Do you always seem to have tumultuous relationships, or does dating never seem to go well? Your attachment style may be one reason why. Attachment styles offer a blueprint for how to approach relationships, but not all those blueprints are helpful. Thankfully, learning about your attachment style makes it easier to unlearn and change it so you can start having healthier, happier relationships.
- Attachment styles can be divided into two categories. Attachment styles are either secure or insecure. And we develop these styles through past experiences and relationships. This can include our childhood relationships with parents and caregivers, as well as romantic relationships in adulthood. If you’ve had troubled relationships that led to an insecure attachment style, you’re not alone. Research shows that insecure attachment styles are becoming more common.
- Secure attachment = secure relationships. Even if insecure attachment is becoming more common, secure attachment is still the goal if you want to improve your love life. Secure attachment makes it easier to keep a balanced perspective in a relationship. People who are securely attached can welcome a partner into their life, without becoming too dependent on them. They enjoy relationships and find it easy to trust others, yet they can also set boundaries where needed.
- There are three types of insecure attachment. Not all insecure attachment styles look the same. There are three different types: anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant (also called fearful-avoidant or disorganized). Anxious attachment involves a deep need for intimacy, yet there’s a fear of abandonment and of losing that intimacy. Anxiously attached partners may come off as needy or clingy, and they try to do everything in their power to keep the relationship going. Partners with an avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, tend to avoid emotional intimacy in order to protect themselves. Finally, anxious-avoidant is a combination of both, where someone may be anxious and needing closeness one day, but the next they push their partner away, turning their back on the relationship.
- Your attachment style can influence who you’re attracted to. Especially for those with an insecure attachment style, you may find yourself attracted to the wrong people time and time again. And often, we attract people with an attachment style that is opposite of our own. If you tend to be more anxious in relationships, you might feel strangely comfortable with an avoidant partner. And if you tend to practice more avoidance, you might be attracted to anxious types.
- Your attachment style may be to blame for repeated relationship problems. If you have the same issues over and over, and across multiple relationships, they’re likely related to your attachment style. This is because, according to your attachment style, you keep making the same mistakes and coping in the same way each time. For example, people with an avoidant or anxious-avoidant attachment style may struggle to ever have a long-term committed relationship. Yet, without consciously meaning to, they may choose only casual relationships, breaking it off with people when things start to get serious.
- Insecure attachment isn’t always bad. Secure attachment is the goal, but partners with insecure attachment have their own strengths, too. For example, anxiously attached people are highly invested in their relationships and love to offer support and affection. And for avoidant types, independence and self-sufficiency come naturally. The key is to maintain these qualities without fear driving them. In other words, give support and affection out of love, not out of fear of losing a partner. Oh, and maintain independence as an act of self-care, not because getting close to others is scary.
- If you’re unsure of your attachment style, look to your last fight. How we deal with relationship conflict has a lot to do with our attachment styles. Secure types will often try to remain calm, listening to their partner and looking for a solution. But insecure types are more likely to go into fight-or-flight mode, and a harmless disagreement may feel like a threat. Anxiously attached partners may try desperately to gain reassurance during a fight, while avoidant partners may leave the conversation altogether. And anxious-avoidant types usually switch between trying to reconnect and create distance.
- Attachment styles aren’t permanent. If your attachment style isn’t serving you and your love life, the good news is it can be changed. Attachment styles can also differ based on the relationship (such as having securely attached friendships while having an anxiously attached romantic relationship). That’s why it can be helpful to date a secure person, especially if you have an insecure attachment style. They can model healthy relationship behaviors that may not come naturally to you. And they’re typically less likely to trigger your insecurities, compared to if you date another insecurely attached person.
- Learn to become more secure. Aside from dating a securely attached person, there are several other steps you can take to become more secure in relationships. Start asking for what you want, but also respect that your partner may not always say yes. Learn to respond, not react based on emotion, especially during arguments. If you have avoidant or anxious-avoidant tendencies, appreciate the positive points about your relationship. And if you’re anxious or anxious-avoidant, practice self-care and learn to self-soothe on your own.