Attachment Style In Relationships (Secure, Anxious, Avoidant)
Finding out your ‘Attachment Style’ can tell you how compatible you and your partner are and whether or not your relationship will last.
Attachment style is the manner in which people perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships.
It can be divided into three main “attachment styles”: secure, anxious, and avoidant.
Today you’re going to find out your attachment style and discover how compatible you are with your partner and whether or not your relationship will last.
Let’s get started!
What Is Attachment Theory?
Researchers John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth developed the core of what became attachment theory in the mid-20th century.
Their theory says that infants develop better when their primary caregiver responds to their needs in a warm and timely way.
This theory has been since supported by over 60 years of attachment research.
Attachment researchers observed how babies responded to everyday stressful situations and found that they could categorize these responses into three distinct categories: secure, anxious, and avoidant.
Babies with secure attachment style showed distress in stressful situations, but not in excessive ways. These babies calmed down after interacting with their caregivers and were ready to move on from the stressful event.
Babies with anxious attachment style tended to respond to the same stressful events with more extreme distress. Although they sought their caregiver, they also appeared to reject the caregiver’s attempts to provide soothing.
Babies with avoidant attachment style were less likely to show distress during stressful situations Although these babies appeared indifferent about getting help from their caregivers, researchers discovered elevated stress hormones in their bodies, which means they were affected by stress, but they didn’t show it.
As adults, our attachment style can greatly impact our close relationships as we get close to someone and come to depend on them. This is why observing your close relationships and your response to stressful situations can help you identify your attachment style and your partner’s.
It’s important to note that an accurate assessment of your attachment style can be more complicated than this. Attachment styles exist on a spectrum, and many people with insecure attachment can display both anxious and avoidant patterns at various times.
The 3 Different Attachement Style
1. The Secure
Secure people are usually comfortable with intimacy.
They don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to them. And they have an uncanny ability to effectively communicate their needs and respond to their partners’ needs.
They’re able to share their success and problems with their partners and are also able to allow their partners to depend on them in times of need.
They’re reliable, consistent, and trustworthy, and there is little drama in their romantic ties.
2. The Anxious
Anxious people crave intimacy.
They worry a lot about their partner’s ability to love them back, which makes them often preoccupied with their relationships. They fear that their partners do not wish to be as close to them as they would like them to be.
This makes them very sensitive to their partner’s moods and actions, and will often take their partners’ behaviors too personally.
If, however, the other person provides enough security and reassurance, people with an anxious attachment style become more to let go of their relationship obsession and enjoy more satisfaction.
3. The Avoidant
Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and are constantly trying to minimize closeness with their partners.
They don’t spend much time worrying about their relationships or about being rejected, but they also tend to keep their partner at arm’s length.
Avoidants tend to repress their emotions. They’re also quick to think negatively about their partners.
They see them as needy and overly dependent.
These differences in attachment styles are making people differ in:
- Their view of intimacy and closeness
- The way they deal with relationship conflict
- Their ability to communicate their wishes and needs
However, it’s not impossible to change one’s attachment style and consciously toward becoming more secure in their attachment styles.
Dependency Isn’t a Bad Word
We live in a culture that seems to advocate independence and self-sufficiency and scorn basic needs for intimacy, closeness, and dependency in general.
However, studies show that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs.
When their emotional needs are met, preferably early enough, they turn their attention outward and the more independent and daring they become.
Moreover, dependency isn’t a choice or a preference, it’s a fact.
Many studies show that once you become attached to someone, they regulate your blood pressure, your heart rate, your breathing, and the levels of hormones in your blood.
In other words, you become one physiological unit. This means that if one is upset, that will make the other partner upset too.
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that in order to be happy we need to be joined with our partner at the hip and give up other aspects of our life such as our friends and career.
In fact, even the knowledge that our partner is available to us psychologically and emotionally can temporarily replace one’s continuous need for physical presence.
What is my attachment Style?
Two criteria can help you determine your attachment style:
1. How comfortable you can with intimacy, or the degree to which you avoid it.
2. Your preoccupation with the relationship and the degree to which you’re anxious about your partner’s ability to love you back and give you attention.
– If you feel comfortable with intimacy and you don’t obsess much about your partner’s love, then you’re probably secure.
– If you crave intimacy and are insecure about the relationship and your partner’s love, then you’re probably anxious.
– If you feel uncomfortable with intimacy and closeness and value your independence more than the relationship, and don’t tend to worry much about your partner’s feelings toward you, then you’re probably avoidant.
What is your partner attachment style?
When it comes to determining the attachment style of your partner, you can simply do so by observing their day-to-day actions and words.
Understanding the attachment style of your partner can give you insight into your partner and shift your thinking from “does he or she like me?” to “Is this someone capable of giving me what I need? Is he or she someone I should invest in emotionally?” this will help you decide if the relationship is right for you.
Someone who’s avoidant would probably show some of these signs:
– He/She sends mixed signals like sometimes calling a lot while other times not calling at all, or like saying something intimate such as “When we move in together…” but then acts as though you don’t have a future as a couple.
– Values his/her independence greatly and looks down on dependency and neediness
– Devalues you, even if only joking.
