Understanding Attachment Styles and Their Role in Relationships

When we enter into a relationship with someone new, it is common for familiar patterns to start creeping in. Before you know it, maybe you find yourself fixated with your new romantic interest, filled with worry or anxiety if they haven’t answered your text in a while.

You don’t want to come off as ‘too clingy’ but the space between you feels threatening to the connection. You find yourself wanting more attention, more reassurance of how they feel about you

Or perhaps on the other hand, you struggle at the beginning of a relationship due to fear of losing your sense of freedom. Despite liking the other person, you find yourself pushing them away and keeping a sense of emotional distance to avoid becoming ‘smothered’ by the connection. All of these behaviors may be attributed to certain attachment styles. 

In this article, we will discuss the four attachment styles, and strategies for utilizing attachment theory to enhance your relationships.

For more articles and information about attachment styles, click here.

Understanding Attachment Styles and Their Role in Relationships

What are Attachment Styles?

According to attachment theory, we develop our attachment style in childhood based on interactions with early caregivers. If our caregivers were attuned to our needs most of the time, secure attachment is likely to form. However, if there was inconsistency in meeting a child’s needs, they are more likely to develop an insecure attachment style.

Our attachment style continues to affect the way we relate to others, even throughout adulthood. The four attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant (or disorganized). Let’s take a look at what each of these attachment styles might look like in an intimate relationship:

  • Secure attachment style: fairly comfortable with both intimacy and autonomy in their relationships; find it easy to trust others and give/receive love.
  • Anxious attachment style: intense fear of abandonment may lead to behaviors potentially perceived as ‘needy’ or ‘clingy’, seeking frequent reassurance and preoccupation about losing the relationship.
  • Avoidant attachment style: fear of intimacy which may cause them to be emotionally distant, are generally self-reliant and find it difficult to trust others.
  • Fearful-avoidant (disorganized) attachment style: characterized by a deep desire for intimacy but extreme fear around it, which may result in inconsistent patterns such as drawing close then pulling away.

Utilizing Attachment Styles to Enhance Your Relationship

Understanding your attachment style can be extremely beneficial in helping you and your partner to cultivate a healthier relational dynamic. Here are a few steps that can help you to get started:

  1. Learn about your attachment style. Identify your primary attachment style through taking an online test or researching more about attachment theory. It is common to find that while you may have one primary style, you also relate with tendencies of other attachment styles.
  1. Consider how attachment has played a role in your relationships (past and present). Think about any patterns of behavior that have consistently emerged within your relationships, and how this may be linked to your attachment style. The first step in being able to work with your attachment style is awareness over how it presents. Turn towards yourself with non-judgment and compassion as you reflect.
  1. Create open dialogue with your partner about attachment needs. Developing insight into your attachment style can lead to understanding your attachment needs and clearly communicating them with your partner. It can help you to establish clear boundaries and expectations within your relationship that help both partners to feel safe and cared for.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What are the four attachment styles?

The four attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant (or disorganized).

What is the most common attachment style?

It is estimated that around half of the population has a secure attachment style, making it the most common.

How are attachment styles formed?

According to attachment theory, one develops their attachment style in childhood as a result of their interactions with primary caregivers. If a caregiver is attuned to a child’s needs most of the time, they are likely to develop a secure attachment style. If there is inconsistency in meeting the child’s needs, they may develop an insecure attachment style (such as anxious, avoidant or disorganized). 

However, it is important to note that childhood experiences are not the only factor that shapes our attachment style. The intimate relationships we have throughout our lives and experiencing attachment wounds (such as betrayal or infidelity) can also influence our attachment style.

How do I know my attachment style?

One way to determine your attachment style is to take an online test. Through answering a series of questions, you can determine your primary attachment style, as well as any secondary ones. For example, an individual may score 60% secure, 30% anxious and 10% avoidant.

Even though they are mostly secure, it can still be beneficial to develop awareness over times where they may exhibit tendencies of anxious or avoidant attachment under stress.

How do attachment styles affect relationships?

While attachment styles are formed during childhood, they can continue to have a deep impact in our adult relationships. Our attachment style indicates the level of fear and avoidance around intimacy in our lives.

Individuals who have an anxious attachment may find themselves constantly fearful of losing their partner and engaging in behaviors that can be perceived as ‘needy’ or even manipulative in order to re-establish connection. 

People with a primarily avoidant attachment style tend to be more emotionally distant and closed off, as they are very independent and often fear enmeshment in a relationship. Those with a disorganized attachment style may find themselves engaging in push-pull patterns where they move towards connection, then reject it out of fear. 

Understanding our attachment styles and how they may manifest can help us to establish better insight about our needs within a relationship. We can then collaborate with our partner in order to assure our needs are met, instead of attempting to get them met in ways that can be harmful to the partnership.