Disorganized Attachment
in Relationships


Disorganized attachment in relationships can be challenging to manage - but far from impossible. Through understanding how this attachment style develops and plays out in relationships, disorganized attachers and their partners can take the steps toward more fulfilling and secure partnerships.

Disorganized Attachment
in Relationships


Disorganized attachment in relationships can be challenging to manage - but far from impossible. Through understanding how this attachment style develops and plays out in relationships, disorganized attachers and their partners can take the steps toward more fulfilling and secure partnerships.

Disorganized attachment in relationships can be troublesome both for disorganized attachers and for their partners. This is due to the fact that this attachment style incorporates and vacillates between elements of both the avoidant and anxious styles

Despite often confusing actions to the contrary, disorganized attachers want relationships – they want to love and be loved. However, they’re also afraid that their partners will betray their trust, so they struggle to let others “in”.

These contrasting behaviors are due to the central component of the disorganized attachment style being fear within relationships. In truth, the disorganized attachment style is considered to be the most difficult form of insecure attachment to manage – disorganized adults strongly desire love and acceptance but simultaneously fear that those closest to them will hurt them. From the disorganized attachment viewpoint, rejection, disappointment, and hurt in relationships are inevitable – it’s just a matter of “when”.

For this reason, we will discuss:

  • What disorganized attachment is
  • How disorganized attachment plays out in relationships
  • Tips for dating someone with a disorganized attachment style
  • How disorganized attachment can affect marriages
  • Breakups and disorganized attachment

What Is Disorganized Attachment Style?

Disorganized attachment is one of the three forms of insecure attachment (avoidant, anxious, and disorganized).

According to Attachment Theory, when a caregiver is sensitive and attuned to their child’s needs during their formative years (the first eighteen months), the child develops a sense of safety and stability. They develop a secure attachment style.

In contrast, the roots of the disorganized attachment style are in perceived fear.

When a caregiver is emotionally and physically unavailable to their child, or displays highly contrasting behavior which is unpredictable or frightening, the child starts to fear for their safety. In extreme cases, some children with disorganized attachment were subject to abuse, or they may have experienced neglect or witnessed traumatic situations.

As a result, the child doesn’t know when their caregiver will meet their needs – or if they will at all. Consequently, they cannot bond securely with their caregiver and may try to forge a sense of closeness with them to satisfy their need for proximity and affection. However, the child also realizes that they need to distance themselves from their caregiver as a form of self-protection.

Disorganized attachment in adults is shaped by the individual’s experiences as a child.

So, as adults, people with a disorganized attachment style tend to lack coherence in their own behaviors. They actively seek out closeness with others, but their experiences taught them that the people closest to them aren’t to be trusted. As a result, the disorganized attacher typically rejects others’ attempts at proximity and affection.

What Is Disorganized Attachment in Relationships?

Disorganized attachers view their romantic partners as unpredictable because their childhood template for relationships taught them that others couldn’t be relied upon. They are constantly on edge because they believe that hurt, rejection, and disappointment are inevitable in relationships. As a result of this belief, they tend to repeat the same unhealthy patterns in their adult romantic partnerships.

There are a number of ways in which disorganized attachment in relationships can play out:

Difficulties “opening up”

Someone with a disorganized attachment style in relationships may struggle with disclosing their feelings to a partner and allowing themselves to be vulnerable in a relationship. They might find it difficult to open up to other people because they tend to have a negative view of themselves and others.

Acting out

Disorganized attachers often become a self-fulfilling prophecy in relationships. They tend to act in difficult or often intolerable ways that end up pushing their partners away – thus ending the relationship and confirming their belief that other people will reject them.

Choosing unsuitable partners

Disorganized attachers tend to recreate the conditions of their childhood. They may subconsciously get involved with fearful or potentially abusive people. This way, they confirm their belief that other people aren’t to be trusted.

Trust issues

Disorganized attachers’ template for relationships taught them that they could not rely on others to accept and love them for who they are. As a result, they may act suspiciously and be jealous of their partners’ behaviors.

