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  • Writer's pictureGabriella Sharp, AMFT

Attachment Styles and Their Impact on Relationships

Attachment styles play a crucial role in the way that we develop and maintain relationships. They are the way in which we relate to others in our most intimate relationships and are often influenced by self-worth and trust. Most often, our individual attachment style comes from childhood experiences and the ways in which we bonded with our caregivers. Understanding which style best describes you and your partner can help to better understand one another and can help in unraveling conflict and navigating communication breakdown. In this blog post we will explore three main attachment styles - anxious, avoidant, and secure - and examine their impact on romantic relationships.

1. Anxious Attachment Anxious attachment is primarily associated with fear of rejection or abandonment. The fears of anxiously attached individuals often stem from having caregivers who were inconsistent and unreliable with their affection. Later in life, these beliefs surrounding emotional unsafety can be carried into adult connections, especially within romantic relationships. Anxious attachment in a relationship can look like a tendency to overanalyze, being easily triggered - even by a minor indication that their partner is distancing from them, an intense need for reassurance and closeness, and a difficulty with trust. As for communicating their needs, an anxiously attached individual might frequently reach out for contact to confirm closeness, seek constant validation, and be very expressive and vulnerable with their emotions. Often, the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and subsequent need to be soothed can often be perceived as demanding and lead to conflict and frustration. After identifying this kind of attachment style, tailored techniques can be used to help with conflict resolution. Some ideas that might help an anxiously attached partner would be to express commitment and reassurance, set boundaries and clear expectations, provide a safe space for emotional expression, and be mindful of abandonment triggers.

2. Avoidant Attachment The near opposite of anxious attachment, avoidant attachment is characterized by an uneasiness surrounding intimacy or dependence on a partner. An avoidantly attached individual may have also had an upbringing involving an unreliable caregiver, with the caregiver likely being unavailable or unresponsive to the child’s needs a majority of the time. Avoidant attachment is actually divided into two types ( dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant) and it can be helpful to specify which category you or your partner may fall into. A dismissive-avoidant individual may emphasize the importance of their self-sufficiency while minimizing the significance of their relationship, while a fearful-avoidant may internally crave closeness, but will push away their partner due a fear of rejection or being hurt. Some characteristics of an avoidant attachment could be difficulty trusting others, avoiding conflict, and being inexpressive with their emotions. All of these traits can make it difficult to form and maintain relationships, romantic or otherwise. When dealing with an avoidant partner in conflict, some helpful techniques could include respecting their space, being patient with emotional closeness and not adding pressure for emotional expression and respecting their independence.

3. Secure Attachment Secure attachment describes a stable and healthy emotional bond and is often considered to be the goal of attachment therapy. In childhood, a securely attached individual likely had safe and positive bonds with their caregivers, resulting in positive self-worth and a view of others. Securely attached individuals do not see intimacy or independence from a place of fear, but instead can manage the two with comfort and balance. Because of this, securely attached individuals typically have effective communication skills and are more adept at remaining calm and supportive in a stressful situation. This is not to say that all individuals with a secure attachment style are perfect partners, but instead that they are typically more inclined to give and accept trust and dependability.

Recognizing your and your partner’s attachment styles can be incredibly helpful in enhancing your relationship dynamic. It is very common for an anxious individual and an avoidant individual to find themselves in a relationship, entering an anxious-avoidant cycle in which one person wants more time and validation, while the other feels pressured by these demands and isolates themselves. The distance imposed by the avoidant partner triggers the fears of the anxious partner, pushing them to seek reassurance of closeness, which in turn triggers the fears of the avoidant partner. Without recognition of these patterns, these two may be unconsciously seeking out and replicating their hurtful relationships from childhood. Understanding why you or a partner may be acting or reacting a certain way, especially during conflict, can enable you both to see one another more clearly and find resolutions rooted in empathy. It’s important to note that for any attachment style, interaction and conflict management techniques should involve mutual respect and reassurance.

If you would like to learn more about your attachment style and how it impacts your relationships feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment. I work with clients located in California.

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