Bi-racial couple smiling in an article by Lisa Rabinowitz on different attachment styles.

Why Are Different Attachment Styles Attracted To Each Other (Even When It Causes Stress In The Relationship)

Have you ever wondered why you find yourself attracted to a particular individual person, even if they may not be the best match for you? You may be curious why opposites attract or why you are drawn to certain attachment styles, even when it causes stress?, “How do attachment styles figure into attraction?”, or “Are different attachment styles attracted to each other?”

As a marriage therapist for over 10 years, sometimes I am often asked, “Why can’t I stop being attracted to one type of person?” or “Why can’t I just stop connecting to certain types of people?” 

What Are The 3 Attachment Styles?

John Bowlby and later Mary Ainsworth introduced the concept of attachment styles to describe the emotional bond and connection that develops in early childhood between the infant and primary caregiver. 

These patterns develop in infancy based on the quality and consistency of connection. As an adult, they shape your connection or disconnection in adult relationships. 

The most commonly recognized attachment styles are secure, insecure-anxious and insecure-avoidant.  

However, if your early childhood connection were insecure, you may pick an insecure functioning relationship because it is familiar to you.

Before explaining the three attachment styles, I want to clarify that you should never call your partner (especially in a fight, “You are being so avoidant…!) one of the three attachment styles. One of the main reasons for learning about the three different attachment types is to help you better understand yourself, your partner and your relationship and how you connect and bond together. 

What Is A Secure Attachment Style?

If your primary caregiver had a secure attachment style, they were consistently responsive to your needs in a timely and appropriate manner. You felt like you could rely on them because they provided a nurturing and loving home. As a result, you developed a sense of trust, an ability to securely connect with another person and did not feel threatened by closeness. You did not fear rejection, abandonment or being smothered in a relationship. In addition, since you had a secure attachment, you learned to effectively regulate your emotions and address and identify your feelings and the feelings of others.

If the style of connection is secure with your primary caregiver, then the likelihood is that you will pick a secure romantic partner.

What Is An Insecure Anxious Attachment Style?

If your primary caregiver was inconsistent in their availability to care for you and meet your needs, you may develop an insecure anxious attachment. These caregivers are often distracted and busy with other things, leaving you feeling unsure and anxious if they will be able to care for you. 

Insecure anxious individuals are usually more moody, clingy and anxious in romantic relationships. They desire to be excessively close to you and need reassurance due to a fear of being abandoned or rejected by you. An insecure anxious partner may look for clues and be scared that at any time you will leave them, leading to feelings of insecurity. 

If you feel a push-pull dynamic in your relationship (“I want to be close to you, but I don’t want to be close to you”), you may be with a partner who tends to be an insecure anxious partner. This pattern of desiring closeness and fearing abandonment happens simultaneously. 

What Is An Insecure Avoidant Attachment Style?

Insecure avoidant partners were usually raised in homes where they received less attention and interaction from their primary caregiver. Instead the focus in the home was on performance, such as excelling academically or in sports, rather than emotional connection. They learned to be independent and care for themselves at an early age. As a child, they were praised for playing quietly and taking care of themselves. 

As adults, insecure avoidant individuals pride themselves on being independent and enjoy spending time alone. This can be attributed to many factors, but very significantly, they have difficulty with transition and want and need space to be alone. In addition, they have learned to be self-reliant and have difficulty asking for help from others. They often perceive that asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence. 

They may struggle with intimacy, closeness, dependency of a partner and expressing emotions.  These individuals often exhibit certain consistent behaviors; for example, they tend to avoid conflict, which sometimes leads them to stretch the truth and omit information when communicating with their partners. The avoidance of conflict may cause them to be hyper-vigilant regarding any indication that their partner wishes to initiate a conversation about a particular topic. 

They also fear being trapped or controlled in a relationship or by their partner, making it difficult to commit to a serious relationship or marriage. Sometimes they may agree to getting engaged because they want to please their partner and it appears like they want to get married, but they might keep postponing the marriage date. 