Difficulties regulating emotions

A partner with a disorganized attachment style may be prone to mood swings and create conflict within a relationship.

They may also have problems expressing their needs and emotions in coherent ways because they struggle to understand them.


Similar to anxious attachers, disorganized adults can be clingy and demanding in relationships. They deeply desire love, so they actively seek attention and approval, but can overanalyze their partners’ actions due to fear of abandonment.

Shutting down

Disorganized attachers also share traits with the avoidant attachment style in relationships.

Because they presume that their needs won’t be cared for by others, they shut down their emotions and may come across as cold and unfeeling to their partners.

Behaving inconsistently

Due to their desire for closeness, yet simultaneous fear of it, someone with a disorganized attachment style may display a push and pull energy in their relationships. This may look like an “I hate you – don’t leave me” pattern of behaviors – which could clearly be highly confusing for their partners.

Trust Issues in Disorganised Attachers

As the above points suggest, the traits of the disorganized attachment style can make relationship stability and longevity a challenge.

However, this doesn’t mean that disorganized attachment relationships are doomed to fail. Yet it might signify that a significant amount of understanding and effort is required from both the disorganized attacher and their partner in order to make the relationship work.

Bear in mind that the disorganized attachment style doesn’t just affect romantic relationships.
Disorganized attachment friendships are also characterized by difficulties with trusting others, an inability to be mutually vulnerable, and struggles with maintaining long-term friendships.

Regardless of whether you’re romantically involved with a disorganized attacher, or if they’re platonic to you but nevertheless important in your life, then the below tips are transferable to most circumstances.

Dating Someone With Disorganized Attachment

Although dating someone with a disorganized attachment style is bound to have its challenges from time to time, successful disorganized attachment dating is entirely possible with understanding, patience, and the right skill set.

The following steps may help you support a disorganized attacher in the way they need within a relationship:

I. Communicate openly and clearly

Someone with a disorganized attachment style in relationships might have problems expressing their emotions to their loved ones because they either have difficulty interpreting their feelings or else fear a negative response for doing so.

It’s possible to help a disorganized partner open up by communicating your own feelings and needs in a clear, coherent, and open manner. Doing so may give your partner the courage to do so themselves, as well as possibly help them recognize their own complex or intense emotions.

II. Be consistent

Inconsistent behavior is a major trigger for disorganized attachers high in attachment anxiety. Regularly letting your partner know how important they are to you and that you’re there for them may help them feel more secure and supported within the relationship.

III. Aim to be patient and understanding

What may often come across as irrational and hurtful behavior from a disorganized partner is actually their way of coping with fear within the relationship.

Try to understand that what they are feeling is very real to them, even if their behavior seems bizarre. They’re likely not trying to hurt you – but their actions are the only way they’ve learned how to manage instability in their life.

IV. Listen to their concerns

Be supportive and allow your partner to voice their fears to you, as doing so can help them understand the flaws in their way of thinking. It’s important to validate their emotions, but you can also gently point out current inaccuracies in their thought patterns. You could also provide them with evidence to the contrary – such as how you’ve never hurt them in the past, so there’s no reason to think otherwise.

V. Don’t expect trust straight away

Your disorganized partner may feel like they can’t trust the important people in their life. Therefore, as we have already mentioned, you may need to be patient and consistent in your actions. The trust will likely come in time, but if you attempt to force it, you may inadvertently create setbacks within the relationship.

VI. Consider therapy

Therapy for disorganized attachment typically involves delving into the childhood experiences that led to its development. Through doing so, a disorganized partner is given the opportunity to understand how past traumas have contributed to their current thought patterns and difficulties within relationships.

Disorganized Attachment in Marriage

Disorganized attachment in marriage plays out in similar ways to the other forms of disorganized relationships. Despite clearly loving their partner enough to marry them, if the disorganized attacher has not processed their maladaptive outlook on themself and the world, they still likely have a negative view of themselves and their spouse. They continue to feel unworthy of love and anticipate that their spouse will hurt them.

