This Is How Your Attachment Style Is Impacting Your Romantic Relationship
Whether you're still in the honeymoon phase of your romantic relationship or have been together for years, you've likely at one point experienced a time when your relationship felt challenging. Between getting to know your partner, learning how to compromise, and effectively communicating your wants and needs, it takes a lot of work to make a relationship function. One thing that can help make navigating your relationships a little bit easier, though, is knowing your attachment style.
"Attachment styles help explain your wants and needs in relationships as well as how you relate in romantic relationships," California-based clinical psychologist Dr. Kim Chronster, M.D., tells HelloGiggles. The theory, developed by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, is based on the idea on how we were cared for by our primary caregivers as infants influence our thoughts, feelings, expectations, and behaviors later in life. Yes, that means the attachment style that you develop during infancy can impact your romantic relationships. "Attachment styles can help explain why you are more reserved in relationships, why you need more time or reassurance from a partner, or even why you feel extra sensitive to the slightest criticisms from your partner in a relationship," says Dr. Chronster.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are four attachment styles–dismissive attachment, fearful attachment, preoccupied attachment, and secure attachment. You can figure out which one you are by taking a quiz. After you take the quiz, you'll want to come back here and keep reading because we tapped two psychologists to talk about how each attachment style can impact your love life.
How a dismissive attachment style affects romantic life:
The dismissive attachment style (also known as an avoidant style) refers to when an individual may be very confident, self-sufficient, and feel as though they are competent and worthy of love. However, they may struggle with trusting and making deep connections with their partners. Caregivers who are strict and emotionally distant, do not tolerate the expression of feelings, and expecting their child to be independent at an early age might raise children with an avoidant attachment style, reports The Attachment Project, which is an organization of psychologists dedicated to teaching others how to have healthy relationships.
"A partner with a dismissive attachment style can be less likely to try to read their partner's needs," says Dr. Chronster. She explains that they may be hyperfocused on their partner's negative traits, slower to resolve an issue, or even try to reignite conflict as a subconscious way to keep them from fully connecting with their partner.
"Many of these adults with this attachment style struggle with remaining mindful and fully experiencing happiness due to hypervigilance caused by years of enduring the unpredictable behavior of unreliable parents," adds, Dr. Leela Magavi, M.D., psychiatrist and regional medical director of Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers. However, because someone with a dismissive attachment style presents as self-confident, they are more likely to be very direct about their needs and opinions. "If you have a dismissive attachment style, it is helpful to try to prevent explosive disagreements by taking advantage of calm moments to assert your needs," says Dr. Chronster.
How a fearful attachment style affects romantic life:
A fearful or disorganized attachment style is similar to dismissive in that the individuals are inconsistent in their behavior and have a hard time trusting others. A person with this attachment style may seem distant within a relationship, have low self-esteem, want more space between visits, take a long time to respond to your texts or phone calls, and seem withdrawn.
However, a fearful attachment style can result from an abusive or traumatic childhood, so their behaviors aren't always a direct reflection of their true feelings, but rather a mechanism to protect themselves, says Dr. Magavi. A child with a fearful attachment style recognizes at a young age that their caregiver cannot meet their basic needs of safety and security resulting in fear of attachment. This can often lead to them being misunderstood by their partners. "They may appear autonomous, but internally, they are yearning for love and partnership," says Dr. Magavi. "They are, at times, seen as cold or uncaring, although they can be very caring and loving," affirms Dr. Chronster.
How a preoccupied attachment style affects romantic life:
The last insecure attachment style is the preoccupied attachment style, which is also known as the anxious attachment style. Low self-esteem, a strong fear of rejection or abandonment, and clinginess in relationships are common signs of this attachment style, reports The Attachment Project. "Individuals with this attachment style may constantly seek validation and assurance and feel very insecure in their relationships," says Dr. Magavi.
An anxious attachment style can result in inconsistent behaviors by the caregiver. For example, the child may feel very secure and supported one day and ignored by the caregiver the next. "Studies show that anxious attachment can result in high anxiety and insecurity when a partner is not accessible to them," says Dr. Chronster. She further explains that a potential negative of having this attachment style is coming off as needy. However, they are usually very attentive and attuned to their partner's feelings suggesting people with an anxious attachment style can do well in romantic relationships as long as they can establish boundaries and communicate effectively.
How a secure attachment style affects romantic life:
A secure attachment style is the healthiest of the four. Someone with this attachment style tends to maintain trusting, long-term relationships, says Dr. Magavi. "They tend to bolster their partner's strengths, gracefully confront hardships, usually express their emotions well and reach out for support as warranted," she adds.
Dr. Chronster says someone with a secure attachment style most likely had a primary caregiver that responded to their needs appropriately early on making them less likely to be emotionally dysregulated, avoidant, or critical in their relationships. Having a secure attachment can also result from a caregiver resolving their own attachment issues, if any exist.
Learning about your attachment style can be a difficult truth to face. However, Dr. Magavi says the key to having healthy romantic relationships is first learning about your attachment style and how it affects your daily life and relationships. The good news is, if you think your attachment style is fearful, dismissive, or anxious, you can work on ways to become more secure with talk therapy. During therapy, you may discuss your childhood and learn how to possess characteristics of someone with a secure attachment style, which include learning how to be social and connect with others and express your feelings.
Can you change your attachment style?
"Although most people do not change their attachment style altogether, you can alter your attachment style to be more or less secure in your attachment to your partner," says Dr. Chronster. "To have a more secure attachment style, it would be beneficial to seek out an individual therapist specializing in relationships as well as seeking out a partner who is capable of a secure attachment or at least willing to work on getting closer to a secure attachment style."
Dr. Magavi says working on improving self-compassion and self-confidence can also be a big help. She recommends practicing mindfulness and positive thinking to decrease an unhealthy reliance on others and journaling or finding hobbies to bolster self-confidence.