Is knowing your attachment style the key to better relationships?
Have you ever been left sad, anxious or simply just plain confused about the actions of a loved one – particularly a romantic partner or love interest? While many look at love as black and white, according to experts there are plenty of grey areas when it comes to forming and maintaining emotional connections.
Whether you’ve been ghosted by a situation, felt stuck in a relationship with someone that doesn’t seem to understand your emotional needs or simply been left unsure of where you stand – it might be time to consider the way we form, share and nurtures our romantic bonds in the form of attachment theory.
Gillian McMichael, transformational coach and author of Coming Home: A Guide to Being Your True Self, believes the key to successfully navigating relationships is often down to our attachment styles. Here she explains where they come from, why we have them and how they can help (and hinder) our love lives.
“It is part of the human condition to seek love, connection, support and comfort. The need to belong is the driving force within most individuals. We all want closeness and intimacy in our lives. Our basic need to belong means that we are either searching/ seeking to feel secure in our attachment to another or we feel secure in our attachment to another,” says Gillian.
“It stems from how we are influenced in our early childhood. We are informed by the relationship we have with our parents and what we experience with the relationship our parents have with each other. According to our experiences, it will determine how we show up in our relationships with others. So our caregivers set the stage for how we build relationships as an adult.”
Gillian says there are four main attachment styles (Anxious, Avoidant, Disorganised/Fearful, and Secure) and as we grow from childhood to adolescence, attachment styles develop and remain with us as we move into adulthood. So how can you tell which attachment style you or your partner fit into?
“There are some common traits that can show up and you may have witnessed or even experienced yourself. You may even notice these traits within yourself, explains Gillian.
“The anxious adult often seeks approval, support, and responsiveness from their partner. People with this attachment style value their relationships highly but are often anxious and worried that their loved one is not as invested in the relationship as they are. A fear of abandonment is present, and safety is a priority. The attention, care, and responsiveness of the partner appear to be the ‘remedy’ for anxiety. You may also notice you or your partner become more clinging and demanding, preoccupied with the relationship, and desperate for love.
“The avoidant/dismissing type would often perceive themselves as ‘lone wolves’: strong, independent, and self-sufficient; not necessarily in terms of physical contact, but rather on an emotional level. The avoidant/dismissing type tends to believe that they don’t have to be in a relationship to feel complete. They do not want to depend on others, have others depend on them, or seek support and approval in social bonds.
“The disorganised type tends to show unstable and ambiguous behaviours in their social bonds. For adults with this style of attachment, the partner and the relationship themselves are often the sources of both desire and fear. They want intimacy and closeness, but at the same time, experience trouble trusting and depending on others. They do not regulate their emotions well and avoid strong emotional attachment, due to their fear of getting hurt. They are characterised by difficulties with cultivating and maintaining healthy relationships.
“The secure attachment style implies that a person is comfortable expressing emotions openly. Adults with a secure attachment style can depend on their partners and in turn, let their partners rely on them. Relationships are based on honesty, tolerance, and emotional closeness. The secure attachment types thrive in their relationships but also don’t fear being on their own. They do not depend on the responsiveness or approval of their partners, and tend to have a positive view of themselves and others.”
With all of that in mind, it would seem fair to assume some of these attachment types simply shouldn’t mix, but according to Gillian, it’s more complicated than that.
“It’s not as simple as choosing a ‘perfect match’ as we are all so individual and our needs are unique to us. A relationship can evolve and we experience different stages of attachment at different times. For example, you may start off anxious but over time you move to feel more secure in your relationships. Equally, sometimes the different attachment styles can cause problems, often around communication.
“Building an intimate, secure relationship takes time and it is important that you don’t force or rush the process. You might find that you are at a different stage in your development and involvement versus your partner and therefore you need to be patient, tolerant, kind and compassionate. It is important that you don’t judge yourself and you don’t judge your partner for where they are.”
So what can you do if you’d like to work on your attachment style or help improve your relationship that’s struggling as a result of them? Gillian says whether you’re anxious, avoidant or secure, you need to put the effort in to make it work, concluding that consistency and effort are fundamental.
“If the aim is to feel secure then first of all you must start to feel secure within yourself. Trust that you are worthy and that you have a place in the relationship. Believe that you are secure in the relationship. To do this, you need to trust yourself and you need to trust your partner. If you can’t do this first it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to find security in the intimacy of the relationship that you have.
“Make sure that you are not critical of yourself or critical of your partner. If you’re both working towards that sense of true security in the relationship then you have to give each other time you have to trust each other and more than anything else you have to be kind, caring and loving towards each other.
Gillian concludes: “It’s important to talk to each other, to understand where each other is coming from before making assumptions or being too quick to judge one another. Nobody’s perfect at the end of the day and a relationship is a journey, one that requires trust, belief and honesty. If you can master those three things then you can start to feel more trusting in yourself as well as trusting in your relationships, ultimately leading to you feeling secure in that relationship.”