excitement of drama-filled insecure relationships again. 

Avoidant x Secure

You’ve seen this pairing a lot of times in older movies: the gruff man who can’t communicate his feelings but occasionally shows in his actions that he cares, and the nurturing wife who smiles to herself because she understands what he’s trying to say. This works more often in cultures with traditional gender roles, where people can fall back on tradition to interpret communication.

If the avoidant partner doesn’t work on expressing themselves during the relationship, the secure partner will find themself very alone during major life crises.

Disorganized x Secure

In this pairing, Fearful-Avoidants will have both avoidant and anxious behavior triggered periodically. This inconsistency can traumatize the secure partner over time as they find themselves with a partner who reacts inconsistently & unpredictably to stress.

Unless the disorganized partner is getting help for their traumas, it is highly unlikely that this pairing lasts more than a few months. However, having a secure relationship is often the starting point a disorganized person needs to start getting help.

Toxic

Anxious x Avoidant

When you hear “toxic relationship”, this is usually what people are talking about.

The beginning is absolutely electric.

Each partner sees in the other someone who completes them: the anxious sees someone who is strong and independent and will never let them down; the avoidant sees someone who is emotionally expressive and dynamic and makes life colorful for them.

After the honeymoon period (usually around 3-6 months), though, things start to change. The brain is no longer flooded with hormones that make everything okay, and attachment insecurities start to reassert themselves. The result is called the anxious-avoidant dance, a toxic cycle of chasing and pulling away.

The avoidant partner becomes emotionally unavailable after milestone of closeness, including:

  • making eye contact during sex
  • asking “so what are we, anyway?”
  • making the relationship official
  • moving in together
  • being asked about when they’re getting married/having kids
  • actually getting married/having kids

For an anxious partner this withdrawal is terrifying, and they try to close the emotional distance. This adds to the avoidant’s feeling pressure, and they keep pulling away more and more. Eventually, the anxious partner gives up and pulls away… and the avoidant finally feels the distance. They chase the anxious partner, make things up, and return to normal… and then the cycle starts again.

Generally, this dance happens like clockwork within 2-3 days of any moment of peak happiness/connection.

Eventually, the cycle becomes too exhausting for the relationship to survive. Both partners feel like they’re walking on eggshells around the other, and eventually love burns out.

The anxious partner will often jump into a new anxious-avoidant relationship as soon as they can, while the avoidant will avoid emotional intimacy for months to years.

Disorganized x Insecure

This is like the Anxious x Avoidant relationship, but on steroids. Each partner gets polarized into primarily playing one role, but the disorganization adds contradictory behavior that can make things terrifyingly unpredictable for their partner.  In relationships where both partners are disorganized, there is often a complete lack of trust – both in each other and in themselves.

Disorganization also tends towards more hostile/directive behavior, which often eventually escalate to substance abuse and/or physical violence.