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How Attachment Styles Affect Your Relationships

Understanding your attachment style can help you better understand yourself, your dating habits and your relationship. Knowing which of the four attachment styles applies to you might be the key to unlocking oh-so-elusive happiness. Read on if you want to know what your attachment style says about you.

Attachment styles are part of the larger attachment theory, which was coined by British psychoanalyst John Bowlby. According to Bowlby, there are four attachment styles. This framework suggests that individuals develop methods of forming affection (attachment) based on their relationships with their caregivers or parents. More specifically, attachment theory suggests that a child’s attachment style reflects her parents. This is because interactions with our parents influence our self-esteem and confidence.

We bring the lessons learned, even if they’re subconscious into other relationships, especially adult romantic relationships. By studying attachment theory and learning of your own attachment style, you can see what you might be doing wrong in your relationship or how you might be choosing the wrong partners (or avoiding emotional intimacy altogether).

The four attachment styles, which you will soon learn, can be arranged as quadrants on a graph. The X-axis represents anxiety from low (on the left) to high. The Y-axis represents avoidance with low on the top and high on the bottom. The axises pair together to create high anxiety/high avoidance, low anxiety/high avoidance, low anxiety/low avoidance and high anxiety/low avoidance.

Sometimes the four styles of attachment are views on a different graph with the horizontal access representing a person’s self-esteem (high on the left and low on the right) while the vertical axis represents the thoughts of their partner (positive on top and negative on the bottom).

Both of these systems result in the healthiest quadrant and its associated attachment style on the top left. This is where secure attachment lies on those graphs, and this is the attachment style we’ll begin with.

Secure Attachment Style

A secure attachment, which may be considered the “healthiest” is also the most common attachment style. It falls on the top left of our attachment graph. Someone who has a secure attachment style does not avoid their partner, and they experience low anxiety.

Sometimes attachment methods are characterized with the phrase “okay.” A secure attachment style is thus described as “I’m okay; you’re okay.” Both people in the relationship have healthy self-esteems and hold the other in high regard. Neither is anxious or avoidant.

Couples in these type of relationships exhibit healthy behavior, and the partners are likely to work out their issues when problems do arise. Studies indicate that people with secure attachment styles have fewer relationships that are longer lasting than those with other attachment styles.

If you have a secure attachment style, your parents were likely in tune with your emotions, and your relationship with your parents may still be good.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

On the other and, a dismissive-avoidant attachment style often results if your parents were unavailable – either emotionally or physically – or if they rejected you. This attachment style is characterized by extreme independence. A person who is avoidant or withdrawn is likely to have high self-esteem but value their partner or the idea of a partner lower.

Dismissive attachment style is more common among single people than those who are married, which makes sense. Someone who avoids intimacy is unlikely to get into relationships and may act as though they don’t need other people. If you align with this attachment style, you might find yourself with partners who are unavailable like your parents were. Then, you don’t have to fully commit because this person won’t commit to you, either.

People who have this type of attachment style tend to regulate their emotions more than those with other attachment styles – perhaps to the point of suppression.

Some experts think that men are more likely to fall into this group than women. You may have experienced this with a partner who was hard to connect with or get ahold of. This leaves you wondering your value, which is actually a symptom of the following attachment style.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style

A person with preoccupied attachment style, also known as anxious-preoccupied style) obviously experiences greater anxiety regarding affection for another person, but they have a lower self-image, too. This manifests as insecurity. In contrast, they view their partners positively. This can be described as “I’m not okay; you’re okay.”

This style of attachment can be the result of inconsistent parenting or a parent who wasn’t always there. A typical person who has a preoccupied attachment style will be dependent and clingy. They may worry that their partner is going to leave them or doesn’t really love them, even if their partner hasn’t done anything to indicate this. These people have difficulty trusting people. 

These people constantly seek approval, responsiveness, and validation, which can be draining for their partners. This is the type of person who wants to text all day and freaks out without an immediate response. It may even drive their partners to become dismissive, which makes them feel even more anxious, creating a negative feedback loop.

Breakups will be especially hard for people with preoccupied attachment types because of the amount of energy they put into the relationship. The breakup may also be a confirmation to this person that they’re unworthy of love or a relationship, even if it wasn’t a healthy relationship.

