How to have a healthy argument with your partner, according to your attachment style
No matter how long you’ve been with your partner, you’ve probably bickered with them more than you’d like to admit. Luckily, therapists believe it’s healthy to argue with your S.O. occasionally—but that doesn’t mean you should go off the rails when you do. There’s a healthy way to disagree. And all you have to do is learn from your attachment style.
The Attachment Theory is a behavioral theory that focuses on the early relationships developed between caregivers and their children. These bonds determine how we attach and respond to future relationships, both personal and professional, as adults. It’s theorized that as children, we develop assumptions on how others will care and behave based on how available and responsive our parents were to our needs. And according to this information, there are four attachment patterns: Secure, Anxious Preoccupied, Dismissive Avoidant, and Fearful Avoidant.
Understanding these styles can help us learn how to communicate better and develop healthier relationships, especially with our partners.
“Attachment Theory (depending on you or your partner’s attachment style) can help explain why you need reassurance from a partner, why you are more reserved in relationships, why you feel hyper-sensitive to even constructive criticism by your partner, [or] why you are confused in light of an argument,” Dr. Kim Chronister, licensed clinical psychologist, tells HelloGiggles. “It also offers insight into why couples continue to have similar arguments over a long period of time with no resolve and underlying feelings of unease.”
Overall, knowing and understanding your attachment style can change your relationship for the better. Take this quiz to find out yours, then read on to see how you can have healthier arguments based on your results.
Just because someone with a Secure Attachment Style is responsive and empathic to their partner’s needs doesn’t mean they never argue with their them. According to New York-based relationship expert Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., “secure attachers can unhealthily manifest their worries about a partner’s behavior unrelated to their relationship in venomously mean ways that stir up arguments.”
Steinberg explains that people with secure attachments can improve this by making sure they deliver their concerns with respect and constructive criticism. Additionally, Chronister suggests that they sit down with their partner once a month to discuss two or three improvements that could prevent future arguments from happening.
“Taking inventory on a regular basis can shed light on blind spots of even securely attached individuals in a relationship,” she says.
“Those with a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style think highly of themselves, but are not trusting of others. They often create ‘my-side’ biases (which is when people look for evidence to support their concerns) more than those who attach securely,” says Steinberg. “As a result, they may argue with their partners more often (because they are ‘looking for trouble’) and therefore often bring a lot of evidence to the argument to support their grievances.”
To alleviate people with Dismissive-Avoidant Styles from always thinking the worst of their partners, it’s important for them to recognize their natural negative thought patterns and be direct about their needs in a calm and mature manner.
“Allow space for your partner to voice opinions during the disagreement [and] take inventory of the wants and needs of each other. [You want] to avoid playing hot and cold and instead, acknowledge what your partner does right so your partner does not go into defense mode every time you talk about your needs and wants,” says Chronister.
People with Anxious-Preoccupied Attachments spend a lot of their time being preoccupied with their partner’s thoughts and actions. This can feed their fear of not truly knowing their partner’s emotions or thoughts. In the long run, this may cause them to neglect themselves and their own needs because they’re solely focusing on their partner, says Chronister.
To combat this behavior, Chronister suggests to “practice asserting your needs on a regular basis. This may feel foreign at first, but your partner needs you to give them the tools to know how to treat you.”
In addition, Steinberg recommends you believe in yourself and your relationship(s). “Come to terms with the fact that while no one and no relationship is ever perfect (and that is okay), you’re deserving of being esteemed highly and treated well.”
If you have a Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style, you may be more inclined to protect your own feelings, create distance from your partner during or after an argument, and be less skilled in understanding your partner’s needs, according to Chronister. While these negative tactics might have served you as a child, it’s important to reevaluate these habits to grow and develop healthier relationships.
Steinberg suggests to not be so hard on yourself. “Unconditional self-acceptance, with the understanding that you always do your best, will go a long way to limit the panicky feelings that fearful-avoidant attachers experience within relationships,” she says.
This is important because you may believe that your partner doesn’t think highly of you in addition to not thinking highly of your partner or the relationship. Creating a safe space will resolve this—and result in you arguing fewer times than you normally would—which is what we all strive for in the long run.