Can Anxious and Avoidant Relationships Work?

The relationship duet is the dance of intimacy that couples do. One partner moves in, the other backs up. Partners may reverse roles, but always maintain a certain space between them. 

The dance is a draining, yet familiar one for all involved. But why do these couples even attract in the first place? What can you do when your avoidant partner pulls away? And can partners with such drastic attachment styles really work? The short answer is yes. But the secret of how these couples maintain is a bit more complex.

Anxious and avoidant relationships can thrive if each party is willing to accommodate the other’s emotional needs. For example, Avoidants may need to be patient with their partners, maintain openness, and not avoid important conversations that can lead to emotional intimacy. Likewise, Anxious individuals should work to overcome their anxieties by releasing fear, understanding that trying to control every aspect of a relationship is a form of self-sabotage.

Most times, what happens is people with attachment issues struggle to manage the give and take of relationships.

The Anxious partner, initially drawn to the security and seemingly consistent attention of their avoidant partner, becomes increasingly unsettled when they envision losing the intense love they felt in the beginning. It triggers more panic and their instinctual reaction is to seek more attention. For the avoidant lover, already on guard for signs of oppression, senses the urgency in their partner’s panic as control. Feelings of disdain may build toward the abandoned lover, increasing their panic and causing the avoidant to withdraw even more.

Most often raised in a home where emotions were not reflected, those on the Avoidant side remain accustomed to a lack of accommodation from others—sometimes subconsciously wishing their partner would notice when something is wrong so it doesn’t need to be spoken. Asking for help feels too vulnerable for them. Behind all the blaming, deflecting, and lack of disclosure lies an intense fear of oppression and rejection—a belief that communication with a partner is like giving them a weapon. Asking someone on the avoidant side about their feelings can easily be perceived as entrapment.

In some cases, Avoidants recognize the anxious energy from their partners as the same energy they themselves seek to suppress: the helpless, anxious child. While initially drawn to that energy with a sense of familiarity, avoidant strategies kick in to subdue that energy in the anxious partner as well, causing a rift in the relationship.

So then, how can it work?

If either side felt safe in intimacy, this dance would not last. To create this kind of balance each person should recognize that neither of you chose your emotional patterns—you both adapted to your early environments and learned this as a way to survive. Thus, in order to maintain a healthy romantic relationship, you will need to unlearn some of the things you have carried with you for most of your life. This, of course, is easier said than done, but it is attainable. But, how?

It takes practice — continued practice. But the good news is, over time, both anxious and avoidant partners can become more secure in their relationship. And a loving partner is the best person to do this with. Even if they struggle with insecure attachments themselves, you can work together to create a new pattern in your relationship. When one of you recognizes behavioral triggers, you can choose to take a different path together. You both do your own work in the relationship, learning about each other’s emotional attachment styles. And if you fall back into your old ways (which you likely will, in the beginning), you know your partner can gently remind you of the changes you’ve made and support you in getting back on track.

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4 thoughts on “Can Anxious and Avoidant Relationships Work?

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