Dating & Disorganized Attachment: 5 Signs Of It + FAQ 

Author: Sarah Meyer

Are you dating someone with a history of childhood trauma - particularly abandonment or abuse? 

Or, if you aren’t sure of your lover’s history just yet, do they tend to be highly unpredictable, telling you how wonderful you are one minute and acting “spooked” and distant the next? 

There are many ways to interpret this kind of dating behavior, but one of those ways is through the lens of disorganized attachment (also known as fearful avoidant attachment style). 

Individuals with a disorganized attachment style tend to face significant difficulties in close relationships. 

In particular, they tend to have problems with: 

  • Stability
  • Trust; and 
  • Managing psychological distance

They might, for example, not have a good sense of what is appropriate to share early on in a relationship. 

Specifically, they might tell you a lot of things about themselves, making you feel really special and as though you have formed a uniquely authentic bond. 

But not too long after, they may get suddenly distant or angry with you, without giving you a clear reason why. 

It may look like they are being driven by an invisible narrative that has nothing to do with what’s actually happening in your relationship. This can make dating very confusing. 

Im going to look at:

  • What disorganized attachment is
  • Five signs the person you are dating has a disorganized attachment style; and then
  • Answer some common questions related to disorganized attachment style and dating

QUIZ TIME: What is my core attachment style? CLICK HERE to find out with our specially crafted women-specific 10 Question Quiz!

(Why is this important? It is because your core attachment style largely dictates and influences what happens in your relationship. Thus it’s imperative you understand your core attachment style!)

Disorganized attachment is a type of attachment pattern that describes the way people behave in close relationships. 

It is thought to form in childhood and carry over to romantic relationships in adulthood. 

Disorganized attachment is also known as fearful-avoidant attachment, and is characterized by both high levels of fear/clinging, and high levels of avoidance/withdrawal. 

MORE: Avoidant Attachment: Causes & 8 Obvious Signs You Have It. 

Disorganized attachment usually develops in children who have experienced significant trauma or abuse in the first 3 years of their lives (or sometimes later), and tends to lead to ongoing stress and confusion in romantic relationships later down the line. 

This stress and confusion will likely affect both the individual with disorganized attachment patterns, and their partner, as their behavior may be unpredictable, hot and cold, or even bizarre. 

Now let's look at the 5 clear signs of disorganized attachment style when dating!

Sign #1: You Talk And Talk, But Nothing Makes Sense 

When you’re dating someone with a disorganized attachment style, it can be hard to understand why or how they do the things they do.  

This is because your lover (likely) has a completely different attachment schema to you. That is, a completely different framework for understanding how relationships work. 

This means they will have: 

  • Different expectations in relationships to the ones you’re familiar with
  • Different interpretations of the same events
  • Different fears; and 
  • Different communication habits 

Perhaps more challenging is the fact that your lover’s attachment style is relatively unusual in general, so you may never have come across it before. 

It is also less likely to appear in movies or tv shows, except in caricatured form. 

Even more difficult is the fact that disorganized attachment patterns do not seem logical or coherent. 

You might find that you talk and communicate a lot with your partner, but you feel that you’re going in circles, the rules keep changing, and that they are never happy with you.  

If you look closely, you might observe that benign or ordinary behavior on your part can trigger disproportionate or even random responses from your partner. 

For example, you might express love and affection in the initial months of dating them, and find that they freeze, or get overwhelmed and run away. 

They do this not because they don’t feel the same way about you, but because the intimacy combined with their own positive emotions and love for you got too scary. 

Then, when you’re confused and hurt that they ran away from your love, they act like you’re rejecting them and lash out at you, rather than understanding your reaction. 

You might talk and talk about this kind of incident with them, but feel like the more you talk, the less you understand about them and what is happening. 

Case study: Discover how Alison ended her cycle of abusive relationships by learning to quickly weed out the "wrong types of men", inspiring deep devotion from her chosen man and passing the hardest test of them all - an accidental pregnancy after a month of dating! (...All because of this one simple skill every woman should have.)