Which Attachment Styles Go Best Together?

Two securely attached partners will not create undue stress on their relationship, due to the similarity of their attachment styles, and they have experienced connection and intimacy with a primary caregiver and they were shown how to care for another person.

In fact, any attachment style will go well with a securely attached partner, because secures are good at connecting and caring for their partner. 

The insecure anxious partner and insecure avoidant partner will be attracted to the securely attached partner because the insecure partners really desire and instinctively seek a reliable, consistent, caring and dependable partner. Sometimes the insecure partners may adapt and become more securely attached as they learn in relationships like these. 

You can think about it this way: imagine insecure-anxious on one end of a line and insecure-avoidant on the opposite end of the line, with secure attachment in the middle.  Overall, you may have a tendency to drift toward the middle. 

So Why Are Different Attachment Styles Attracted To Each Other?

The simple answer is sometimes this happens. Especially when there are unhealed childhood wounds or unmet needs. It’s not the romantic notion you see in the movies where opposites attract. That’s a nice idea and sometimes it does happen, but really as a marriage therapist what I can tell you is that if were to survey all of my couples I have seen over the years, I would estimate that 80% of my couples are made up of one partner who is insecure-avoidant and one partner who is insecure-anxious. 

Why are such different attachment styles are attracted to each other? This attraction is based on partners being drawn to a partner that somehow triggers the memory of a wound from childhood. The need to heal this “old hurt” is experienced years later, as adults and is rooted in the hope that they will receive the love that they didn’t get when they were a child. 

Both insecure partners want love, but unfortunately, they may not know how to be there for their spouse in a loving and caring way. This will lead each person to feel unloved like they did when they were a child. Couples repeat this pattern over and over every day in their relationship without knowing it. They don’t know how to be there for each other and this causes immense stress in the relationship. It’s often what leads couples to therapy or to seek out intensive marriage retreats because they simply want the issue “done with”.

For example, while the insecure-anxious partner may need their insecure-avoidant partner to talk things out when they are in a fight, the only thing the insecure-avoidant partner wants is to end the fight and get out of the room. The more needy the anxious partner becomes, the more they want their avoidant partner to stay, giving them love and assurances they need in that moment. Unfortunately, the more the avoidant partner feels trapped and attacked the less likely they are to give their spouse what they truly need to deescalate the situation.

This is a LOSE-LOSE scenario for both partners.

If the couple does not learn how to navigate conflict differently, it creates more stress, hurt and pain in the relationship.  

When partners with different insecure attachment styles are attracted to each other, they will need to learn how to take care of each other during fights and disagreements in order for their relationship to last.

The notion that opposites attract is likely rooted in this kind of scenario where couples seek out a partner who can help them heal from their past. This kind of seeking is not something people really think about, and when couples are not in the throes of a big fight, this can actually be an opportunity for deeper growth and healing.

Of course, that’s AFTER you’ve been to therapy!

Which Attachment Styles Are Not Compatible

After the honeymoon part of the relationship dies down, you will be able to more clearly observe whether or not your partner is emotionally available to connect and how they deal with conflict. As the relationship moves into the next stage of commitment, you will be able to determine if you are compatible. 

Those with insecure attachment styles will need to learn their partners’ fear, worries, insecurities and challenges. 

But remember – the three different attachment styles can be compatible with the other attachment styles.  

Why are different attachment styles attracted to each other is a question that many people ask. Understanding the attachment styles helps you comprehend how individuals with different attachment styles can bond and stay together, even when it causes stress in the relationship. 

If I can help you with understanding your different attachment styles and how to better related to each other, please reach out.

Updated 2.13.24

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Rabinowitz

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a certified Gottman therapist working with couples in the US and internationally. Lisa has worked for many years with couples who have both diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD. Her certifications and experience uniquely qualify her to support couples with relationship challenges that often feel insurmountable. Please reach out for a free 20-minute consultation with Lisa today.

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