– Is always trying to distance himself/herself physically and emotionally, like preferring to go out with friends.
– Has an unrealistic romantic view of how a relationship should be.
– When disagreeing, he/she needs to get away.
Someone who’s secure would probably show some of these signs:
– He/She is reliable and consistent. They phone when they say they’ll phone, don’t break promises or explain when they can’t keep it…
– Takes decisions with you and takes your preferences into account.
– Has a flexible view of the relationship as in not having a particular type of partner (a certain age, appearance…).
– Communicates relationship issues well and naturally expresses feelings for you.
– Can reach and compromise during arguments.
– Is not afraid of commitment and dependency.
Someone who’s anxious would probably show some of these signs:
– Wants a lot of closeness in the relationship.
– Expresses insecurities and worries about being rejected.
– Tries hard to keep your attention and interest.
– Has difficulty explaining what’s bothering him/her.
– Often takes things personally like when you come home tired and don’t want to talk, he/she might interpret it as “you don’t love me anymore”.
– Lets you set the tone for the relationship.
– Is suspicious you might be unfaithful.
What happens when your needs for intimacy aren’t met?
When someone with an anxious attachment style gets in a relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style, he might not get his needs for intimacy met.
As a result, he resorts to protest behaviors in an attempt to get their partner’s attention. This can include the following:
- Excessive attempts to reestablish contact. Calling, texting, waiting for a phone call…
- Withdrawing and ignoring your partner.
- Keeping score. You start paying attention to how long it took them to return your phone call and might wait just as long to return theirs.
- Acting hostile.
- Threatening to leave while hoping they’ll stop you from leaving.
- Making them jealous.
These protests can be harmful to you and the relationship, and can even continue long after your partner is gone.
To stop this downward spiral, you’ll need to be with someone with a secure attachment style who can satisfy your intimacy needs.
That is if you’re single and are looking for the right partner for you.
Paradoxically, anxious people often end up dating people with an avoidant attachment style.
Part of the reason why is because each partner, in a way, reaffirms the other’s beliefs about relationships and about themselves.
The avoidants’ belief that there are independent and that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with is confirmed.
The anxious, on the other hand, finds out that their belief of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed.
Another reason, why anxious people end up dating avoidants, is because people with an avoidant attachment style tend to end their relationships more frequently.
This means that they’re in the dating pool more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Secure people, on the other hand, don’t usually go through many partners before settling down and they often form a long-lasting committed relationship.
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Coaching For The Anxious Attachment Style On A Date
1. Acknowledge and accept your relationship needs
Unless your needs for intimacy and closeness are met, you cannot be truly happy in a relationship.
The key to finding someone who can fulfill those needs is to first acknowledge them.
They’re not good or bad, they’re simply your needs, and you should let others make you feel guilty for having them, or make you believe that you’re too needy or too dependent.
When you acknowledge your relationship needs as legitimate, you become able to assess people you date based on their ability to meet those needs.
Instead of wondering how you can change yourself to please your partner, you’ll be thinking can this person provide what I need in order for me to be happy?
2. Recognize and rule out avoidant prospects early on
Look out for clues that the person you’re dating can be avoidant.
These clues can include sending mixed messages about their feelings or commitment to you, longing for an ideal relationship, or an ideal partner, disregarding your emotional well-being and suggesting that you are ”too needy”, or “overreacting” …
Such behaviors can indicate that the person you met is an avoidant, however, the best way to decide whether or not he’s able to meet your needs, is through effective communication.
3. Be your authentic self and use effective communication
Anxious people easily fall into the trap of trying to accommodate their partner’s needs –if they’re involved with someone avoidant- at the expense of theirs.
They hide their wishes and maintain a self-sufficient façade.
By effectively communicating your needs, you become your authentic self, which contributes to your happiness and fulfillment.
But you also are able to determine whether or not your partner will be able to meet your needs early on.
4. Develop a philosophy of abundance
Adopting an abundance philosophy is a useful step for finding the right partner for you. Keep in mind that as there are many people who aren’t right for you, there are also many charming people out there who are and can make you happy.
By using the abundance philosophy, you can rule out people who make you feel insecure or inadequate early on.
However, be aware not to miss on a keeper.
5. Give secure people a chance
When you meet a keeper, remember not to make an impulsive decision about whether or not he/she’s right for you.
With less drama involved, you might feel bored at the beginning and conclude that your calm relationship is a sign of lack of attraction.
Give it some time. You may start to appreciate the calmness in the relationship and what it has to offer.
Looking for creative (and inexpensive) ideas of things to do together with your partner to deepen your connection and love?
“175 Best Date Ideas” is a $9 e-book that will help spark what you had when you first met.
How Do Avoidants Maintain Distance In Their Relationships?
Feeling close and complete with someone else is a condition that avoidants find difficult to accept.
So they use some deactivating strategies in order to keep their distance.
These strategies include the following:
- Saying, or just thinking, that they’re not ready to commit—but stay together nonetheless.
- Focusing on their partner’s flaws and imperfections, and allowing it to get in the way of their romantic feelings.
- Flirting with others.
- Reminiscing over their ex-girlfriend/boyfriend.
