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Take Me Out: Attachment Styles and Relationships

10 mins read

Everyone has an attachment style, and it is important you know what you and your partners are. This can help you understand each other more, and this deep understanding can allow you to be mindful of how and why you may react to certain things.

Your relationship with your primary caregiver during development provides an attachment style that gets reinforced throughout your life.

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Attachment theory

John Bowlby developed attachment styles to explain bonding between children and their primary caregivers and their implications on social bonds later in life, such as relationships.

You can access a summary here if interested in his experimentation and findings.

Attachment throughout life

Many behavioural scientists thought early attachment was simply a learned behaviour and resulted from bonding through feeding. But this is not the case.

Bowlby found that attachment was marked by clear behavioural and motivational patterns. For example, when children are scared, they look to their primary carer for care and comfort.

Bowlby said that the development of attachment is tremendously important for everyone. The emotional bond promotes safety in the child as it keeps them close to their primary caregiver when they feel frightened.

So, speaking in terms of evolution, the children who could bond with others efficiently were most likely to survive until adulthood. Bonding is not a learned process. It is an innate drive.

Throughout life, bonding with others is essential for social interactions, promoting friendships and relationships.

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Your style will depend on your relationships throughout life, not just during childhood. Although, there is a continuity between your early attachment style and romantic relations as an adult.

This is because the primary caregiver sets a template for the child’s future relationships. This also means that the behaviour of the carer and the child’s perception of self results in their attachment style.

Attachment styles

The attachment styles are made of ideas of the self and others (i.e. Do I deserve love? And can I depend on this person?)

There are four attachment styles, they differ from children and adults in name, but the general idea of the style is the same. Let us briefly discuss the four attachment styles in children and then adults in more detail.

In Children

Anxious

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Anxious attachment is the least common type. This style of attachment will present as distress when they are not with the caregiver, this is a result of the parent’s availability being inconsistent at best. So, the child knows they won’t be there for them when they need them.

Avoidant

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Avoidant attachment is categorised by a complete indifference from the child to the caregiver. Even so much so, the child has no difference in reaction between the caregiver and a stranger. This results from abuse and neglectful parent – being punished for relying on the caregiver results in them avoiding seeking comfort.

Disorganised

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Disorganised attachment is presented in a strange mix of behaviours in the child. They may seem confused or avoid and resist the parent. This lack of attachment behaviour is due to inconsistent caregiving behaviour. Where caregivers are the source of comfort and fear.

Secure

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Secure attachment is the type of children who can depend on their caregivers. They show anxiety when apart and happiness when together. In this case, although the child is in distress, they are assured the caregiver will return and comfort them. Securely attached children feel comfortable going to their parents for help when stressed. This is the most common type.

In Adults

Preoccupied

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Preoccupied attachment is the equivalent of anxious attachment in children. People with this attachment style have a negative image of themselves but generally view others positively.

This results in them striving for self-acceptance by attempting to get validation from their relationships. These people may need more intimacy in their relationships. They crave closeness but still remain anxious about whether their needs will be met.

Moreover, they tend to be preoccupied as they still have issues with their parents and actively strive to impress them.

They can be triggered by their own perception of people’s recognition of them if interpreted as false or insincere. During times of stress, they can have amplified emotions and overdependence on others.

Relationships consist of themes such as obsession, extreme attraction, desire for it to be reciprocated, emotional rollercoasters and intense jealousy.

People with this type say that they find it easy to fall in love, but not to stay in love. They report love to be colder than the other types.

Dismissive

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Dismissive attachment is the equivalent of avoidant attachment in children. People with this attachment style have a positive image of themselves and a negative image of others.

This results in them avoiding relationships to keep their independence and not be vulnerable. They struggle with intimacy and overvalue independence and self-reliance.

They tend to view people as untrustworthy and deny their importance. In adult relationships, people with this attachment style avoid closeness at all costs.

As children, this type would have experienced many letdowns from their primary caregiver, resulting in them not relying on others.

Fearful

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This type is the equivalent of the children’s disorganised attachment, also called fearful-disorganised or fearful-avoidant.

This type presents as unstable and strange behaviour within their relationships. Just as in the children, in adults with this type, it is likely their partner is their source of desire and fear.

People with this attachment style want closeness but fear depending on and trusting in their partners.

They find it difficult to regulate their emotions and often avoid emotional closeness to prevent themselves from getting hurt.

Secure

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This attachment style is the equivalent of secure attachment in children. All the other attachment styles are insecure attachments (i.e., something went wrong during attachment).

However, individuals of this type feel secure, can maintain healthy relationships, and find it easy to openly express their emotions.

Adults with this attachment style find it easy to depend on and trust their partner and vice versa.

This type will strive in relationships and not fear being alone. Their relationships are filled with trust, honesty and emotional closeness.

They do not depend on their partner for validation or closeness and hold a positive view of themselves and their relationships.

Attachment styles & relationships

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It is essential that you and your partner are aware of both your attachment styles to understand each other more deeply.

Knowing this will allow you to be more understanding and mindful of what your partner needs from you to feel secure.

This also allows you to be aware of certain triggers they may have and why they have them.

Take the attachment style quiz here!

Final thoughts

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Preoccupied (anxious) attachment-style partners may have a love language, such as words of affirmation or quality time to ensure they feel validated and loved.

Dismissive-style partners have trouble trusting, so perhaps love languages, such as acts of service and words of affirmation, reinforce the idea that you are there for them, and you are to be trusted.

Fearful-style partners find it hard to regulate their emotions, so words of affirmation to reassure them and acts of service to show you care about them would most likely be their love languages.

Secure attachment-style partners may enjoy any love language.

If you want to learn more about love languages, you can read here and find your love language with the love language quiz!

Feature Image Credit: Samantha McBride on Canva

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Final year Biology & Psychology student with a keen interest in music, food and lifestyle pieces.

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