Learn How Attachment Styles Affect Your Relationship?
Updated: Jan 11
Knowing your attachment style can help you have a secure and lasting relationship.
Do you ever feel like you are not getting your emotional needs met by your partner? Or when you think things are going well in a relationship, suddenly, your partner starts to become distant? Or there's that person that comes across as needy, and you begin to feel suffocated?
Your attachment style is a biological response that developed when you were a baby; it evolved through the bonds you made with your primary caregivers and significantly impacts how you behave in romantic relationships today.
Why is it essential to know your attachment style?
If you have a secure relationship with your partner, you will feel less anxious, happier, healthier and more confident. Your immune system becomes stronger, and you will have a greater sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, research shows that you can even live longer when you have a safe and secure relationship with your loved one.
Wanting a secure, loving relationship where you feel supported, and have a deep sense of security and emotional nourishment, is part of your natural human desire. But how do you get it?
I couldn't figure out why my relationships kept on breaking down. After I ended a 9-year relationship with my husband, I was thrown back into the dating game with no clue about relationships. I was 28 years old and single for the first time in almost a decade.
After some time dating, it didn't seem easy to have a secure and comfortable relationship with someone. When I dated someone whom I liked, they didn't seem to have the ability to commit and would suddenly stop making contact when things started to progress. I was left confused, alone, and anxious, and I began to feel like something was wrong with me.
I saw many happy couples with relationships full of trust that seemed solid and secure, and I craved a similar bond with someone special.
After a significant heartbreak, I went to counselling and discovered attachment styles. It was a transformative time for me as I could understand on a biological and scientific level why my previous relationships felt so hard; furthermore, what I have experienced is completely normal!
Needless to say, knowing my attachment style changed my life considerably. I have learned to overcome the barriers that attachment can bring into a relationship. My passion for this has led me to share this valuable information with others, as it is a powerful tool for you.
Having an insight into your attachment style is like being given a superpower to see people who make a healthy relationship match and avoid heartache with people who are not.
There are four types of attachment styles
- Anxious / Avoidant (Fearful)
Read on to find out which one you resonate with the most
Secure children have received a healthy amount of love and support. During times of need, their caregivers provided them with emotional reassurance and a nurturing environment.
This security enables people to express feelings and needs easily with others, have a sound sense of their worth, and won't put up with being mistreated by a partner. Secure people make up just over 50% of the population.
As an adult in a romantic relationship, a secure person can provide emotional support to their partner and find it easy to express when they want support in times of need. They can build strong bonds and trust with others and lead healthy and happy relationships. They enjoy spending time with their partner but also feel comfortable with alone time too.
As a baby, avoidant people did not get their needs met and may have experienced some form of neglect. It could have resulted from being left for too long when crying and not having the care, validation, and attention children need growing up.
As a result, this lack of support and insecure bond with the primary caregiver results in a mindset of having to "look out for one's self" and not being able to rely on others. They can be dismissive and avoid reaching out to others in times of need. Avoidant people make up around 20% of the population.
As an adult in a romantic relationship, an Avoidant may feel fearful of getting too close to someone they care about, often "going off the radar", not responding to texts, ghosting, and not introducing partners to friends and family. They usually keep their heart close to their chest and feel scared to commit to long-term relationships. They like to have a lot of alone time and can feel suffocated by too much attention from their partner.
Insecure / Anxious:
Insecure children have often had inconsistent relationships with their primary caregivers. They may have experienced neglect at times but not at others; they also may have experienced over-protectiveness.
These mixed signals result in the child not knowing where they stand and feeling a need to be validated and cared for. They fear abandonment and can be preoccupied with negative, anxious thoughts if they don't get the validation they crave. They have learnt overreactive ways to get the love and attention they need. Anxious people make up around 20% of the population.
As an adult in a romantic relationship, an Insecure person may need constant validation and want to be reassured. They seek a high level of emotional and physical closeness with their partner and may present as 'needy'. They don't like to be left alone and seek constant connection with their partner.
Insecure - Anxious/Avoidant (Fearful)
As a child, an Anxious-Avoidant may have had inconsistent emotional and physical care from their caregivers. They have not gained stability in the relationship and have constant inconstancy.
As a result, they feel fearful of relationships and may show both Avoidant and Anxious attachment styles. Their reactions are a way of protecting themselves from getting hurt. However, it can be very isolating. Anxious/Avoidance people comprise around 5-10% of the population.
As an adult in a romantic relationship, an Anxious/Avoidant finds it challenging to trust and build closeness with others, yet craves love and attention. Relationships can appear chaotic, pushing partners away and pulling them close again before pushing them away. They may find it difficult to maintain long-term relationships with friends and lovers.
