Attachment Styles in Relationships

Have you ever wondered what it is that draws people together, and what it is that pulls you apart in relationships?

Perhaps the answer lies in your attachment style.

Understanding our attachment style helps to recognise our strengths and vulnerabilities in relationships.

Attachment styles develop during childhood, possibly even before birth. They describe a child’s relationship with their parents, later becoming unconscious patterns of behaviour. It is these patterns that often influence our adult relationships.

Attachment Styles

Your early patterns of attachment can affect your adult relationships, and also relationships with your children. They fall into two main categories of Secure and Insecure Attachment.

Secure Attachment

A securely attached child feels safe to explore their world. They know there will always be a protective caregiver to provide safety and security when needed.

In an adult relationship, this person generally has good self esteem. Feeling confident in their relationships, they instinctively know how to be honest, intimate and supportive. They are able to listen to their partner, as well as being able to express their own needs.

Insecure Attachment Styles

Insecure attachment styles develop in early childhood as an organised survival strategy. Three recognised styles are Anxious (Preoccupied, Ambivalent), Avoidant (Dismissing) and Disorganised (Fearful, Disoriented).

Anxious/Preoccupied Attachment

Your partner with an anxious style of attachment probably grew up feeling their carers were not consistently available. Feeling anxious and insecure, they have a tendency to rely on others for security and emotional regulation, and may have a tendency to experience social anxiety.

Your anxious partner will likely worry about the relationship, constantly thinking “am I doing enough”. Finding it hard to be in the moment, they may often try to live in the “high dream” of a relationship, believing in the fairytale romance, and the future potential, without really being consciously aware of what is actually happening.

They may appear insecure, or clingy, constantly needing validation. Emotionally hungry, they often depend on their partner to define who they really are, and struggle to be alone. Their fears often become self-fulfilling, as they inadvertently push their partner away, by trying too hard to keep them close.

Avoidant/Dismissive Attachment

A person with an avoidant attachment style tends to feel uncomfortable with intimacy and close relationships. They may inadvertently keep their partner at a distance, in an attempt to avoid feeling stifled, or “suffocated”.

In childhood, their carers were able to meet the basic needs, but may have been less available emotionally. These children often learned to distance themselves from their emotions.

In an unconscious attempt to avoid repeating hurts from the past, they may choose to leave a relationship, rather than face the prospect of being rejected. Their “high dream” in a relationship may be to value independence and self-sufficiency, while struggling with emotional closeness and vulnerability.

Disorganised Attachment

The child sees the parent/carer as frightened or frightening. The attachment figure, which should be the source of safety, is also the source of distress. The child learns to dissociate from what is happening to them. They can feel both avoidant and anxious in their adult relationships.

Possible Scenario

Please note, this is a composite of several experiences, and is not intended to represent anyone individually.

Jane and Bob had been in a relationship for several years, and both felt the relationship was struggling. Being in love just didn’t seem to be enough.

Bob started to feel uncomfortable with Jane’s apparent need to always be close. He felt suffocated, and started to distance himself emotionally. Meanwhile, Jane, sensing his discomfort, tried to remedy the situation by getting closer. As Bob continued to deny to himself the importance of the relationship, Jane felt rejected and unwanted.

Does this sound familiar?

Jane’s early attachment style had an anxious pattern. She had always been attracted to the strong, independent types, and Bob fitted the bill perfectly. Bob’s attachment style was more avoidant, and he struggled with too much closeness. He felt he needed more space in the relationship.

The characteristics that they had initially found attractive in each other were now tearing them apart. Bob and Jane’s childhood experiences meant they had very different ways of experiencing their emotional needs in a relationship.

Bob found Jane’s tears and heightened emotions difficult to be with, and was unaware of her need for security in the relationship. Jane couldn’t understand why Bob found her apparent vulnerability exhausting, and struggled to understand what she felt was his rejection of her.

Counselling with a Psychotherapist helped them to communicate their needs, and bring more awareness and understanding to the relationship. Once they realised how their early attachment patterns were affecting their relationship, Bob and Jane found they were able to connect with each other at a much deeper level.

Needing Connection

We are social beings, and exist primarily through relationships. The attachment patterns we learn during infancy and early childhood, set the scene for later adult relationships. As a result we may unconsciously keep repeating them.

Fortunately, it is never too late to change. You may even find yourself growing in confidence and self-esteem along the way.

Reaching Out

If you feel you are struggling in your relationship, or have observed a pattern repeating itself, it’s OK to reach out and ask for help.

Seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist can help you to become aware of your attachment styles. You will be supported to safely explore patterns in your relationships. The result can be the freedom to break old patterns, and move ahead into new and more satisfying ways of relating to others.

If you are concerned about your relationship with your children, and would like some parenting support, the Circle of Security Parenting program is an early intervention program supporting new ways of relating. Developing a more secure connection with your children can help them both socially, and emotionally as well as in the classroom.

If you think I can help, please email, or call for a chat on 0474 095 432


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