This Theory Explains (Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Romantic Relationships

By Dr. Julie Landry

If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on in your romantic relationships or why there seems to be a pattern, attachment theory is likely the answer. Developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby and expanded by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory describes how our relationships with our primary caregivers creates our expectations about love.

Our view of self and others is influenced by how responsive our caregivers are to our physical and emotional needs. The nature of this attachment then influences the nature of attachment to our romantic partners later in life.

You can start to identify your own attachment style by getting to know the four attachment styles and how they commonly affect us in relationships.

The Four Attachment Styles
Children with responsive, dependable, and emotionally available caregivers will form a secure attachment.

Secure attachment: common features include the ability to comfortably form intimate relationships with partners and friends; capability of being loyal, accepting rejection, and displaying interest and affection. Those with unresponsive caregivers form an insecure attachment pattern, which can manifest in 3 main ways:

Anxious attachment: common features include often nervous and stressed about relationships; requiring near constant attention and assurance; disliking being single or alone; difficulty trusting others. Anxious attachment develops when a caregiver has been inconsistent in their responsiveness, which confuses the child about what to expect.

Avoidant attachment: common features include difficulty committing to relationships, often uncomfortable with intimacy, extremely independent, and worried about being controlled.
Avoidant attachment develops when a caregiver is neglectful. These children play by themselves and believe no one is there to meet their needs.

Anxious-avoidant attachment: common features include afraid of intimacy and commitment, distrusts anyone trying to get close to them; often in abusive or dysfunctional relationships. Anxious-avoidant attachment may develop due to abuse or severe neglect. This style is rare and only accounts for approximately 5% of the population.

Each attachment style influences the partners we choose, how we find those partners, and the way we behave in our romantic relationships. We recreate these childhood relational patterns in our adult romantic relationships without realizing it. Despite the negative effects, there is comfort in the familiar.

Which type are you?
This is easier for some of us to identify than others. Look at the characteristics of each style and consider the patterns in your romantic relationships as well as familial relationships. It may also be helpful to do some additional research on attachment theory. The book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find - And Keep - Love'' by Levine and Heller would be a great starting point. You could also check out some free online quizzes or talk to a trauma informed therapist.

What if your attachment style isn’t secure?
Good news - your attachment style isn’t fixed, and it’s never too late to develop a secure attachment. By learning more about your attachment style, you can better understand what prevents you from emotionally connecting with a partner and why you choose the partners you choose. Often therapy can be incredibly useful in changing maladaptive attachment patterns. If you’re already in a relationship, you and your partner can collaboratively develop new styles of attachment for sustaining a satisfying and loving relationship.

If you’re ready to learn more about your attachment style and change your maladaptive relationship habits, contact Halcyon Therapy Group. Call 210-245-7523 to book your appointment today.

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