As a result of this outlook, the disorganized attacher feels uncomfortable trusting their spouse, despite craving closeness and intimacy from them – therefore, they may reach out for closeness and quickly withdraw from it.

All of these inconsistent and contradictory disorganized behaviors can be incredibly challenging for a spouse to cope with.

Furthermore, someone with a disorganized attachment style in relationships may use sex as a tool to avoid conflict. The physical act of lovemaking allows them to feel connected with their partner, yet they don’t have to address the underlying problems in the relationship that led to the conflict in the first place.

Another withdrawal behavior that a disorganized attacher may engage in when attempting to distance themselves from relationship intimacy is infidelity. This isn’t to suggest that all disorganized attachers cheat in relationships. According to research, however, someone with a disorganized attachment style may be more likely to act out sexually in an attempt to connect without intimacy.

All of these traits and potential coping methods can be highly destructive to a marriage.

However, the marital relationship is instrumental in helping a disorganized spouse to heal from childhood trauma as it engages the spouse in the process of retraining the brain towards more “learned” security in relationships. Therefore, as well as utilizing the tips for dating someone with disorganized attachment, it may benefit a married couple struggling with the challenges associated with disorganized attachment to undergo counseling with a trained marriage or attachment therapist.

Break Up and Disorganized Attachment

No matter how secure we may be within ourselves and our relationships, we all experience breakups at some point in our lives. Yet, this doesn’t make the heartache any easier – however; our attachment style can determine how we emotionally respond to breakups.

Disorganized attachment breakups tend to be a bit of a rollercoaster. Initially, a disorganized attacher may do all that they can to avoid the pain of a breakup, so they might numb their feelings in unhealthy ways such as by abusing substances.

However, inevitably, the negative feelings associated with the breakup will catch up with the disorganized attacher, and they may experience further reductions in self-esteem. For this reason, the disorganized attachment style is associated with rushing into rebound relationships or “flings” in an attempt to distract themselves from the negative emotions associated with the end of a relationship.

Any of these triggers could result in someone with an avoidant attachment style either withdrawing from a relationship, or even breaking up with their partner.

However, once someone with this attachment style starts to recognize their triggers and how they react to them, they can regulate their responses in more healthy ways.

If someone with a disorganized attachment style is struggling in the aftermath of a breakup, it’s important for them not to shut down their emotions and instead attempt to express them to a trusted friend or family member. If they do not feel comfortable doing so, then mental health professionals can help them to process their attachment issues and any pain associated with a breakup, so as to reach more balanced patterns of feelings and behaviors.

In many ways, processing a breakup in therapy is an excellent way of understanding how repeating behaviors led to the breakup, because the disorganized attacher never processed their underlying issues from their childhood. Recognizing these patterns is a crucial start in the process of change.

Our guide on Attachment Styles and Breakups may be able to offer more insight into how attachment styles can affect how we process and move on from breakups.

Final Thoughts on Disorganized Attachment in Relationships:

It may often feel like attachment styles are permanent. Yet, with knowledge, understanding, and the right skill-set, forming healthy relationships with a disorganized attachment style is entirely possible.

Disorganized attachers can develop “learned” secure attachment by identifying their irrational thoughts about themselves and relationships, and they could change their attachment-related behaviors as a result.

For many people, the best way of forging learned security with a disorganized attachment style is through a therapist. Others may feel more comfortable starting their process of change by discussing their issues with a partner, trusted friend, or through a workbook.

However, regardless of how they choose to do so, consistency and effort are key if someone with a disorganized attachment style wants to achieve change.

Curious to learn more about your attachment style?

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Bowlby, J.(1982). Attachment and Loss: Volume 1 Attachment. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books.

Chopik, W. J., Edelstein, R. S., & Grimm, K. J. (2019). Longitudinal changes in attachment orientation over a 59-year period. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(4), 598–611.

Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P.R. (2007). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Guilford Press.

Ramona L. Paetzold, W. Steven Rholes, and Jamie L. Kohn. (2015). Disorganized Attachment in Adulthood: Theory, Measurement, and Implications for Romantic Relationships. Review of General Psychology, 19,(2), 146–56.

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