Attachment styles – What they can teach us about relationships

Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space – Ainsworth, 1973, Bowlby 1969

But how does this impact our relationships? When we understand people according to their attachment styles, we can understand a lot more about them and how they operate within relationships. These attachment styles we talk about are determined into three key styles, I have taken these definitions from the book Attached, The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find and keep love, by Amir Levine MD and Rachel Heller ( pg 44 ), as I think they offer an excellent demonstration and explanation of how these styles are characterised.

Secure – Being warm and loving in a relationship comes naturally to you. You enjoy being intimate without becoming overly worried about your relationships. You take things in stride when it comes to romance and don’t get easily upset over relationship matters. You effectively communicate your needs and feelings to your partner and are strong at reading your partner’s emotional cues and responding to them. You share your successes and problems with your mate, and are able to be there for him or her I times of need.

Anxious – You love to be very close to your romantic partners and have the capacity for great intimacy. You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like him/her to be. Relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy. You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in our partner’s moods and actions, and although your senses are often accurate, you take your partner’s behaviours too personally. You experience a lot of negative emotions within the relationship and get easily upset. As a result, you tend to act out and say things that you later regret. If the other person provides a lot of security and reassurance, however, you are able to shed much of your preoccupation and feel contented.

Avoidant – It is very important for you to maintain your independence and self-sufficiency and you often prefer autonomy to intimate relationships. Even though you do want to be close to others, you feel uncomfortable with too much closeness and tend to keep your partner at arm’s length. You don’t spend much time worrying about your romantic relationships or about being rejected. You tend not to open up to your partners and they often complain that you are emotionally distant. In relationships, you are often on high alert for any signs of control or impingement on your territory by your partner.

There is also a less common attachment style, which is a combination of anxious and avoidant.

Attached, The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find and keep love, by Amir Levine MD and Rachel Heller  [Link here]

So what attachment style boils down to is your ability to be comfortable with intimacy or closeness, and your preoccupation with your relationships and your partner’s feelings for you. Reading the above most of us will identify with one style more than the others, and as well as a style it can also show us a pattern of understanding how we are and relate. It helps us to determine the rules that we unconsciously apply to our relationships and therefore how we approach them. Attachment style gives us a blueprint and we can see that these styles impact our expectations, attitudes and perspectives on parts of relationships such as sex, conflict, intimacy, trust and our expectations and ability to communicate

They can also help us to understand patterns in our own lives, such as feeling like relationships always end up the same way, or that we feel like we are in the same relationship as we were with our ex with our new partner, or that we are someone who seems to easily fall into long term committed relationships without really meaning to, it helps us to stand back and observe our or others behaviours in romantic situations. As psychotherapists, particularly those working with couples we can often help people to understand the dynamics of their relationships in this way. For example a couple where one partner is anxious and the other is avoidant. These styles become more intensified the more either sense what they fear – the anxious partner fears that their partner is pulling away, so they try to close the gap or hold onto the relationship tighter; and the avoidant partner senses the other’s need for closeness and tries to increase the space between them. We have all had experiences like this – we all have an inherent need for closeness and space at different times in our lives and relationships, but what we would expect to see is that a couple with more secure attachment styles, is that they would be better able to cope with the flexibility, and be able to tolerate times of more closeness or distance.

We can think of relationships a bit like the steps of a dance, sometimes in sync, sometimes apart, sometimes so close that two bodies are almost one, and at other times completely separate or spinning away. By understanding how we perceive these different moves and stages, we can begin to remove stigma from behaviours that can be considered to be ‘needy’ or ‘unloving’, and see them as the lens through which we understand relationships, better enabling us to get what we are looking for to meet our personal emotional needs. So in short, knowing more about our personal attachment style is a big piece of relationship wisdom gold

Photo by sept commercial on Unsplash

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