One study found that women with anxious-preoccupied attachment styles were more likely to have had sex with partners whose sexual histories they didn’t know in the past year. These women were more likely to have had multiple partners, which suggests that they have more partners and shorter-lived relationships. Finally, these women were more likely to have a history of STIs.

Anxious attachment style also correlates with higher cortisol production in response to stressors in women.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

Fearful-avoidant attachment style – or just fearful attachment style – is characterized by high anxiety and high avoidance. A person with this attachment style has a negative view of both themselves and their partner (“You’re not okay; I’m not okay”). This can result if a parent caused fear or ignored a child. Trauma and loss can also contribute to this attachment style.

Women may be more likely to be fearful-avoidant than they are to be dismissive.

People with this attachment style want closeness but are afraid of letting someone be that close to them. Trust issues run rampant if you’ve got a fearful-avoidant attachment style. A person who identifies with this attachment style is likely to accept they’ll be hurt no matter what, so they avoid relationships.

Because of this, fearful-avoidant types also try to suppress their true feelings. Ultimately, they’ll become emotional reactive because suppressing your feelings never works well.

Fearful avoidance of relationships can extend past romantic relationships into friendships. As you can imagine, this could be quite lonely! When people who have this attachment style do enter into relationships, their behavior can be volatile and unstable.

Attachment Style Pairing

Some attachment styles tend to couple up. For example, people with preoccupied attachment styles often find themselves with partners who have avoidant attachment styles. The dismissive behavior of those partners feeds into the anxiety in a way that contributes to the insecure attachment styles. These relationships tend to last a long time, but they’re quite unhealthy.

On the other hand, someone who has a secure attachment style is more capable of dealing with a partner whose attachment style is insecure because they’re confident and experience low levels of attachment anxiety. Still, someone with a secure attachment style shouldn’t be expected to be the caretaker of the relationship. Furthermore, a partner with an insecure attachment style can drive this person to react insecurely.
Preoccupied attachment styles can lead someone who is secure to become dismissive.
Dismissive-avoidant attachment styles can be so avoidant that someone who is otherwise secure becomes anxious. But someone who is secure is less likely to remain in this relationship
Fearful-avoidant attachment and secure pairings result in a situation similar to the dismissive/secure pairing, but it’s the fearful person who is more likely to leave the relationship.

The pairing that leads to the least amount of friction is two people with secure attachment styles.

Attachment Style and Pregnancy

Some research has been done on pregnant women and their attachment styles. A woman’s attachment style can be a good indicator both of how likely she is to experience emotional distress during her pregnancy and how likely she is to suffer from postpartum depression (PPD). Specifically, a woman whose attachment style is fearful-avoidant may be more at risk for emotional distress during pregnancy based on measurements of their circadian rhythm. Additionally, mothers who reported greater attachment-related avoidance and anxiety reported having greater difficulties with emotion regulation one year later. A woman who is anxious-preoccupied is more likely to experience depression after pregnancy.

Knowing can be helpful as you prepare for pregnancy and childbirth. But you can extend the lessons you’ve learned about attachment theory and attention styles to parenting. If you provide care and consistent parenting, your child is more likely to develop a secure attachment style. This means she may have an easier time choosing partners and being in healthy relationships.

If you’re frightening, neglectful or reject your children, however, they may develop insecure attachment styles and struggle with relationships throughout their entire lives. Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel for people who have insecure attachment styles!

Earned Secure Attachment Style

If you have an insecure attachment style, you’re certainly not doomed. After identifying your attachment style (take a look at the types of people you’re attracted to if you want to get an idea), you can improve it. This might mean boosting your self-esteem or looking for partners who won’t push you into a negative feedback loop.

For those people who are currently in relationships, therapy can be beneficial. You’ll learn to decrease your anxiety or encourage your partner so that their anxiety levels drop. It may be helpful to learn your love languages so you can both feel fully loved. You may discover how to better communicate too.

Once you’ve adapted to a more secure style of attachment, you’ve got what some people call an earned or learned attachment style.

Some people see a change in attachment style as they age, and relationship status can also affect these changes. Although, it’s not always for the better, as you can develop more attachment anxiety as you age if you are single. But understanding this concept can help you deal with that change.

Knowing your attachment style and that of your partner can shed light on how you interact in your relationship. This can lead to improvements in your interactions or help you choose better partners in the future. Even if your attachment style is secure, you can use this knowledge to help a partner.


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