There are many different types of dysfunctional relationships. In codependent types of relationships, a common pattern of behavior that can be found is the anxious-avoidant trap. Sherry Gaba explains this pattern in full detail in her book, The Marriage and Relationship Junkie, and once you know the trap, it is easy to see.
The dynamics of the anxious-avoidant trap are like a push and pull mechanism. These are both attachment styles, and they are on opposite ends of the spectrum from each other.
The anxious partner in the relationship moves into the other person. They are the partner that wants attention, needs intimacy and feels that it is only through emotional and physical closeness that this person feels satisfied and content in the relationship.
The avoidant, as the name implies, wants to move away when he or she is feeling threatened by being crowded or pushed in a relationship. This is threatening, and it often seems to these people they are being overwhelmed, overloaded and consumed by the anxious person.
They feel they have lost their sense of self, their autonomy, and their own individual identity as the anxious partner seeks to move ever closer.
The signs you can look for to see if you are in an anxious-avoidant trap include:
- Arguments about nothing – when the anxious partner cannot get the love and intimacy they desire or sense the avoidant moving away, they pick a fight to get the attention they crave.
- No solutions – not only are there a lot of big arguments about little things, but there are never any solutions. Addressing the real issue, the relationship and feeling overwhelmed, is not in the nature of the avoidant. They do not want to engage in solving the problem as the problem, in their eyes, is the other person.
- More alone time – the avoidant often creates fights just to be able to push further away. As the anxious partner becomes more emotional and more passionate about fixing the relationship, the avoidant becomes less engaged and more distant, until they can walk away and find the autonomy they are craving.
- The regrets – after the verbal outburst and the avoidant leaves, the anxious, who may have said cruel and hurtful things, immediately feels the loss of the partner and starts to think of all the reasons they need to stay together. At the same time, the avoidant is focusing on those negatives, which reinforces the feelings of needing to be away from the other person.
At some time, which may take hours or days or even much longer, there is a reconciliation. However, the avoidant is already a bit more distant, which quickly triggers the anxious partner to repeat the cycle, thus creating the anxious-avoidant trap.
Over time, the cycle becomes longer, and the reconciliation becomes shorter in total duration.
Interestingly, in a 2009 publication in Psychological Science by JA Simpson and others, a study found that both of these attachment types have very different ways of remembering the conflict, with both types remembering their own behavior more favorably after conflict based on what they needed in the relationship.