While I discuss how the different attachment types fare in relationships with each other in my book (Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong), I didn’t go into great detail, mostly because the book is directed at those looking to get into a relationship, not those trying to deal with one they already have. But I see there is great interest in using attachment theory and types to try to guide difficult relationships to a more secure and satisfying pattern, so here’s my (sometimes speculative) take on each combination type:
Secure with Secure:
These couples may well have other problems (addiction, differences over money and spending, fairy-tale expectations), but on the whole since they are both Secure, they tend to communicate well and don’t end up in the dysfunctional communication patterns as often. Having their own internal sense of security makes them less self-centered, and allows greater empathy for their partner’s feelings. A sense of reasonableness and fairness makes every issue they face a bit easier to face together, and counting on each other is more often rewarded.
Anxious-Preoccupied with Secure:
The Preoccupied one will test the patience of the Secure one by requiring more messages of reassurance and edging toward anxiety when the Secure one can’t respond quickly or reassuringly. This will tend to drive the Secure one toward a more Dismissive attachment style in interactions–despite possessing internal security, the excessive demands of the Preoccupied would make anyone less patient. If this problem is not too severe, the Secure partner can bring the Preoccupied partner further toward security by constant patient reassurance, even when the Preoccupied one is being unreasonable.
The Secure partner will sometimes feel alone in carrying most of the responsibility for the relationship’s emotional stability. In crisis, the Preoccupied will revert to anxiety and self-centeredness, and that will feel to the Secure like partner flakeout. If the relationship does well and the Preoccupied grow more secure in time, this problem will ease.
More on this couple type: Anxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example, Type: Anxious-Preoccupied, Type: Secure
Dismissive-Avoidant with Secure:
The Dismissive will tend to drive the Secure partner toward attachment anxiety by failing to respond well or at all to reasonable messages requesting reassurance. As with the Preoccupied, an extremely secure partner can gradually change the insecure partner toward more security, but at great cost in patience and effort. If the Dismissive recognizes the problem and takes some responsibility for trying to respond positively even when he doesn’t really feel like it, this can gradually reorient the Dismissive partner toward more satisfying couples communication. If this does not happen, a Secure is more likely to give up on the relationship and move on, since unlike the Preoccupied who often stick with bad relationships, the Secure partner knows someone better is out there and is not too afraid to give up on a losing relationship.
Fearful-Avoidant with Secure:
This has some similarities with the Dismissive-Secure pairing, but the lower self-esteem of the Fearful-Avoidant makes it more likely he or she will be the one to exit the relationship when it becomes intimate and routine, since the closer they get to a real person the more afraid they are of loss, and apparently rationalizing their exit as due to their partner’s flaws is less painful than they subconsciously imagine being rejected by their partner would be.
More on this pairing: Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Dismissive-Avoidant with Anxious-Preoccupied:
This is a classic long-lasting but dysfunctional pairing. The two types (one under-valuing attachment and one over-valuing attachment) create an interlocking dependency full of stress and anxiety for both. Because the Dismissive may actually prefer having his/her view of others as needy and clingy confirmed, and by the sense of controlling the relationship by doling out just enough responsiveness to keep the Preoccupied partner off-balance but in the hook, the Dismissive may settle in for the long haul, while the Preoccupied partner is unhappy with settling for crumbs but sticks around out of fear of being alone, afraid of never finding another relationship.
This is one of the most common (second only to Secure-Secure) long-lasting relationship types. More on this couple type: Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment, Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Fearful-Avoidant with Anxious-Preoccupied:
Somewhat like the Dismissive-Preoccupied pairing, but less stable; the avoidant partner will be less comfortable with the constant requests for reassurance from the Preoccupied partner and will be less likely to tolerate a long relationship spent fending off intimacy. If the avoidant partner allows real closeness to develop, that triggers his or her anxiety; if they stay at a distance, the Preoccupied partner will be unhappy and increase the level of requests.
Anxious-Preoccupied with Anxious-Preoccupied:
A match that usually ends badly and quickly as neither partner is good at anticipating the needs of the other. It’s not impossible that two mildly Preoccupied individuals will bond and learn to satisfy each other’s security needs, but it is rare.
Fearful-Avoidant with Dismissive-Avoidant:
Uncommon, since neither avoidant type is very good at positive attachment. While one might think both types would prefer to be with more distancing partners, the Fearful-Avoidant is not comfortable without intimacy and would find the Dismissive’s lack of positive messaging as anxiety-inducing as the other types. Meanwhile, the Dismissive partner doesn’t get as much ego-boosting attention as he or she would from another type, and so this combination is less likely to even get started.
Dismissive-Avoidant with Dismissive-Avoidant:
…and even more so for this very rare combination. Without a partner willing to do some of the communications work, this couple type rarely even gets started, and the “why bother?” from both of them tends to end it quickly under even minor stresses.
Fearful-Avoidant with Fearful-Avoidant:
Even more rare since the fearful-avoidant type is uncommon. These two will find it tough to reach stable orbits around each other. But since they both feel a real need for intimacy even if they are skittish when it actually happens, there’s a chance they can make it work. They are more likely to succeed if aware of each other’s insecurities.
[Note: if you arrived here looking for insight into a dismissive or fearful-avoidant spouse or lover, I’ve just published a book on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner.]
More on Attachment and Personality Types:
What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
nxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
Sale! Sale! Sale! – “Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic: Subpersonalities
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management