Anxious Avoidant Relationships: The Worst Combo

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Attached" by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why should you avoid an anxious-avoidant relationship? Why do relationships between anxious and avoidant attachers often fail? What signs should you look out for?

When anxious attachers and avoidant attachers get into a relationship, conflict is inevitable. In the best case, the relationship is a rollercoaster ride, and in the worst cases, the relationship leads to abuse.

Keep reading to learn why anxious-avoidant relationships should be given a wide berth.

When Anxious and Avoidant Attachers Collide

We’ve seen that secure attachers can often make any kind of relationship work. Through their good modeling, an anxious or avoidant partner may rise to the secure partner’s level. In a perfect world, every relationship would contain at least one naturally secure partner, but too often, that’s not the case. The most volatile combination is when anxious attachers get involved with avoidant attachers. With neither partner being a naturally secure base, frequent conflicts erupt over trivial, everyday issues. At the crux of the chronic strife is a seemingly irreconcilable clash over intimacy. 

Signs of an Anxious-Avoidant Relationship

If you’re part of an anxious-avoidant pairing, you’ll likely experience these conditions: 

  • An abundance of highs and lows. Periods of extreme closeness are followed by extreme withdrawal. 
  • A “stably unstable” pairing. The relationship may last for years, but it’s always off-kilter because neither partner achieves the degree of intimacy they desire. 
  • Arguments about extremely trivial issues that don’t seem worthy of an argument, like how your partner squeezes the toothpaste tube, whether to go on vacation to Hawaii or Colorado, or what’s the right way to load the dishwasher. 
  • Conflicts that never get resolved. Resolution would result in emotional closeness, which the avoidant is trying to avoid. 
  • A feeling of being trapped. Both parties know the relationship isn’t working, but they feel too connected to the other person to leave. 

Why Anxious-Avoidant Conflicts Escalate  

When anxious-avoidant relationships last for a substantial period of time, both parties can get trapped in an escalating cycle. The anxious attacher tries harder to get closer, and the avoidant tries harder to distance themselves. The anxious attacher utilizes activation strategies; the avoidant utilizes deactivation strategies. The result? Both parties are stuck in a simmering, or sometimes exploding, conflict—no matter how much they genuinely love each other. 

In these “stably unstable” relationships, interactions tend to worsen over time because the couple’s differences expand into every corner of life. For example, what starts as a conflict over whether to get married becomes a standoff over issues like visiting each other’s families, splitting the household chores evenly, or spending money on a joint vacation. The gap between partners widens as every aspect of their shared life becomes a point of contention. 

Additionally, most conflicts are left unresolved because the avoidant attacher doesn’t want resolution. So with every argument, the anxious partner falls further behind in the emotional contest between the two. The anxious partner realizes—once again—that they are losing the fight to bring the avoidant partner closer, which makes them act out with greater vigor. 

Anxious Avoidant Relationships: The Worst Combo

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Amir Levine and Rachel Heller's "Attached" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Attached summary :

  • Why your partner behaves the way they do
  • How your attachment style affects your relationship
  • How to distance yourself from unhealthy relationships

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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