While we group attachment styles for the purpose of understanding, relationships can form with any combination of attachment styles. Some of these combinations can work well together, while some others may need some work. While some attachment style combinations may seem like an impossible uphill battle, any and all relationships can work. The ultimate key is understanding the other’s needs, and the willingness to listen.
That being said, the information on this page isn’t designed to save any/all relationships. If your relationship is in a truly bad place, it may be important to receive support from an external source like a therapist, or a wise mentor. Remember it is always okay to leave a relationship if you are fearful of physical or emotional harm.
This combination can create the strongest bonds most easily. Relationships, when both parties are secure, are usually quite easy as both partners feel comfortable expressing themselves and being vulnerable, yet are not reliant on the relationship. Secure relationships offer each partner the ability to explore their own world and remain present with their partner in a trusting space. Each partner is aware of their needs and can manage this while also being present with the needs of their partner. If someone with a secure attachment style finds a compatible mate in the same vein their relationship will likely flourish.
Secure-Insecure (Ambivalent/Avoidant) Relationship
When someone with a secure attachment enters a relationship with someone who has an insecure attachment style it is important to be aware of the needs of each partner. While the secure partner may feel comfortable in their relationship, the insecure attachment partner is unlikely to feel the same. If the insecure partner holds an ambivalent attachment it may cause them to be anxious that their partner might leave, or that they are not deserving of their partner’s love. If the insecure partner has an avoidant attachment they may have a hard time opening up or become overwhelmed if they believe the relationship is moving too fast. It is important for both partners to be aware of the attachment style of each other, and support each other as needed — without blaming or “shoulds.” The partner with a secure attachment will likely need to offer their insecure partner a secure base like they had growing up, allowing a safe space for them to explore the new relationship. This will involve the building of trust so that the insecure partner knows that the secure partner is not wanting to leave and that it is an okay space to be vulnerable in. This may take some time to construct, and here are some tools that may help:
- Educate yourself on one another’s attachment styles
- Listen actively to the needs of each partner
- Acknowledge the feelings of each other when they come up (this may be a rare occurrence at first for the avoidant partner)
- Be physically and emotionally present with each partner
- Empathize with the experience of your partner
- Accept the emotions that may come up for your partner around your relationship
Here are some options more specifically dedicated to attachment styles:
- Arrange your life so that you can spend more time together
- Prioritize special occasions
- Be physically and emotionally present with your partner
- Understand that your partner may feel anxious about things you can’t control
- Reassure them with statements like “I am here for you” and “I love you”
- Check-in with them throughout the day so they know you are thinking of them
- Express desires for long-term relationship goals
- Emphasize the safe space you can offer in your relationship
- Express gratitude for your partner whenever possible
- Avoid belittling their feelings with statements like “Get over it”
- Avoid ignoring your partner when they reach out to you
- Never threaten to leave them during an argument
- Be patient and take things slow
- Let your partner guide the pace of the relationship
- Make sure you are only as open with your partner as they are with you. Don’t offer emotional disclosures that may be too much for them
- Understand that your partner may desire less quality time than you
- Reassure safety and security in your relationship with statements like “You can tell me anything” and “I won’t judge you”
- Support their independence
- Avoid nagging your partner to open up
- Don’t be too distant, remain close without smothering.
- Avoid blaming yourself for their distant behavior
Gratitude is also a tool that can offer strong support to your partner’s insecure attachment. A German study found that when a partner offers their insecure partner consistent gratitude the partner feels less anxious in the relationship a year later. Gratitude can let your partner see how you feel and validate your care for them, in turn offering a secure space within the relationship. By offering a secure space for your partner you can have a stronger and more supportive relationship if one member has an insecure attachment style. While this may seem like a lot of work for the securely attached person, these simple tools can allow them to get the very best out of the insecure member of their relationship.
This combination can be unpredictable. When two people both holding the insecure-ambivalent attachment get together the relationship will likely move at lightning speed. With both partners potentially having low self-esteem, their relationship will wrap around each other. Relationships with two ambivalent partners will likely move quickly due to the clinginess of each partner, with each partner feeling insecure within the relationship. It can be common for both parties to be constantly worried that the relationship will end, or that the relationship may not be what it seems. For this reason, there may be some issues with trust on either side of this relationship, and this can create common topics for arguments throughout the relationship. The most important thing to be aware of when in a duel ambivalent relationship is your attachment style, and how that contributes to the dynamic of your relationship. Here are some tips that can be supportive:
- Be aware of your attachment style, learn how it sits in you and how it reacts to triggers.
- Learn how to calm yourself when feeling anxious in your relationship
- Try to avoid putting your anxieties onto your partner
- Be open to talking about your experience and attachment style tendencies when they come up
- Acknowledge that your anxiety is yours, and not the result of your partner’s actions
- Try to spend as much time with your partner as you each desire (speak to your partner about this)
- Remind your partner that you are there for them
- Discuss long term plans
- Tell them you love them
- Remind them that your relationship is a safe space
- Remind yourself that you are worthy of love
- Avoid comparing yourself to others
The strain that can occur in a dual ambivalent relationship is usually based on the anxieties and self-worth of each member of the relationship. They will usually combine and create a lack of trust, but when couples are able to be open and explore each other’s attachment style, it offers the ability for the relationship to become safe and flourish in the face of each partner’s anxieties. What a beautiful thing!
