Everything you need to know about attachment styles to make your relationships better, healthier and even more enjoyable!
What we'll cover
- Introducing Attachment Styles
- Understanding Your Own Attachment Style in Relationships
- How understanding attachment styles will make your relationship better
- Communication Strategies for Different Attachment Styles
- Embracing Your Attachment Style in Relationships and Open Communication
Introducing Attachment Styles
Why am I this way? Why do I keep sabotaging my relationships?
If you’ve ever asked yourself anything along those lines, then stay tuned. A lot can be answered by understanding attachment styles.
Attachment styles are patterns of how individuals form emotional bonds with others, which is particularly helpful to understand in the context of our romantic relationships.
Why they matter
The current theory is that these styles develop during early childhood through the interactions we have with our primary caregivers. What’s interesting to us today, is that they tend to persist into adulthood, significantly influencing how we connect with others.
There are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious preoccupied, dismissive avoidant, and fearful avoidant. I’ll briefly go over the specific behaviours and thought patterns associated with each attachment style in relationships and how they play out.
I also recommend checking Psych2Go’s lovely animated video on the topic to learn more: The Four Attachment Styles of Love
Typical behaviours and thought patterns for each attachment style in relationships
1. Secure Attachment Style
Those of you with a secure attachment style likely feel quite comfortable in your romantic relationships. You enjoy the closeness and intimacy and are able to communicate openly with your partner.
Your higher emotional intelligence helps you balance your own needs with the needs of your partner. That in turn helps you cultivate an equal and honest relationship that’s more resilient.
It’s not that things never go sideways, it’s more that you have the ability to problem-solve effectively to move past obstacles more smoothly.
Secure attachment style example in romantic relationships
To get a better idea of what this could look like, let’s look at a secure attachment style example from pop culture.
Take Monica and Chandler from "Friends". (Can you tell I’m a 90s kid?) Overall they seem to have a pretty stable, loving relationship. There appear to be healthy levels of trust, open communication and mutual support, which helps them navigate the challenges life throws at them together.
2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style
If you’re more of the anxious-preoccupied type in romantic relationships, you’re probably much more concerned about your relationship than the secure type. You might notice that you romanticize love or that you get clingy, demanding, or even obsessive towards your partner.
As you probably know and feel, this anxiety is commonly linked to low self-esteem. Many people with this attachment style didn’t grow up with healthy boundaries so now they struggle to establish a sense of self.
There’s a risk of these struggles getting exasperated in romantic relationships, so look out for this in your personal dynamics.
Anxious-Preoccupied attachment style example
Now let’s take a look at an anxious-preoccupied attachment style example. Sticking with the “Friends” series, think about Ross.
Ross appears to seek a lot of reassurance in his relationships and can become overly attached and jealous at times. There’s likely an underlying fear of abandonment and a host of insecurities that are affecting his romantic relationships.
You can probably think of someone in your own life who exhibits these traits too, or perhaps you recognise it in yourself.
3. Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Style
Are you seen as self-sufficient and independent but actually deep down you’re just avoiding being vulnerable? If that resonates with you, then chances are you’ve got a dismissive avoidant attachment style.
As soon as things get too serious, or rather too personal, do you run away or find a way to sabotage the relationship? A common trait of people with this style is the avoidance of true intimacy and deep emotional connections. Do you find yourself minimizing the importance of relationships, even close friendships, thinking you don’t need them, or that you’re happy being alone?
While choosing to be single for example can be completely healthy, the dismissive avoidant type needs to remember the importance of connection. Connection is a fundamental human need!
Dismissive Avoidant attachment style example
Here’s another attachment style example, this time for the Dismissive-Avoidant types. Remember Dr House from "House M.D"?
He’s a great example of what avoidance looks like as he consistently tries to avoid forming deeper connections with others. He also has a hard time expressing his emotions, making him a hard person to connect with deeply.
4. Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style
“I love him, I want to be with him, but I’m terrified he’s going to leave me.”
Does that sound like the inner monologue going through your brain at times? If so then you might find you’re the fearful-avoidant type.
It’s really common for people with this type to experience that kind of inner conflict. They do want to be close but they struggle with intimacy. Fearing being hurt, they end up clinging to their partners even more. The combo of fear and avoidance makes them quite hesitant about fully committing to the relationship.
When it comes to romantic relationships, the fearful-avoidant type can be rather unpredictable and emotionally distant. As you can imagine, that makes it challenging for their partners to connect deeply with them and understand their needs. Building safety, trust and intimacy in the relationship will be particularly important for this type.
Fearful Avoidant attachment style example
Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games" I think is a good example of the traits I just mentioned. She exhibits fearful-avoidant tendencies, being torn between wanting love while fearing the level of vulnerability that love requires.
People with a fearful-avoidant attachment style are more likely to end up in abusive relationships. Please watch out for yourself and your friends!
If you need help, call 1800RESPECT (Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). More information is available at Respect.gov.au.
While I enjoy a good old pop-culture reference, I want to point out that they’re fictional characters. Real-life relationships are of course more nuanced and probably don’t fit as neatly into these categories.
So why should you care about attachment styles? Learning about attachment styles is still a great starting point for improving our relationships. They help us recognise some of our own patterns and behaviours so we can begin to address them and develop healthier relationships.
Understanding Your Own Attachment Style
Do you already have an idea of which style of attachment you have in romantic or intimate relationships?
Understanding how you form emotional bonds will give you such valuable insight into your unique relationship patterns. So why not take this handy little quiz from the Attachment Project and find out exactly what style you have?
