Attachment Theory and why it’s important for your Relationship
We all have a need to belong, to be a part of, to attach to. As babies, our survival depends on it, and as adults, that need doesn’t diminish or disappear, except as adults, we also have a need to individuate, a need for autonomy.
So the relationship becomes a dance between the two needs, a push/pull per se. This dance can be seen through our attachments styles.
I want to share a very quick overview of what attachments styles are, why it is important to know what attachment style you have, and give you a few useful resources to learn more.
Your attachment style is formed when you are a child and is affected by other significant relationships in your life, good and bad. As an adult, your attachment style impacts the type of partner you are attracted to, the way you deal with relational distress, the way you fight and the way you make up.
Recognizing your and your partner attachment style gives an insight as to why you do what you do, and gives you a way to have some fantastic conversations, recognize each other’s differences and triggers, and find ways to make the relationship work for both of you.
There is one secure and 3 insecure attachment styles.
Secure Attachment - “I’m happy to be in a relationship, and I’m ok if I’m not”.
As kids, these individuals grew up in families where parents were available, responsive and engaged. It’s not that they were perfect, it’s that they kept trying. It’s not that the kid’s needs were met all the time, it’s that when they weren’t met, parents knew how to reassure, to reconnect, and knew how to repair the loss of a connection. An adult who grew up like this can feel secure and trusting in relationships.
Anxious Attachment - “I need to be in a relationship; I’m afraid to be alone”.
Often people who have this attachment style had caregivers who weren’t always available. Sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t. A child in this situation often learns they can’t rely on the people they trust most, they don’t expect people to be there for them and they can’t relax in that knowing. They are unsure.
Avoidant Attachment - “Who needs a relationship, I’m better off being alone”.
Often developed by children whose parents or caregivers weren’t available. A child had to learn to be ok without. They made a decision, that if it’s not available, well I don’t need it. It’s not true, they do need it, but it’s easier not to expect, than hope and be disappointed. They are very independent, and underneath that might be a fear of intimacy.
Disorganized Attachment - “Come here! Go away”.
These individuals will go back and forth between anxious and avoidant styles, between I need you, come closer. Now that’s scary, that’s too much, please go away. Often developed by children whose parents or caregivers were frightening or possibly frightened. Or possibly when mom had unresolved trauma. A child's attachment needs are in conflict with survival needs and fight or flight instincts. If the parent who is supposed to love and protect you is scary, who’s going to protect you from them? They have extreme need for intimacy, and extreme fear of intimacy at the same time
In relationships we can be mostly secure, until something happens that activates our attachment needs and we pull away from our partner and withdraw (Avoidant) or throw a temper tantrum trying to hold onto our partner (Anxious) . It’s like our attachment alarm goes off when it senses a threat to the relationship.
It really helps when we understand those impulses ourselves and when we can talk about it with our partners.
The way we react to attachment triggers is not a choice, it’s a way our nervous system reacts automatically, instinctively, before we have a chance to understand what’s going on. That reaction is often based on what we have learned as young children. and while it was so useful to our survival then, it’s damaging to the relationship now. In an attempt to restore attachment we blame, hide our authentic selves, pretend, play games, try to manipulate, etc.
This in turn affects our relationships, it affects how we fight and how we repair after the fight, how we deal with challenges, and how we grow.
It’s very possible to heal from insecure attachments and to learn and develop a secure attachment with your partner even if you didn’t learn it as a child. It takes conscious work and effort. It can be very fulfilling work when you know what you are doing and especially if you have support from your partner.
If you are not sure what your attachment style is, here’s a link to a free quiz by Dr. Diane Poole Heller
Here are some resources to help you learn about attachment styles
I personally love the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great read, very practical, with many suggestions on how to move towards secure attachment style.
Buy it here: https://amzn.to/38inaMb
The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller
Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2OGouBs
I love this brilliant book by Stan Tatkin “Wired for love”
Buy it here: https://amzn.to/3c5eVEc
This is a wonderful book by dr. Sue Johnson “Hold me tight”.
I highly recommend this for couples I work with. I often work through the book with them when they need extra help.
Buy it here: https://amzn.to/3cc7rz7
If you need more support on how to navigate different attachment needs, or how to come back to a secure attachment, talk to me.