- Pulling away when things are going well.
- Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy in order to maintain their independence.
- Avoiding physical closeness.
While these strategies can make sure your partner isn’t going to interfere with your autonomy, they’re also standing in the way of you being happy in your relationship.
In fact, your mind is governed by distorted beliefs about relationships that are resulting in disconnection with your partner.
These beliefs include the following:
Mistaking self-reliance for independence.
The avoidant’s strong belief in self-reliance can be a burden in romantic relationships. It reduces his ability to be close and diminishes the importance of getting support from other people.
It can also make the avoidant ignore his partner’s needs and concentrate only on his.
Dwelling on the negative side of your partner more than the positive more.
People with an avoidant attachment style are found to see their partners less positively than non-avoidants.
Even when their partners’ behavior indicated supportiveness and warmth, they can dismiss any closeness and ignore and diminish the value of their partners’ loving behavior.
Longing for the Ex and looking for “the one”.
Longing for someone from their past or convincing themselves that the right person is just around the corner is one of the most powerful tools, avoidants use to keep their distance in a relationship.
This belief can make someone with an avoidant attachment style convince himself that he’s fine and that the problem is with the person they’re with.
This strengthens the avoidant’s belief that the reason why he can’t find happiness in a relationship has little to do with him and a lot to do with external circumstances, which in order leads him to remain stuck.
He rarely searches inside himself for the reason for his dissatisfaction or seeks help when his partner suggests it.
However, this type of thinking can be changed. You need to be more self-aware of the thought patterns that deny you the ability to get close to someone.
Then, you need to identify instances in which you employ these beliefs and behavior in order for you to be able to change them.
Coaching For The Anxious Attachment Style On A Date
1. Identify deactivating strategies
When you’re excited about someone and then all of a sudden you feel like he/she’s not right for you, stop, and ask yourself if this is a deactivating strategy you’re using to keep that person at bay.
Remind yourself that you need intimacy despite your discomfort with it.
2. De-emphasize self-reliance and focus more on mutual support
When you start feeling less need to distance yourself, your partner will feel more secure to lean on you.
This will make you more independent, and make your partner less needy.
3. Find a secure partner
People with a secure attachment style tend to make anxious and avoidant partners more secure as well.
In fact, when you’re with someone who’s anxious, his constant need for intimacy can trigger your avoidance.
4. Be aware of your tendency to view your partner negatively
Recognize your tendency to view your partner’s behaviors negatively.
Remind yourself that you chose to be with this person and that you can trust that they have your best interests at heart.
5. Make a relationship gratitude list
When you have an avoidant attachment style, it’s easy for you to often think negatively of your partner.
By keeping a relationship gratitude journal where you write down positive behaviors or qualities of your partner, however minor it can be, that you noticed that day.
This might not come naturally to you, but with some practice and perseverance, you’ll find more and more to be grateful for every day.
6. Forget about the Ex, and “the one”
When you find yourself reminiscing about your ex, stop and remind yourself that he/she wasn’t that perfect.
After all, the relationship ended for a reason. As for the one, don’t wait until the one who fits your checklist shows up. You have to be an active part in the process.
You need to choose them and allow them to get close.
By forgetting about the ex and “the one”, you can stop using them as a deactivating strategy and focus on your partner.
7. Try the distraction strategy
It’s easier for an avoidant to get close to their partner when there’s a distraction.
By focusing on activities like hiking, exercising, or preparing a meal together, you’ll be able to let your guard down and make it easier to access your loving feelings.
What Happens When Secure And Insecure Interact? The Secure Buffering Effect
Studies show that people with a secure attachment style, maintain a high level of satisfaction in their relationships than people with other attachment styles.
Studies also show that there was no observed difference in couples functioning between partners who were both secure and partners who were mixed (secure and insecure).
In fact, secure people can create a buffering effect that manages to raise their insecure partner’s relationship satisfaction and functioning to their own level.
Because secure people fit almost every description across the personality spectrum (they can be introverts, extroverts, ambivert…), it’s hard to recognize them, at least at first.
In fact, secure people are characterized by something not outwardly visible. They expect their partner to be loving and don’t obsess about losing their love.
They’re comfortable with intimacy and have an uncanny ability to communicate their needs and respond to their partner’s needs.
How To Create a Secure Base For Your Partner?
1. Be available
Allow your partner to depend on you when they feel the need and respond sensitively to their distress.
2. Don’t interfere
Help your partner in a way that allows them to feel in control.
Allow them to do their own thing without trying to take over the situation or undermine their confidence and abilities.
Be accepting of their learning and personal growth goals and provide the necessary encouragement to boost their self-esteem.
This is not to say that people with a secure attachment style are immune to relationship problems.
They too may one day get into an unhealthy relationship.
In fact, despite their ability to make their partners more secure, when they find themselves becoming less secure with a partner, not only do they lose their priceless gift, but they also experience less happiness and satisfaction in their relationship.
This happens especially when secure people aren’t experienced and continue to respond to and tolerate their long-term unacceptable behavior.
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- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Attached: Are you Anxious, Avoidant, or Secure?, © 2010 by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. All rights reserved.