Relationship attachment style, refers to how you relate to others, particularly to people you are in an intimate relationship with such as a partner, sibling, parent or close friend. We learn attachment as young children through the dynamics of our relationships with primary caregivers. Under the best circumstances, attachment teaches us how to manage and balance our competing needs for autonomy and dependence.
Learning about your relationship attachment style as an adult is useful because attachment influences your emotions and reactions to many life events including loss, abandonment, betrayal, intimacy, friendship, coupling, parenting, and separation. Ultimately, relationship attachment styles learned at a young age wield hefty influence over the health of adult relationships.To find out more about your attachment style, you can click here to complete the quiz.
Secure Attachment: Individuals who utilize a Secure Attachment style most likely had caregivers who provided them with a secure base as they were growing up. Caregivers encouraged them to explore the world while representing a safe place to return to where children could have their needs met such as being fed, cleaned, and given affection and support. As adults, these individuals are able to achieve stable and fulfilling relationships with others based on their ability to successfully balance autonomy with maintaining connection and closeness. They are generally comfortable with intimacy, communicate their feelings, and have little trouble asking for or providing support.
Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: Those who have learned an Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment style likely had inconsistent caregiving as children. Caregivers may have sometimes provided their child with a sense of warmth, love, and security but failed to do so at other times. Children who grow up with this dynamic never feel that the world is a safe place to navigate alone and tend to cling to others in adult relationships. Fear of abandonment and the possibility that they are unlovable are pervasive concerns for Anxious-Preoccupied individuals and they may invest a substantial amount of their time and energy into keeping their partner close by trying to limit her or his autonomy. Any indication of their partner’s independence from the relationship may be perceived as rejection, thus confirming the Anxious-Preoccupied person’s worst fears about their own potential to be loved and cared for. These individuals may seek out co-dependent or dependent relationships.
Fearful-Avoidant Attachment: As with Anxious-Preoccupied individuals, Fearful-Avoidant individuals have learned attachment strategies in reaction to inconsistent caregiving. Fearful-Avoidant people, however, learn to both crave closeness and fear it. Also known as Insecure-Ambivalent attachment, this style is characterized by conflicted views and anxiety surrounding connection with others. On one hand, these individuals very deeply desire to have a secure, intimate relationship but they have also learned through years of recapitulating dynamics that depending on others can leave them feeling hurt and disappointed. Fearful-Avoidant individuals have not learned any organized strategy for maintaining intimate relationships and may try to bottle up their emotions, even positive ones, to avoid intimacy. They may be prone to changeable moods or explosive bouts of emotional caused by their ambivalence about wanting to express their feelings but also avoiding closeness. The relationships of Fearful-Avoidant individuals are often tumultuous, dramatic ones characterized by exaggerated highs and lows.
Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: This attachment style is often the result of caregiving characterized by abuse or neglect. Early life experiences may have taught the Dismissive-Avoidant person that total autonomy is the “safest” way to navigate the world because dependence on others is dangerous. As adults, these individuals tend to emotionally distance themselves in relationships and look inward for all of their needs. In relationships they are able to willfully close themselves off and detach quickly from others. They may also choose to socially isolate and avoid situations wherein they would need to depend on others.
You may identify with one or more of these attachment styles. While attachment style learned at a young age tends to carry into adulthood, styles are also characterized by flexibility and adaptation across relationships and over time. Gaining insight into your own attachment style is an important first step to improving your relationships because this enables you to identify what you need to change in order to maintain more stable and fulfilling relationships. Individuals can work towards developing a secure attachment style by challenging themselves to use better strategies in relationships, remaining self-aware, and by seeking out relationships with individuals capable of secure attachment.