The Relationship Roller Coaster, as I like to call it, is filled with emotional, exciting, and at times, frustrating ups and downs, twists and turns, and thrills. The drama and unpredictability of roller coasters is what gives you the excitement and surge of neurochemicals in your brain, and the very thing that gets you hooked and getting back in line for more “fun.”
If you are aware of your tendency to enjoy the ups and downs of a dramatic or somewhat chaotic relationship, you are familiar with the Relationship Roller Coaster effect. What you may be less aware of is how that desire to get back in line is related to attachment theory and how your attachment influences your relationship choices and satisfaction.
At it’s essence, attachment theory outlines how the bond between an infant and their caregivers develops, what contributes to the quality of attachment, how the quality of attachment influences a child’s emotional, behavioral, social and neurological development into adulthood. And thus, the quality of your very first relationships, heavily influences your adult romantic relationships.
If your earliest relationships were unpredictable, unreliable, chaotic, emotionally, or physically neglectful, or if you had absent parents, you may find yourself attracted to, seeking out, or even thriving in relationships that include some level of ongoing ups and downs, unpredictability, and inconsistency.
Learn more about how your early relationships influence your pull towards chaos and away from stable in this post, and how to identify and overcome potentially unhealthy attraction to dramatic relationships.
Know Your Attachment Style
In case you aren’t familiar with the specifics, the four primary types of attachment are:
Insecure - Anxious/Preoccupied
Insecure - Dismissive/Avoidant
Insecure - Fearful/Unresolved
You can quickly learn more about your personal attachment style in this brief quiz from Psych Central, created by John Grohol (2016).
Secure Relationships are “Boring”
Successful and fulfilling relationships are usually built on secure attachment. However, if you find yourself attracted to the choppy waves rather than calm waters, you may subconsciously feel that “secure attachment is boring!,” as attachment and trauma master psychologist Dr. Diane Poole Heller confirms. You might easily lose interest in relationships that are predictable, stable, and void of chaos. Instead of feeling comfortable and even attracted to secure partnerships, you might feel bored and uninterested in partners who don’t keep you on your toes with emotional ups and downs.
The Pull Towards Drama: Three Explanations
1. Insecure Attachment
If you have insecure attachment patterns, being in an unstable relationship probably feels normal and comfortable. These patterns are the result of adapting to interactions with your earliest caregivers and if the pattern of interactions was generally inconsistent or unpredictable, it may have conditioned you to feeling normal when dramatic or chaotic relationship dynamics are present.
Those who are insecurely attached, whether that be fearful, avoidant, or anxious, are afraid of being too close or too distant from their partner and experience strong feelings when uncomfortable with the degree of closeness. They may fear being abandoned or being too intimate and this can result in emotional highs and lows and reactions including anxiety, clinging to their partner, withdrawing, or generally unpredictable moods.
If you have insecure attachment tendencies, you might have a hard time feeling that your needs are truly met by your partner. Strong emotions underlie an insecurely attached individual, making drama and chaos a natural and welcome experience. Overcoming such patterns takes the ability to be aware, disengage, and practice secure attachment behaviors. Such transformation is most successful in partnership with a trained psychologist.
2. Chaos as a distraction
Other times, your tendency to attract or be attracted to chaos is an effort to distract yourself from your own life. Relationships can quickly become entertaining and all-consuming, which can be a great distraction from other pressing issues including your own personal development, career satisfaction, health, or other important relationships in your life.
Ask yourself whether dramatic relationships are your way of not facing the less-entertaining, but important needs in your life. This mechanism to diffuse attention runs throughout your whole life as a form of procrastination. If you have ever found yourself distracted by a Netflix series when you really need to clean your house, you probably have experienced this dynamic.
3. “Fixing” others makes you feel valued
In addition to struggling with self-focus, human beings often struggle with their own self-worth. Sometimes, you may find personal validation in helping others overcome their struggles. Attraction to a partner who struggles with depression, addiction, or other behaviors that result in ups and downs can be an attraction to “fixing” them or bettering their life, which contributes to a sense of self-worth. This dynamic can be hard to identify as kind, open-hearted individuals might mistake it for being open-minded to all types of partners, no matter their “baggage”, history, or personal struggles.
Understanding where this pattern of fixing originates – often from feeling valuable as a child through caretaking for a parent or caregiver – can help you understand your pull towards partners who need fixing. Again, working with a therapist to help you identify and overcome these patterns is a helpful step in understanding more about yourself and your own relationship patterns.
One way to normalize secure, sometimes uneventful, attachment patterns is to better understand your personal attachment history. By making sense of your own relationship history, from those attachments you had with even your earliest caregivers, you can better understand your personal narrative and the impact of those early patterns in your current relationships.
Talking through these dynamics with a therapist is the first step to identifying insecure attachment dynamics and developing more secure and resilient relationships. Awareness is a necessary step and working with a psychologist who specializes in attachment theory can accelerate your understanding of your own attachment tendencies to cultivate more satisfying long-term partnerships.