Attachment theory, which was first introduced by British psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the 1950s and 60s, posits that the way a child forms attachments to their primary caregiver can have a significant impact on how we approach romantic relationships as adults. Research has shown that early attachment styles can manifest in a variety of ways within our adult romantic relationships, influencing how we form connections, communicate, and respond to conflict.
Attachment Styles in Adult Romantic Relationships
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 8, 2023 attachment styles, attachment theory, couples counseling, couples therapy, dating, relationship, relationship conflict, relationship counseling, relationship resolutions0 comments
What Are the Different Attachment Styles?
There are four main attachment styles in attachment theory: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment. While there may be some variations or subtypes of these attachment styles, these four are the main categories used in attachment theory research and practice.
Here are examples of the four attachment styles in both infants and adults:
Secure Attachment Style
Infant: A secure infant is comfortable exploring their surroundings when their caregiver is present, and may experience some distress when their caregiver leaves, but are easily soothed when they return.
Adult: A secure adult is comfortable with emotional intimacy and expressing their needs and feelings openly and honestly. They communicate effectively with their partner and resolve conflicts in a constructive way.
Anxious Attachment Style
Infant: An anxious infant may become very upset when their caregiver leaves and have difficulty being comforted when they return. They may cling to their caregiver, seeking comfort and reassurance. Anxious attachment styles in infants can develop due to inconsistent caregiving, the caregiver’s own unresolved attachment issues, early separation or trauma, overprotective caregiving, or neglect/abandonment experiences.
Adult: An anxious adult may struggle with insecurity and fear of abandonment within their romantic relationships. They may be overly sensitive to their partner’s moods and behaviors, often interpreting them as signs of rejection or disinterest. This can lead to a tendency to cling to their partner and become overly dependent, as well as difficulty expressing their needs and feelings effectively.
Avoidant Attachment Style
Infant: Avoidant attachment styles in infants can develop due to consistent unresponsiveness or rejection from caregivers, leading the child to suppress their attachment needs and develop a sense of self-reliance. An avoidant infant may seem indifferent or aloof when their caregiver is present, and may not show much distress when they leave. They may avoid physical contact with their caregiver, even when distressed.
Adult: An avoidant adult tends to have difficulty with emotional intimacy and may feel uncomfortable expressing their emotions or relying on their partner for support. They may prioritize independence and self-sufficiency, and may have a tendency to withdraw or shut down emotionally when faced with conflict or stress.
Disorganized Attachment Style
Infant: Avoidant attachment styles in infants can develop due to consistent unresponsiveness or rejection from caregivers, leading the child to suppress their attachment needs and develop a sense of self-reliance. A disorganized infant may exhibit contradictory behaviors when their caregiver is present, such as approaching them while looking away, or freezing in place. They may seem confused or dazed, and have difficulty calming down after being upset.
Adult: A disorganized adult may exhibit a variety of contradictory behaviors in their romantic relationships. They may struggle with feelings of fear or mistrust towards their partner, while also feeling drawn to them. This can lead to a pattern of push-pull behaviors, where they may seek closeness with their partner one moment and then pull away the next.
It’s important to note that attachment styles are shaped by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. While certain factors may contribute to the development of attachment styles, individual variations and unique experiences also play a role.
Are Attachment Styles Fixed?
It’s important to note that while attachment styles can have a significant impact on our romantic relationships, they are not a fixed or immutable aspect of our personality. With self-awareness, commitment, and effort, individuals can work to overcome negative patterns and develop more positive and healthy attachment styles.
Some ways to work on improving attachment styles in relationships may include:
- Seeking therapy or relationship counseling to work through past traumas or emotional baggage that may be impacting current relationships.
- Practicing effective communication skills, such as active listening, assertiveness, and empathy.
- Building trust and intimacy through shared experiences and vulnerability.
- Setting healthy boundaries and expectations within the relationship.
By working to understand and address our attachment styles, we can develop more positive and fulfilling romantic relationships.
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