Sign #2: This Is The Most Unstable Relationship You’ve Ever Had 

Of course, if you’ve dated a lot of people with disorganized attachment (some of your own patterns might unconsciously lead you to do this), this sign may not apply. 

But usually, when you’re dating someone with disorganized attachment, things will feel different than they ever did before. 

Maybe in a sort of good way at first, as there might be a lot of fireworks, deep emotional connection, and a lot of passion. 

But there will also be a lot of: 

  • Fighting
  • Maybe a lot of screaming
  • A lot of cleaning up messes
  • A lot of wondering where your partner is at 3 am; and 
  • Wondering whether they’re going to make it through the night 

This is due to the difficulties that the person with disorganized attachment has with regulating emotion, which is a skill we learn through secure attachment to our caregivers.  

MORE: The 4 Types Of Attachment Styles & Which One Are You?

A person with a disorganized attachment style may be highly emotionally reactive. This can mean that they are: 

  • More volatile, prone to sudden changes in mood
  • More aggressive (likely to yell, accuse, swear at you etc) 
  • More impulsive 
  • More likely to harm themselves and threaten suicide 
  • More dependent on you and likely to show a lot of love and kindness, sometimes at moments where this does not make sense 

Recommended reading: 20 Deadly Signs A Man Has Anger Issues.

Unless you have had a lot of similar partners, your relationship with someone who has a disorganized attachment style will feel different to any other relationship you’ve had.  

It will feel:  

  • Disorienting
  • It may also feel more addictive
  • More overwhelming
  • Exciting; or 
  • Characterized by extreme highs and lows 

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Sign 3: You Don’t Know What Just Happened

You said something wrong and suddenly your partner has gone into the forest at 2 am, telling you not to follow them. 

Or, as the evening went on, he or she just went quiet and when you pushed them to see what was wrong, they flipped out at you and decided to drink a bottle of whisky and then get behind the wheel. 

You have no idea how you got here and you just want your lover to be okay. 

You replay the incident in your mind, pinpointing the moment everything changed. 

You wonder how your partner might have interpreted what you said, whether you were coming from a bad place and acting cruelly. 

Maybe your feelings of frustration and confusion really hurt your partner and made them feel worthless, disrespected, or rejected. 

Maybe you have some problems expressing yourself, you wonder. 

This kind of confusion and tendency to blame oneself is common in partners of people with disorganized attachment style. 

It’s too scary to acknowledge that the other person’s behavior is bizarre and makes no sense.

You want to feel like you’re in control, so you start to come up with explanations that focus on what you did or didn’t do. 

This is one of the most damaging biases that we observe in people whose partners have a disorganized attachment style.  

What Is The One Specific Emotional Trigger Within Every Single Man in this World That Inspires Him to WANT to Commit to One Woman, Want to Take Care of Her, Worship Her and Only Her?

Sign 4: You Feel A Combination Of Love And Resentment

Because of these volatile dynamics, it can be normal to feel a combination of love and resentment towards a partner with a disorganized attachment style. 

You might feel deeply invested in them because you have helped them through many difficult emotional moments, and because you can see that they are somewhat dependent on you. 

But you may also feel increasingly tired of the unpredictability that you experience on a daily basis - the way small problems can become huge explosions, or massive disconnects. 

This might result in a feeling of numbed out fatigue for you, as you expend a lot of energy trying to manage your partner’s emotional reactivity and unusual or disoriented responses.

    Attachment style quiz

    Sign 5: You Feel That You Cannot Leave

    A relationship with a person with a disorganized attachment style can give rise to a kind of trauma-bond between the two of you. 

    This is because as your relationship progresses, you tend to experience extremes of emotion together - emotions like confusion, anger and hurt. 

    But then also ecstatic, passionate reconciliation, forcing you to be vulnerable with the other person very quickly and frequently. 

    Events that are highly emotionally charged in nature tend to feel very memorable, maybe even spiritual. 

    This innate human bias can make intense, traumatic relationships feel very special, as though a unique bond is forming between you that could never be broken. 