Understanding your biological reactions
Now, you may recognise yourself or your past or current partners in the above examples. Find out how your Attachment style affects your physiology. Our childhood experiences and history of unhealthy relationships affect us biologically.
Psychoanalyst John Bowlby first discovered attachment styles and studied children's attachment with their primary caregivers.
His research showed how a child behaved when they were left in a room with a stranger after their parent left the room and how they behaved when the parent returned.
In a nutshell, this is what he observed:
- Secure: They would settle quickly when their parents left the room and would greet their parents on return but remain content.
- Anxious: They would be very distraught when their parent left the room, and they became very clingy on return.
- Avoidant: Would be ambivalent when their parent left the room and show little or no interest when they returned.
The interesting thing about his experiment was that both the Anxious and Avoidance had a higher heart rate and showed equal amounts of distress on a physiological level when their caregiver left them. However, it was not evident on the outside.
Whereas the Securely attached didn't have the same level of anxiety and could self-regulate their emotions. For the Anxious and Avoidant, this heightened emotional pattern continues in our adult romantic relationships. Without the ability to self-regulate independently, we rely on our partners to calm down our nervous system.
As with anything, Attachment Style is on a spectrum, with Secure being at the head and Anxious and Avoidant on opposite ends. Depending on where you sit on the spectrum, it helps you navigate your relationships.
Your attachment style can change over time - moving away from Secure if you have had a bad relationship experience. However, with the right amount of support, both Anxious and Avoidance can move towards a Secure attachment.
Let's have a look at how your attachment style can affect your romantic relationship:
When we are children, the impact of our attachment style is literally life or death. We would die if our caregivers did not attend to our basic needs. As a result, we have developed ways to get the attention we need; we would cry, act out or learn to withdraw and attempt to fend for ourselves.
If our main caregivers comfort us In times of need, we can self-regulate and learn to comfort ourselves.
Generally, suppose you are Anxious or Avoidant and date someone who is secure. In that case, you will eventually, with enough support, start to move along the spectrum towards a secure and healthy relationship.
However, suppose you are an Insecure attachment and are dating someone with the opposite insecure attachment, for example, an Anxious dating an Avoidant. In that case, you will probably find that the relationship feels like you are on an emotional rollercoaster.
Let's look at an example:
We have a physiological response to our partner's behaviours. Imagine an Avoidant and Anxious meeting for the first time; there is an immense attraction, they have heaps of mutual interests and like each other - a lot! So the relationship begins...
Now the couple starts the process of opening up, being vulnerable and becoming closer. As a result, they begin to form an attachment to each other. As this happens, the Avoidant partner starts to feel overwhelmed. Although they have a need to get closer, they don't know how to express this, feel overwhelmed and begin to withdraw.
As a result, the Anxious partner begins to move closer; they may text and call numerous times and question their partners on their whereabouts. The Anxious partner may be preoccupied with thoughts about their partner's lack of correspondence and feel unable to focus on anything else.
Both partners may feel flooded with adrenalin and cortisol, the stress hormone, during this time. Furthermore, they can have a high feeling of anxiety. Yet both partners find it difficult to express and communicate their needs to one another. Often leading to a breakup.
Eventually, the couple may reconnect. This may involve making up or pretending that nothing ever happened. During this time, our parasympathetic nervous system will restore itself, giving a short-lived sense of calm and connection. This is similar to being calmed by your primary caregiver when you were a baby.
Due to the reliance on your partner to calm your nervous system and inability to do it yourself, you get caught in an emotional dance, feeling like you are going around in a continuous and stressful cycle of heartache.
One of the main misconceptions with this physiological response and experiencing the massive emotional highs and lows is a sense of lust, yet, this kind of relationship is far from passion and certainly not a healthy way to lead any relationship.
The second misconception is that dating someone in a Secure relationship may initially feel boring due to not having an overactive emotional response and experiencing a strange sense of calm within the relationship.
Yet, developing a Secure attachment will bring you a sense of enormous satisfaction, your emotional needs will be met, and you will create a deep level of love and connection. You will learn ways to develop interdependence and be able to self-regulate heightened emotions without your partner.
What you can do if your Attachment Style is impacting your relationship
Some relationship experts don't recommend Anxious and Avoidant attachments to date each other due to the difficulties and stress of maintaining the relationship. Speaking from my own experience, it is possible, however, only providing that both you and your partner put in the time and dedication to make it happen.
Using a technique called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) developed by relationship expert and clinical psychologist Dr Sue Johnson. EFT enables couples to learn and develop strategies to build solid and secure bonds and open communication.
Speak to a registered counsellor specialising in Attachment Theory and EFT; they will provide you with the techniques and strategies to help you navigate and overcome the emotional dance to lead a healthy and secure relationship with your loved one.
Everyone needs love and connection. It is the most natural human need. You deserve to have rich, secure, loving and emotional support from your partner.
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