Have you ever wondered why you behave the way you do in your romantic relationships? Why you seem to attract, or be attracted towards certain types of people? Or perhaps why you keep making the same mistakes? Attachment theory may be able to provide some insight into your attachment style!
Although most of us are unaware of them, attachment styles affect every one of us and can dictate how successful, or unsuccessful, our relationships are. Understanding your attachment style can help you to manage difficulties in your relationships and recognise what you really need for a truly successful partnership.
What is attachment theory?
Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby in the 1960s and remains one of the most widely used theories to understand romantic relationships today.
According to the theory, our interactions with our primary caregiver in childhood form the foundations of our attachment style. These attachment styles are assumed to influence our future relationships and according to Bowlby, characterise human beings from “the cradle to the grave”.
Hazan and Shaver (1987) later extended this theory into romantic love by demonstrating that attachment styles can influence our romantic relationships. From their studies they defined three adult romantic attachment styles, termed: secure, anxious and avoidant. Their studies showed the majority of us have a secure attachment style (56%) and the remainder of us are anxious (19%) or avoidant (25%). Each style has been found to experience relationships in very different ways…
Those who are anxiously attached can become a little needy. They take things personally and are hypervigilant to signs of rejection. They seek a constant need for approval and often worry their partner doesn’t love them. As a result, they can experience relationships high in jealousy and can play games to get the attention they desire.
On the contrary, avoidantly attached individuals value their independence. They are uncomfortable getting close to and opening up to others and struggle to trust and depend on others. Their preference for independence can result in a reluctance to enter a relationship.
Then there are those who are securely attached. Secure individuals find it easy to get close to people. They trust their partners and are comfortable depending on them and having others depend on them. Hence, it is no surprise they are found to be the happiest and most fulfilled in their relationships.
When the three attachment styles start dating one another, a lot of confusion can arise without an awareness of attachment theory.
Researchers, such as Levine and Heller (2010) have explained that being with a secure partner is the best predictor of a happy relationship. Secure individuals are happy giving anxious partners the reassurance they need, and avoidant partners the autonomy they desire without feeling vulnerable. Also, despite attachment theories deep routes, being with a secure partner can help insecure individuals to adopt more secure qualities.
However, difficulties can arise when anxious and avoidant individuals come together – which is surprisingly a more common pairing than you may think!
These relationships can become a little chaotic; the anxious individual desires a close and intimate connection whereas the avoidant individual is looking for space and independence. As a result, each partner can provoke anxiety in the other by wanting too much (anxious) or too little (avoidant) and it can become a hurtful and confusing cycle.
However, whatever your attachment style, there is a solution to a healthy relationship, and that is effective communication! As Levine and Heller (2010) explain, it is important to speak openly and honestly with your partner about your feelings. Expressing your needs and concerns, in a loving way, will help you to figure out if your partner is right for you, and if they are, help you to maintain a successful relationship!
If you feel your attachment style may be impacting your relationships, get in touch today to book a complimentary consultation with our relationship psychologist Madeleine.