    While many of your interactions in the relationship might be negative, you might feel that they are balanced by extremely positive exchanges, where your partner showers you with so much affection that it more than makes up for the bad days. 

    These kinds of patterns can make a relationship feel very addictive.  

    All of this can make it very difficult to leave the relationship. 

    MORE: When To Walk Away From A Relationship: 7 Glaring Signs To Look For.

    You may find this cycle as exhausting as it is addictive, but because your partner is so troubled and has been through so much, you feel responsible for them. 

    It is also possible that being in the relationship and taking on some of the distorted beliefs of the partner with disorganized attachment can make you feel pessimistic about your chances of finding love elsewhere. 

    The unpredictability of your relationship, and the disconnect between your own intent and your partner’s response can also make you worry that you might be a bad person, or that you are not good at expressing yourself or showing love, creating doubts around your value as a lover. 

    These feelings, along with the high of the “good days” can keep an otherwise troubled relationship going for years.  

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    Frequently Asked Questions On Dating Someone With A Disorganized Attachment Style

    Let’s go through all the common and frequent questions that people have about dating someone with a disorganized attachment style.

    What’s It Like To Date Someone With Disorganised Attachment?

    Dating someone with disorganized attachment can be confusing and exhilarating. 

    Things might get off to a passionate start, but there will be frequent interactions that feel strange or “off”, as though you and your partner are not entirely experiencing the same relationship. 

    You might find yourself showered with love, only to be abandoned or accused of trying to hurt your partner not long afterwards. 

    You might be continually cleaning up messy situations that you don’t quite understand.  

    Or you might be frequently and unpredictably rejected, as your partner withdraws and feels resentful towards you for reasons you don’t understand.  

    You might also experience:  

    • Controlling behavior
    • Frequent conflict; and 
    • Emotional outbursts 

    Who Are Disorganized Attachment Attracted To?

    People with a disorganized attachment style are often attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable, or who have an avoidant attachment style.  

    They may also be attracted to people with Asperger’s Syndrome or autism, or people who are otherwise “outcasts” in one way or another.

    What Does Disorganized Attachment Look Like In Relationships?

    Disorganized attachment looks unstable in relationships. 

    First, you might find yourself idealized, showered with love and affection, and drawn into a closer bond than you’ve ever had before as your partner shares their painful history with you. 

    They can be quite unguarded and vulnerable at this time. 

    Then, you might find that there is an initial fight or misunderstanding that escalates dramatically beyond what you expected, and may feel very frightening or overwhelming. 

    You might be accused of things you never did, or intentions you never actually had.  

    You might find that this first fight “breaks the wall” between you and your partner in terms of expressing emotions like: 

    • Anger
    • Disgust; and 
    • Jealousy 

    After this fight, if you stay with your partner and work things out with them from this point, these kinds of exchanges may become more frequent. 

    After a while, you may feel that you are walking on eggshells, while still trying to figure out what you did wrong. 

    Can Disorganized Attachment Fall In Love?

    A person with a disorganized attachment style can fall in love, but this may take time.  

    Recommended: Is He Falling In Love With Me? 8 Definite Signs He Is.

    The person with disorganized attachment may take longer to trust their partner and to stop “flinching” at everything that feels a little scary or confusing.  

    They may also, despite sometimes oversharing, take longer to release their true selves in the relationship, which means that true intimacy may progress more slowly. 

    But with time, patience, and reliability, a person with disorganized attachment patterns can relax enough to truly love their partner, and to receive love in return. 

    What Does Disorganized Attachment Look Like In Adults?

    Disorganized attachment typically produces strange behavior in adult relationships. 

    A person with a disorganized attachment style may respond unpredictably to a number of different situations as they are reminded of experiences of the inconsistency or abuse they faced from caregivers in childhood. 

    It is difficult to work out exactly what might trigger them, but some of the common scenarios where you might expect unusual behavior include:

    • Moments of intense emotional intimacy
    • When you express your love for them
    • Responses to physical affection
    • Conflict and misunderstandings
    • Sex
    • Managing other close relationships with friends and family
    • Conversations around commitment

    In all of these situations, you might see reactions that are consistent with a flight-or-fight response, even if there seems to be very little reason for this level of intensity. 

