Ah, the roller-coaster relationship. You know exactly what I am talking about. You have either seen one or have experienced it first hand. They are over the top relationships that are in blissful ecstasy one moment, and plummeting to the depths of dysfunction the next. They are characterized by a pattern of extremes, either high or low, with very little to no middle ground.
From an attachment perspective, the combination that most often contributes to this roller-coaster relationship is the pairing of the anxious style with the avoidant style. Here is why. The anxious attachment style has a strong inherent need for intimacy, while the avoidant style has a strong need for autonomy and independence. When the anxious partner moves toward the avoidant partner for intimacy, the avoidant actually takes a step back in order to maintain their intimacy buffer. This results in the anxious partner ramping up their protest behaviour, causing the avoidant partner to employ their deactivating strategies. The outcome? A never-ending roller-coaster ride of building up closeness, than creating division. The temporary highs feed the needs of the anxious partner and the lows feed the needs of the avoidant partner. The key word here is temporary. This dynamic clearly isn’t the most satisfying or fulfilling, so why don’t people just get off the roller-coaster ride? It isn’t that easy.
The roller-coaster relationship is an all consuming one. The highs are magnificently high and the lows are devastatingly low, either way both are equally intense. The trap with this relationship is that those who have experienced it start to mistake the intensity for passion. The relationship is literally an emotional roller-coaster with constant pulling away and making up. Unfortunately this drama gets mistaken for passion. And we all know that no extreme highs and lows equals no passion, equals boring, equals doomed to fail, equals why am I even trying?! Not quite. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people who are reentering the dating world after leaving an unhealthy roller-coaster relationship tell me that the new prospects they are dating seem too boring. There is not enough passion or its too quiet. Even to the point where they start to provoke conflict or fights just so they can have that extreme high and intensity.
Here’s the deal.
When you mistake drama for passion, you’re forfeiting your chance to date a secure partner. How come? Two reasons. First, secure partners are often repelled by drama. They know how to communicate their needs and don’t like to play games. They won’t put up with chronic protest behaviour or deactivating strategies from their partner. Secondly, those who get addicted to the roller-coaster relationship (especially anxiously attached partners) enjoy the intensity of the high times. When they meet a secure partner, they often find them boring and disqualify them as a match. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. The good guys get overlooked for all of the wrong reasons.
I am here to set the record straight!
Passion does not equal drama and secure does not equal boring. Both anxious and avoidant styles are best paired with a secure partner. If you knew that a secure partner will be responsive to all of your needs, support you and be consistently emotionally and physically present, you might actually give them a chance and see them in a different light. Nice guys don’t finish last, in fact they often make it to the finish line with secure and lasting relationships. If you are on the dating scene and you are an anxious or avoidant attachment style, seek out a secure partner. They will be comfortable with your needs and are known to create the secure buffering effect.
If you are currently in a roller-coaster relationship or marriage, don’t fret. Knowledge and understanding can help to improve any relationship dynamic. Well, knowledge and understanding mixed with some hard work and motivation for change 😉
Next week we will discuss how to escape this anxious-avoidant trap and get off the roller-coaster. Many of you are already past the dating stage and are in long-standing relationships. These relationships can be improved by learning how to effectively communicate and by implementing secure principles. Come back next week and/or subscribe to the mailing list to get the post directly to your email.
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Wishing you love and connection,
Levine, A. & Heller, R. (2010). Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—And Keep—Love. Penguin Group, NY: New York.