In this post, we’ll delve into the intricate dynamics of the Secure and Avoidant attachment combination. We’ll discuss the push-pull pattern, emotional swings, and deep-seated fears that characterize this combination and how they impact the relationship.

A marital relationship involving one partner with a Disorganized (also known as Fearful-Avoidant) attachment style has several distinct elements. The Disorganized dynamic is characterized by a push-pull pattern of seeking closeness and withdrawing due to deep-seated fears and unresolved emotional conflicts. Disorganized people compose roughly 10% of the population. Here are the key elements:

Ambivalence towards intimacy: 

While securely attached partners feel comfortable being vulnerable and intimate with each other, the Disorganized partner experiences conflicting desires for closeness and distance. They may have an intense yearning for emotional connection but simultaneously fear it, leading to a push-pull dynamic. This dynamic is confusing to the secure partner. Despite their fear and avoidance, the Disorganized often craves a stable and secure relationship. They may long for a committed partnership’s safety but struggle to embrace it fully.

Intense emotional swings:

While securely attached partners are comfortable with emotions and can self-regulate, this is not the case with Disorganized partners. The Disorganized partner may have intense and rapid shifts in their emotional state. This can lead to unpredictability in their behavior and difficulty maintaining emotional stability within the relationship. The Disorganized partner may be easily overwhelmed by intense emotions, leading to moments of emotional dysregulation. This can make it challenging to navigate conflicts or moments of emotional intensity. The Secure partner may feel frequently and unexpectedly “off kilter” with unpredictable problems and behaviors.

Deep-seated fears and trauma:

Almost the definition of secure attachment, Secure partners have had a “good enough” parenting experience free from ambivalence, chaos, and trauma. Disorganized individuals often have unresolved traumas or fears related to attachment. These experiences may stem from early childhood relationships or past adult relationships. Trauma leaves its imprint not only on the victim but also on their loved ones. Difficulty identifying or sharing feelings, triggers and flashbacks, avoidance and withdrawal, difficulty trusting, hyper-arousal (anxiety, irritability) or hypo-arousal (depression, numbness), poor boundaries, a reenactment of trauma, and sexual withdrawal can be some of the many consequences of trauma, particularly developmental trauma. The Disorganized partner can dodge, lie, or manipulate as they fall back to this early regressive state. This regressed state creates insecurity and uncertainty in the Secure partner about who this partner is and their present and future life together.

Difficulty trusting others:

While securely attached individuals have an “I’m okay, you’re okay” attitude toward life, Disorganized partners have an “I’m not okay, and neither are you” attitude. Due to their internal conflict and past experiences, the Disorganized individual may find it challenging to trust and fully open up to their spouse. This leaves the Secure partner puzzled and confused and often in self-doubt. The Disorganized partner may fear getting hurt or rejected. They may have developed problematic coping mechanisms for managing their emotions independently. This can sometimes lead to a preference for self-soothing rather than seeking comfort from their partner.

Chaos and turmoil

Disorganized partners are faced with an overwhelming challenge to calm down and self-soothe. People with Disorganized attachment typically have chaos and turmoil in their intimate relationships. They may lean heavily on their Secure partner to help them manage their feelings and then quickly reject their help. They find it challenging to be vulnerable to others or to ask for help. Trust is in very short supply. Deep down, they hold a conviction that people (especially those they are closest to) are unreliable and can be dangerous. The Secure partner is often placed in a dominant, controlling role or ignored. The Secure partner finds it hard to have equity in the relationship because there is little trust and deep suspicion.

Tendency to sabotage:

Securely attached partners are a “you get what you see” presentation of self. There is no game-playing. They are often explicit about who they are and what they want. In contrast, the Disorganized can engage in behaviors that undermine the relationship, such as creating distance, testing their partner’s commitment, or provoking conflicts. Disorganized fear of getting too close can drive these actions. However, when they feel too far away and face risking the loss of the relationship, they become panicked and frightened, wanting to re-establish closeness. This swing in emotions and actions leaves the Secure partner exhausted, confused, and distressed.

Inconsistent communication:

Secure partners approach conflicts with a healthy and constructive mindset. They can communicate openly about disagreements, seek compromises, and find solutions that work for both parties. Communication with a Disorganized partner can be inconsistent at best. They may struggle to express their needs clearly and vacillate between seeking closeness and withdrawing. They may be highly self-focused and unwilling or unable to consider or process how their behavior impacts their Secure partner. This leaves the Secure partner frustrated by their communication style.

Need for reassurance:

The Secure partner may occasionally need reassurance during rocky personal challenges. Like the anxiously attached partner, the Disorganized partner may require ongoing reassurance of their partner’s commitment and love. However, they may or may not ask for it. They seek validation and affirmation to help alleviate their fears but often refuse to accept the comfort. Instead, they get angry because they can’t trust the sincerity of their partner’s feelings. They may expect their Secure partner to mind-read their motivations and intentions and are left bereft when the Secure partner fails at this task.

When a calm stability brings trauma

As confusing as it sounds, the Disorganized feels more pressure as they settle into a calm, ordinary life with their Secure partner. In that calm, it becomes safe enough for their demons to rise to the surface. When they become flooded with traumatic memories and flashbacks, they become anxious, dysregulated, and uneasy.

Regression to an earlier state is common. If they grew up surrounded by chaos, they may begin to enact it in their present life. They may read hostile intentions in their partner’s communications. They may pick fights. They may start or intensify drinking or drugging to calm these negative internal voices. Once trouble arises in the Secure-Disorganized marriage, it can elicit so much anxiety for some Disorganized spouses that they would rather bail out on the Secure partner than be dumped by them.

Disorganized partners are on a continuum, as some have had greater frequency or intensity with fewer supports than others. As a result, some achieve Secure attachment in couples therapy more readily than others.

Disorganized dynamics can be challenging, but with patience, empathy, and the support of a skilled therapist, couples can work together to understand and navigate these dynamics. Open and compassionate communication is vital to building a secure and fulfilling partnership.

Secure attachment is in reach for everyone! People usually have an “aha” moment when they get feedback from their BIG BIG Book. They connect the dots between their family of origin, current marital challenges, and attachment style. Attachment styles are pervasive.

Clients are often profoundly grateful for the insights that attachment science offers. Sometimes, it takes work to see how we were shaped and courage for us to decide to be different.


The Secure and Disorganized attachment combination can be challenging, but with empathy, open communication, and the guidance of a skilled therapist, couples can navigate these complexities and work towards building a more secure and fulfilling partnership. In the final post, we’ll discuss whether attachment styles can change and how attachment-based couples therapy can help.