    Those reactions can include:

    • Shutting down and pulling away
    • Anxious catastrophizing 
    • Wanting to be close, but then pushing you away
    • Reckless or impulsive behavior
    • Self harm or physical violence

    What Does Disorganized Attachment Feel Like?

    Disorganized attachment feels confusing and intense, both for the person with a disorganized attachment style and for their partner. 

    You might find yourself fighting battles that make no sense to you, or feeling misunderstood over and over again, like you can never get your intentions across to the other person. 

    For the person with disorganized attachment patterns, the relationship might feel as though it is under constant threat. 

    They might feel terrified most of the time, like they’re in a warzone, or treading water to keep from drowning. 

    They might find themselves dissociating from interactions with their  partner, and then feeling like there are gaps in their memory about what has happened. 

    They might also find that their version of events differs from their partner’s - and this might make them feel even more unsafe, like they are being tricked. 

    They might resort to checking out of the relationship emotionally, choosing to observe it from a detached vantage point so they can figure out if their partner can be trusted.

    What Attachment Style Is Most Likely To Cheat?

    Most studies show that people with an avoidant attachment style are most likely to cheat.  

    This might be because avoidants are uncomfortable with emotional intimacy and commitment, and tend to keep other options around to avoid feeling too invested in any one person. 

    Recommended: 8 Unusual Signs He Will Eventually Commit.

    Most of this research, however, has come from couples who are in the early stages of a relationship/dating, rather than later down the line. 

    And actually, when we look at married people, it is actually people with anxious/preoccupied attachment patterns who may be more likely to cheat on their partner.  

    This might be because they are seeking more reassurance and closeness than their partner is able to offer them. 

    Related: Gut Feeling He’s Cheating, No Proof? 15 Surefire Signs He Is.

    Keep in mind:

    Because people with a disorganized attachment style are high in both attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, they might be at high risk of infidelity both in the early stages of a relationship and later on, once commitment is established. 

    More studies are needed to look at the specific impact of disorganized attachment on fidelity.  

    How Do You Heal Disorganised Attachment?

    Disorganized attachment can drag down the overall quality of the relationships in our lives - and thus the quality of our lives in general. 

    It is always challenging to heal and restore the attachment system, but also very fulfilling work as we learn to explore ourselves and open ourselves up to others, maybe for the first time. 

    Some strategies that can help heal disorganized attachment include:

    • Forming a coherent narrative about our past (what happened to us, how we felt, what we learned to do as a result, and why the people that hurt us did what they did). This is best done in the presence of a therapist or trusted friend or family member (and it’s extra useful if it’s written down), so we can go back to it when we need to 
    • Exploring the things that make us feel deeply (music, art, memories, ideas, nature) and staying present with those feelings 
    • Nurturing life (plants, animals, people close to us)
    • Practicing trust (slowly, in small steps, with safe people, animals, or nature).
      This means identifying our feelings of uncertainty and stress, and being willing to stay with those and give the other person a chance to act before we panic and run away. We can also do this alone, by trying things that scare us, or by practising new movements with our body through yoga, sports, or other activities. 

    Sometimes, the hardest thing is learning to trust ourselves. 

     If you would like to understand yourself and your core attachment patterns deeper, you can take our attachment style quiz and read the detailed explanation afterwards.

    (Why is this important? It is because your core attachment style largely dictates and influences what happens in your relationship. Thus it’s imperative you understand your core attachment style!) 

    Case study: From icebreaker to engagement in just 8 months… Discover the exact steps Yana took and the specific banter lines she used in order to attract the man of her life online and inspired him to propose after a short 8 months. (And then married within another 2 months…)


    Sarah Meyer
    Renee Shen

    Sarah has a Masters in psychology and works as a special education advisor in early childhood. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her partner and two children. She has a passion for evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and personality psychology.

    Sarah Meyer

    Author & Editor For National Council for Research on Women. Founder of the popular women's dating & relationship advice website, The Feminine Woman.

    Renée Shen


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