Attachment Style Quiz (5 minutes)
Did the quiz stir up any old memories? Hopefully, it’s given you a little bit of insight, but I encourage you to keep reflecting.
Think about how your past experiences in relationships or with other close people in your life. How might these experiences have contributed to your current attachment style?
Not happy about your current style of attachment? Fear not, you don’t need to be stuck with it forever.
Attachment styles can absolutely change over time as we learn and grow from our experiences. Different relationship dynamics can also impact our style of attachment.
How understanding attachment styles will make your relationship better
Now that you’ve got a bit of an idea of what each style commonly looks like, let’s dive further into how knowing you and your partner’s attachment styles can help your relationship become better.
If you’ve ever felt like your partner is emotionally unavailable or perhaps emotionally exhausting, then you no doubt get how that can take a toll on a romantic relationship.
So here are my top two ways in which attachment styles support relationship success:
- Insight - Understanding our attachment styles is extra helpful in the context of romantic relationships. It gives you an insight into why you might be struggling in this particular setting and what you can do to help yourself.
- Build empathy & compassion - As you learn more about your partner’s emotional needs, expectations, fears etc, and share your own, you’re letting them truly see you.
That vulnerability, while scary at times, is what allows you to build empathy and compassion for one another. Use that to navigate any life or relationship challenges and remain open and connected during times of conflict.
My own experience with attachment styles
Your past influences your future
I’ve found gaining insight into my partner’s upbringing and relationship with their caregivers and past partners to be incredibly useful.
It shapes their attachment patterns, which in turn shapes how they are in our relationship. By recognising their patterns and their past, I find I’m much better at showing them compassion and patience, especially when they’re triggered.
Of course, understanding my own attachment style and reasons behind developing it, have been helpful too.
Knowledge is power, and in this case, it empowers us to tailor the emotional support we give to suit each other’s needs in a relationship.
Understanding each other’s dynamics and history as it informs our attachment styles, helps us communicate openly and vulnerably, thereby fostering greater trust and emotional intimacy in the relationship.
That understanding and communication also enable us to resolve any conflict much faster, addressing potential pitfalls and nurturing growth and resilience in the relationship.
We can work together as a couple to create a more secure and satisfying partnership that works for both of us.
Communication Strategies for Different Attachment Styles
So you’ve got a pretty good handle on your own and perhaps even your partner’s attachment style, what’s next?
In order to nurture your dynamic into a healthy, successful relationship, you’ll need to learn how to communicate effectively.
Look, adapting to the needs of different attachment styles will take a lot of patience and compassion, I won’t lie. It’s an incredible skill to have though and you’ll be glad you’ve learnt it when you notice that lovingly deep connection with your partner.
Communication tips for the anxious attachment style
- Offer extra reassurance -
If your partner or loved one leans toward an anxious attachment style, you’ll want to offer them extra reassurance and consistent support as much as possible.
Remember that common traits include lower self-esteem and a struggle to establish a strong sense of self. You can help them navigate this though with the help of clear, open and vulnerable communication.
- Lead by example with vulnerable sharing -
Talk about your own personal needs, what you’re feeling and what your boundaries are. Doing so will encourage your partner to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings and make them feel safer to share those with you.
Personal reflection and sharing in a safe space will boost their self-awareness and self-confidence, and can even foster a stronger connection to their authentic selves.
- Active Listening -
There might also be a fear of abandonment lingering deep down, so make sure you’re making yourself available as much as possible to actively listen to their needs and any concerns that come up.
By being there for your partner, communicating vulnerably and actively listening to their needs and desires, you’re ultimately boosting emotional intimacy. That’s going to trickle through to other areas of your relationship so you can enjoy an even happier, more fulfilling relationship.
Lastly, remember that feelings aren’t always rational and that’s ok. There’s so much we can learn from even the most irrational, spur-of-the-moment feelings if we’re willing to dig a little deeper.
Communication tips for the avoidant attachment styles
- Respect their need for space -
If your partner or loved one tends to be more avoidant rather than anxious, be sure to respect their need for space and autonomy.
Remember that the avoidant styles are often avoiding being vulnerable and true intimacy. For some, there’s a deep-rooted fear of being hurt.
- Keep it slow and steady -
The worst thing you can do for an avoidant personality is get carried in your excitement and desire to move things forward in the relationship.
Rather than trying to escalate things, even if it seems totally appropriate to you, focus on building trust and getting to know each other. Chat with them in an even more open and non-confrontational way to show them you’re not a threat.
- Slowly deepen the connection -
Leading on from building trust is deepening your connection with your partner.
More avoidant style people may try to diminish their innate human need for connection, which is where you come in. Without forcing it, ease into things by vulnerably sharing some things about yourself.
Just like for the anxious style people, you have an opportunity to lead by example and initiate deeper conversations. That’s going to deepen your emotional connection and provide a strong base for a healthy romantic relationship.
Embracing Your Attachment Style in Relationships and Open Communication
Fostering your desired connection, trust, and intimacy with a partner who has a different attachment style will require a lot of understanding and patience. Beyond educating yourself on attachment styles, the best thing you can do is talk to your partner!
In a safe environment, share with each other what you struggle with most in relationships. You might, for example, have formed unhealthy patterns as a result of past experiences with family or former partners. These can have a major impact on how you handle relationships today.
Lastly, don’t force these things! Take your time to establish a secure supportive connection from a place of love.
If you made it this far, wow, thank you so much for reading!
Look out for a follow-on article about how to transform your attachment style in relationships (coming soon)