Recently I came across the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, as well as articles about the topic of how attachment styles influence our relationships. Having been interested in Attachment Theory since my first baby was born, I was intrigued about how my wife and I can use attachment theories wisdoms on our couple relationship.
Attachment theory was first developed by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who observed children’s reactions to being separated from their parents during WW2 in England. He realised that how children related to others was directly influenced by their experiences with their primary caregivers.
I wrote before about how essential our first bonding experiences to our caregivers are and that when our needs are not met at all or not all the time, we can end up longing for this sense of security and feeling of being loved unconditionally as adults . And this often influences how we are relating to our partners. In other words, the fears and needs of our childhood travel with us into adulthood and we re-enact certain situations and struggle with connecting to our partner out of fear of abandonment or rejection.
If we can’t be sure of being loved for who we are (and even if our actions aren’t always perfect), we might decide to hide our true emotions, close our heart and use communication to hide the truth of the matter.
Several researchers have looked into how our attachment styles influence our relationships. There are four styles. In their research, Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan found that about 60 percent of people have a secure attachment, while 20 percent have an avoidant attachment, and 20 percent have an anxious attachment.
- SECURE people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving
- ANXIOUS people are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back
- AVOIDANT people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
- FEARFUL/ AVOIDANT people live in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to.
By being aware of your own attachment style (and that of your partner) you will be able to “see through” your own thought patterns (“he always does X that means he doesn’t really love me” or “she goes on and on about my flaws, I just can’t take it anymore”) and begin to address your emotions differently, by relating them back to your attachment style. What you have taken as “reality” or “truth” might suddenly be turned around.
So, for example if you have an avoidant attachment style, you might repress emotions, be distant, withdraw in conflicts and find it difficult to tolerate true closeness. The way to get your needs met is to act like you don’t have any. You might communicate in a way that frequently pushes your partner away from you in order to regain your sense of distance. Now, it might be that your partner has an anxious attachment style their buttons will be pressed painfully by your behaviour. They will want you to respond to their communication and can’t deal with your withdrawal. Lisa Firestone writes that your partner wants to be with you lots to feel reassured of your love as well as have their needs met.
Knowing your own and your partner’s attachment style can help with exposing the Disconnection Cycle that you might find yourselves in and moving towards healing past experiences and forming a secure bond.
It is interesting when we consider that research has also shown that we often choose partners based on the same character traits as our parents (or one of our parents). In their book, Levine and Heller write that “attachment styles actually complement one another in a way. Each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships. The avoidants’ defensive self-perception that they are strong and independent is confirmed, as is the belief that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with. The anxious types find that their perception of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed, as is their anticipation of ultimately being let down by significant others. So, in a way, each style is drawn to reenact a familiar script over and over again.”
I believe, and have experienced, that it is possible to start being more secure in your relationships. It takes a lot of reflection and putting old thought patterns on the head, but it’s so worth it! My wife and I are doing everything to ensure our children are securely attached to us, we feel that in order to achieve that we had to look at our own attachment styles, our childhoods and what kind of thought patterns we had about each other. It’s funny to think that really all our partner wants is to be held in that secure bubble that we hold our children in.
If you haven’t already recognised yourself/your attachment style, here is a test to find out!