What is attachment theory?
Attachment styles help us understand how we relate to other people, and why. Attachment theory was first developed by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950’s. The theory was later expanded on by Mary Ainsworth to better understand how children relate to their primary caregiver. Since then, the theory has grown to apply to romantic relationships as well. Our attachment systems play a big part in why we choose certain partners, and how we respond to one another. Keep reading to find out your attachment style and understand how this may affect your romantic life.
The four attachment styles
Those with a secure attachment style are comfortable giving and receiving emotional intimacy, trust, and security with their partners. They tend to have a positive view of themselves and others, and a level-headed view of romantic relationships. When a relationship ends, they rarely take it personally. They understand their partner was likely not a good match, and that there’s a better match for them out there.
Anxious / Preoccupied
People with anxious attachment styles have a highly active attachment system which causes alarms to go off when the relationship is threatened. Even the slightest change in their partner can cause panic that’s difficult to settle until they’re reassured by their partner that the relationship is safe. They are often self-critical and seek validation from others. Anxious partners have a strong need for closeness and must be reassured at all times that their partner loves and respects them. They can feel incomplete when not in a romantic relationship. When relationships end, they have a hard time accepting that there will be more opportunities for relationships in the future with partners who better suit them.
Avoidant / Dismissive
Avoidants value their independence more than anything and have a strong need for distance and intimacy in their romantic relationships, both emotional and physical. While they’ll let their partner around, they have a tough time letting them in — making it really difficult to build real closeness and connection. When things get too intimate and close, an Avoidant partner may grasp at reasons to end the relationship.
Being the one to end the relationship allows them to maintain the idea that they are in control and independent. When a relationship ends, they cling to their beliefs about why the relationship wouldn’t have worked in the first place to avoid feeling the natural sadness of a breakup. Because they see intimacy as a lack of dependence, they’ll jump back into their own lives to numb the pain. But eventually, those feelings will catch up to them or they’ll play out a similar relationship with another partner.
The rarest of the attachment styles, those with a Fearful style volley between wanting closeness and pushing their partner’s away. One day they’ll be all over their partners, and the next they can disappear without an explanation. They tend to get overwhelmed easily and experience mood swings.
How the attachment styles interact
Knowing your attachment style can be a game-changer in dating and relationships. For example, while Avoidant and Anxious styles are the most incompatible pairing, they tend to end up in relationships with each other. Why? Both partners exacerbate each other’s worst fears in relationships. This resulting in a push-pull — while the Anxious partner craves closeness and tries to get intimate, this only makes the Avoidant partner want to push them away further. It’s a constant cycle.
Because they’re comfortable with closeness, Secure partners are a good match for those with Anxious and Avoidant attachment styles as they’re able to stay calm and tune into their partner’s needs. Secure partners can also help their Anxious or Avoidant significant other move into security, leading to higher relationship satisfaction.
The importance of knowing your attachment style
Knowing your attachment style can demystify dating. Tuning into your attachment style allows you to better understand your needs and determine early-on whether a partner can meet those needs. Early understanding can help you avoid investing in partner’s who aren’t a good match — so you can dodge unnecessary heartbreak and move onto the next fish in the sea.
A counsellor can help you determine your attachment style and discuss how to better navigate the dating world. So you can get out there confidently. Wellin5’s team of registered counsellors are ready to help you clarify dating. Get started today.