When both parties in a relationship hold an insecure-avoidant attachment, it can have a skewed view on what relationships may look like. A lot of the time it can feel like two best friends or roommates hanging out. There isn’t a great deal of intimacy in their relationship, as both partners crave a large amount of space. While they may not speak vulnerably with each other they are likely able to meet each other’s needs when times are good, and so the relationship can feel comfortable. While this relationship dynamic is in no way a bad thing, the internal monologue of each partner may be wanting more, but not feeling safe enough to receive it. An avoidant partner will likely never ask for a deeper/more vulnerable relationship, and this may still be a desire of theirs. If partners remain avoidant it can lead to each member of the relationship drifting away and the relationship finding a natural end. Here are some tips to foster a deep relationship when both partners are naturally avoidant:
- Educate yourself on your attachment style, and what your triggers may be
- Express any difficulties you may have around being vulnerable or sharing your feelings
- Speak with your partner about what each partner may want in the relationship, and how to make that happen
- NOTE: This can be hard to do if a partner is not willing to be vulnerable with the other
- Speak to your partner about any fears of commitment or the future in general
- Find quality time to spend with your partner each day
- Go out of your way to do special things for your partner
- Communicate any boundaries you may have with your partner
- Make sure your partner knows that you care about them
- Avoid putting your walls up when discussing difficult topics
- Try to be as vulnerable as you can with your partner
When in a dual avoidant relationship it can be challenging to be vulnerable, or even instigate some of the above conversations. It is important to be patient with yourself and make sure you are making the choices that you want to make. Reflect on what you may need to be vulnerable with your partner. While deeper communication may not be common in your relationship, it is the key to being vulnerable and building a strong foundation for your relationship to flourish.
Out of all combinations, this one can be the hardest to foster. It is likely that one partner mostly craves the attentiveness of their partner, while their other partner craves space. These polar opposites can quickly end a relationship, as it can be challenging for both partners to meet their needs without resentment. It can be common for the ambivalent partner to compensate for their partner’s lack of emotional response to amplify their own, which commonly causes their partner to shut down more. For a relationship of this kind to work, there is a need for listening, and mutual understanding. Speak with each other and connect on mutual needs. You will likely both have the same needs in a relationship, however your strategies to meet them may be different. Here are some tips to support this process.
- Be aware of each partner’s attachment styles and what triggers may exist
- Have conversations around boundaries. What are the needs of each partner in the relationship?
- Respect the limitations of each partner
- Give and take
- Learn to respect the needs of each member of the relationship, and meet these needs when possible
- Make short term big plans to keep the ambivalent partner feeling secure, while not looking too far in the long term
Here are some more specific tools for each partner:
- Be aware of your partner’s boundaries and give them space when needed
- Avoid speaking too much about long term plans
- Acknowledge when you are feeling ‘clingy’ and make a reasonable request of your partner
- Avoid putting your own anxieties onto your partner
- Remind yourself that you are worthy of love
- Don’t take it personally when your partner is acting distant
- Remind your partner of your love, and foster a safe space for them to be vulnerable
- Be aware that your partner may need more personal time than you are used to.
- Be clear with your needs when you are wanting space
- Avoid being defensive or putting your walls up during arguments
- Express any difficulties you may have around commitment or future thinking
- Tell your partner why you care about them
- Prioritize special occasions
- Share your interests with your partner
- Express appreciation when possible
- Be open to talking about your relationship
- Try to be vulnerable with your partner when possible
While a lot of the above suggestions may contradict themselves at times, it is possible to balance them both. The key is communication and compromise. While each partner may hold a different belief around what support and love may look like, it does not mean that they are unable to meet in the middle. Conversations around boundaries and what each partner is needing is essential. Each partner needs to put in the effort to create a mutually safe environment where both parties can acknowledge their triggers and support each other when these moments arise. This is not an easy task, but the benefits can be beautiful.
Disorganized Relationship (Universal)
The challenge in any relationship with a member holding the Disorganised Attachment label is the fearful nature of this person. Their previous experiences of love and care have offered them an unsafe space, so they are unlikely to see their relationship as a safe space. They will likely believe that their partner is unreliable, and maybe even that their partner wants to hurt them (depending on the relationship with their primary caregiver). The key to being in a strong relationship with someone holding a Disorganised Attachment is to allow them to feel safe. This can be a large challenge, as your partner may not know what a safe space looks like. Offering patience and support in this endeavor is essential to making sure your partner is comfortable, and open to accepting a safe space from you. Here are some tips to help build this safe space for a disorganized partner:
- Educate yourself on Disorganised Attachment
- Understand that the behavior of the disorganized partner usually has little to do with you
- Listen actively to the needs of the disorganized partner
- Accept that your partner will likely feel anxious about things out of your control
- Avoid using sarcasm, or teasing language (especially during arguments)
- Be open and honest with your partner, and offer them a space to do the same
- Have open conversations with your partner, allow them to express their feelings and needs
- This may be related to the present, past or future
- Create a space for your partner to be able to trust you
- Be patient with your partner and understand their potential triggers
- Help build their self-esteem by offering praise and gratitude whenever possible
- Tell them you love them. Tell them why you love them
- Express empathy for your partner whenever possible
If your partner has a disorganized attachment style, they likely find being present with others a challenge. It may be a slow process to create a safe space for your partner, and this may be because they have never experienced this kind of space before. Patience and understanding are key here to allow your partner to move at their own pace. If the partner’s disorganized attachment exists due to childhood trauma it may also be important that they receive counseling as well. Give your everything to your disorganized partner, and give them time to feel comfortable in giving their everything to you.