Romantic relationships are only as tricky as your attachment style
Have you ever wondered why people jump from one relationship to another, why your friend always gets back with her/his ex after breaking up for the 5th time or why do some relationships really last forever?
There is a scientific answer to those questions: their attachment style.
But first, you need to learn about the so-popular, yet unknown for many, attachment theory.
While working for the World Health Organization in 1951, psychiatrist John Bowlby published “Maternal Care and Mental Health,” where he exposed a theory on Maternal Need and described the process of how an infant develops a strong attachment to his mother on the first six months of his life, and how, if it breaks, it can have serious consequences.
Fourteen years later, in 1965, Mary Ainsworth, a psychologist at the University of Toronto and student of Bowlby, designed an experiment called the strange situation procedure, which assessed differences in attachment behaviour by evoking infants’ reaction when they encountered stress.
This procedure, which studied 26 children, involved putting children and their caregivers in a laboratory setting with many toys.
After one minute, a stranger to the infants would enter the room and tried making acquaintance. Then, the caregiver left for a couple of minutes and returned. The caregiver left the child again, and the stranger tried to comfort him.
When the caregiver returned, it was instructed to pick up the child.
After the procedure, the 26 children were placed into one of the three classifications that reflect a different kind of attachment relationship with their caregiver: anxious, secure and avoidant.
During the experiment, children with an avoidant attachment style evaded or ignored their caregiver and showed little emotion when the caregiver departed or returned.
On the other hand, infants with a secure attachment style were open to explore their surroundings while their caregiver was present, they engaged with the stranger when their caregiver was present and were upset when their caregiver departed. However, they were happy to see their caregiver back on their return.
Those who demonstrated an anxious-resistant attachment showed distress before separation from their caregiver, were difficult to comfort on the caregiver’s return and showed signs of helpless passivity.
Although adult and children attachment styles are not entirely equal, they are pretty similar.
In the 1980s, clinical psychologist Sue Johnson began using the attachment theory for adult therapy.
But it wasn’t until 1987 when Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver, influenced by Bowlby and Ainsworth’s studies, published a study that indicated the possibility that the affection bonds we create as children with our caregivers are similar to the bonds we create in our romantic relationships.
Hazan and Shaver’s research acknowledges the three major attachment styles mentioned in Ainsworth’s study: secure, avoidant and anxious; and in a 1991 study, psychologists Kim Bartholomew and Leonard M. Horowitz broke the anxious attachment style into two: avoidant-dismissive and avoidant-fearful.
Here is how we as adults, experience attachment styles.
ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT STYLE:
Adults with an anxious attachment style have the capacity for great intimacy and can become overly dependent on their partners.
They can come off as very sensitive and take their significant other’s behaviour too seriously.
Anxious styles often fear that their partner doesn’t have the same feelings towards them, and as a result, they may become paranoid, act out and say (or do) things that they later regret. However, after expressing their feelings, they feel satisfied.
Other characteristics or behaviours of an anxious attachment style:
· See their relationship as their only chance at love.
· Doubt their worth.
· Constantly worry about their relationship.
· Get easily upset instead of trying to solve a problem.
· Are hypervigilant of their partner.
SECURE ATTACHMENT STYLE:
Individuals with a secure attachment style might seem boring at first for some people, but it must be because they are drama-free.
Secure styles are trustworthy and consistent. You can rely on them without problems.
They also make for good communicators when it comes to expressing their needs and feelings, and they can easily read their partner’s emotional hints.
Other characteristics of secure attachment styles:
· Make decisions with their partners.
· Speak up when something is bothering them, they don’t act out or expect you to guess.
· Make you feel comfortable asking about where the relationship is going.
· Are not afraid of commitment.
· Don’t leave you guessing or try to make you jealous.
AVOIDANT-DISMISSIVE ATTACHMENT STYLE
People with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style value self-sufficiency. They enjoy being independent and like to keep it that way.
Although they would like to be close to others, they feel uncomfortable with too much closeness.
They don’t like to spend time worrying about relationships, and usually don’t open up to their partners, coming off as emotionally distant.
Some of the characteristics of the avoidant-dismissive behaviours:
· Focus on their partner’s small imperfections.
· Don’t like to invite you to his/her place.
· Don’t make his/her intentions clear.
· Have difficulty talking about what’s going on between you.
· Devalue you or previous partners.
AVOIDANT-FEARFUL ATTACHMENT STYLE
Adults with an avoidant-fearful attachment style see themselves and others negatively, they don’t feel lovable, and believe others will be rejecting and untrustworthy.
Other characteristics of avoidant-fearful attachment styles:
· Feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness.
· Don’t trust the intentions of others.
· Suppress and deny their feelings.
· Are less comfortable expressing affection.
· Seek less intimacy.
The Attachment theory allows us to understand why people behave the way that they do. It’s not personal, it’s just the way attachment styles work.
However, there is no reason to stay in a relationship where you’re unhappy or don’t feel appreciated.
There is no such thing as good or bad attachment style. However, if you found yourself with the characteristics of an attachment style that you didn’t like, here’s the good news: attachment styles can change.
On average, one in four people can change their attachment style either through therapy or by committing in a relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style, as they find –like its name says — security in them, and learn and imitate their habits.
So, the next time you start wondering why you’re single, think about the people you’ve gone on dates with, their behaviours and their possible attachment style.
That will make you think twice whether or not you want to give them a call.
This article contains extracts from the book Attached by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A. Published by TarcherPerigee
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.111
Van Buren, A. & Cooley, E.L. (2002). Attachment styles, view of self and negative affect. North American Journal of Psychology 4(3), 417–430 (page 418)
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226–244. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168