Attachment & Romantic Relationships

Being “the month of love” it seemed fitting for this blog to focus on attachment styles, which may help to provide you with some insights into your pattern of behaviour in romantic relationships. If you have ever wondered why you have a hard time trusting your partner, fear getting close to others, or wonder why your partners accuse you of being too smothering this blog may be exactly what you need to read.

So what exactly does attachment mean? Mary Ainsworth, a student of leading attachment theorist John Bowlby, described it as “an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one – a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time. Attachment is not just a connection between two people; it is a bond that involves a desire for regular contact with that person and the experience of distress during separation from that person”. Over the past 40 years a lot of interest and research has gone into investigating attachment and results indicate that the manner in which caregivers respond to us during the first 18 months of life, greatly determines our pattern of attachment later in life.

Mary Ainsworth identified three main attachment styles: secure-attachment, avoidant-insecure attachment, and ambivalent-insecure attachment and a fourth attachment style called disorganized-insecure attachment was added later by Main and Solomon (as cited in Segal & Jaffe, 2003). The following is a description of the parental style that corresponds to the type of attachment formed as well as the resulting adult characteristics/pattern in relationships:

Attachment Style: Secure
Parental Style: With a secure attachment the parental figure is aligned with the child and attuned with the child’s emotions. These caregivers are both sensitive and emotionally available.
Resulting Adult Characteristics: Those who experience a secure attachment in childhood are able to create meaningful relationships as adults. They are empathetic, able to set appropriate boundaries, and have a strong sense of self. These adults are secure in their independence as well as in their close relationships.

Attachment Style: Avoidant-insecure
Parental Style: The attachment figure is unavailable and/or rejecting. They are insensitive to and unaware of their child’s needs.
Resulting Adult Characteristics: Those who experience avoidant attachment in childhood tend to avoid closeness or emotional connections, seem distant, critical, rigid, and intolerant. These adults tend to be emotionally removed from themselves and others.

Attachment Style: Ambivalent/Anxious-insecure
Parental Style: The attachment figure’s communication is inconsistent and sometimes intrusive. At times the caregiver’s responses may be appropriate and nurturing while other times they are intrusive and insensitive.
Restulting Characteristics: Those who experience this type of parenting style as a child grow to become anxious and insecure adults. In relationships they fear being rejected which, in turn, results in them becoming clingy, mistrusting, and overly dependant on their partner.

Attachment Style: Disorganized-insecure
Parental Style: The attachment figure is abusive and is a significant source of distress for the child. Parental behavior is frightening/traumatizing.
Resulting Characteristics: As a means of coping, these children detach from their feelings; as adults, they continue to be somewhat detached from themselves. These adults desire relationships, however, as soon as they become emotionally close to others they withdraw. These people tend to be chaotic, insensitive, explosive, abusive, and untrusting.

Clearly, there are many challenges that result from having an insecure attachment. This in no way should be construed to mean a life of unfulfilling and emotionally detached romances. By becoming aware of your pattern of attachment and seeking support through counselling you can learn how to establish secure bonds and will be able to maintain long lasting, meaningful adult love relationships.

Kerry & Philippa

Seagal, J., & Jaffe, J. (2003). Attachment and Adult relationships: How the Attachment Bond Shapes Adult Relationships. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eqa_attachment_bond.htm

Comments

  1. Sara Rose says:

    I really like how you break down each style of attachment and the parenting styles associated with each, and then the resulting characteristics. I also appreciate the view that one can change by becoming aware of their story and seeking counseling and support. It reminds me of an article I read recently called “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” Here is a link for anyone interested: http://www.psychalive.org/2012/02/if-all-you-have-is-a-hammer-everything-looks-like-a-nail-by-debra-kessler-psy-d/

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