Although most of us are pleasantly unaware of Theory of Attachment or in other words, our attachment style, it secretly impacts everything from who we choose as a partner all the way to infidelity and divorce – yes, attachment theory covers it all! By recognising your own attachment style, you may find it easier to understand your thoughts, feelings and behaviours when it comes to relationships.
What is attachment theory?
Developed by British psychologist John Bowlby in the 1960s, attachment theory remains widely used among therapists and counsellors today. According to Bowlby, early interactions with our primary caregiver (a parent or guardian) develop our expectations of whether we are worthy of love and whether others are trusting and supportive. In psychological terms, these expectations are called working models, and they form the foundation of our attachment styles, which are assumed to remain stable throughout our lives and guide our future relationships.
In the 1980s, psychologists Hazan and Shaver, explored the idea of romantic love as an attachment process. They found that an individual’s attachment style influenced the way they experienced romantic relationships.
Their study categorised adult romantic relationships into three attachment styles: Secure, Anxious and Avoidant. In their sample 56% of individuals were classified as “secure”, 19% were “anxious” and 25% were “avoidant”.
To identify your attachment style, take a read of the following three patterns of attachment and learn how they can influence romantic relationships:
Securely attached individuals find it easy to get close to others. They are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them.
Unsurprisingly, research has consistently demonstrated that they are the most likely to be in a relationship. Their relationships are found to be longer in duration and higher in happiness, trust and commitment than those experienced by their insecure counterparts (avoidant and anxious). Out of the three classifications, they report being the happiest and most fulfilled in their relationships.
Anxiously attached individuals tend to become besotted with their partners. They are hypervigilant to signs of rejection and frequently worry that their partners don’t love them or will leave them.
According to research, they experience relationships low in satisfaction, trust and commitment and high in jealousy and emotional extremes. They continually experience an unfilled need for intimacy and support, and consequently, have been found to be the most likely to commit marital infidelity. Compared with the other styles, they find it difficult to be single; they can jump into marriages quickly and succumb to unhealthy relationships.
Avoidant individuals value independence. They are uncomfortable being too close to others and struggle to trust and depend on others.
They experience relationships low in satisfaction, intimacy and commitment. Their preference for independence can result in a reluctance to enter a committed relationship; unsurprisingly, they have been found to be the least likely to report ever being in love. Nevertheless, they tend to experience healthier relationships than anxious individuals as they are more likely to withdraw from a relationship when they are feeling anxious or threatened.
Too much psychobabble?
Let’s take a look at how this applies to a familiar scenario… Remember Bridget Jones’s Diary? Not only is it hilarious, it’s also a great illustration of the three attachment styles and how they can interact with one another. Most will summarise the film as, “nice girl falls for bad boy then finds good man”, however, for those looking at it from an attachment theory perspective it can turn into, “anxious woman falls for avoidant man then finds happiness with a secure partner”.
Can attachment styles change?
Although attachment styles are assumed to remain stable over time, recent research has revealed that insecure individuals can actually learn secure behaviours by being around an attachment figure who is consistently supportive and responsive. So, insecure individuals may have more successful relationships with a secure partner!
If you feel that your attachment style is impacting your dating success or even the relationship you are in then book a complimentary consultation with our relationship psychologist Madeleine.