Building better relationships with attachment theory
‘Tis the season to be jolly...fa la la la la la la laaaa
Or if you’re single and not happy about being single, it’s the season to be pondering how the hell you’re gonna get your sh*t together in 2018 and find a decent partner.
And if you’re a relationship that’s going through a rough patch, it’s the season to be freaking out about spending so much time together without rowing.
As I’ve mentioned in previous post, ‘The Four Agreements’, I am always analysing my own behaviour and trying to become a better, more well-rounded person. What a wanker, but it’s true.
Anyhoo, I’ve recently been applying this ethic to the world of dating and relationships...and have been reading a lot about something called Attachment Theory recently. It’s been a real revelation for me.
I firmly believe that anyone who’s not in a relationship or already in a relationship will find this incredibly useful, so go on...have a little scroll.
What is Attachment?
According to various psychologists, but mainly a man called John Bowlby, there are four key styles in which people emotionally attach themselves to other people - in romantic relationships, friendships etc. And these styles are formed between the ages of 0-3 years when the bulk of our subconscious psychological development occurs. They call this Attachment theory.
What are the four key attachment styles?
SECURE - Approximately half of the population is securely attached. These are the people who find romantic relationships easy...well as easy and stressless as anyone relating to another human being can. They create and enjoy honest, open and equal relationships, where both parties are able to do their own thing in the knowledge that they can come back to their partner for support and affection when appropriate. Fundamentally they feel secure that they are “going to be okay” whether they are in that relationship or not, and so tend to be more chilled out about the whole thing. This is because when they were children their parents responded in a consistently supportive manner (all you parents reading will appreciate this is harder than it might sound when you’re juggling life with kids). You can read more about what being securely attached looks like here. FYI I can genuinely only think of a very small handful people out of everyone I know who seem (at least from the outsiders perspective) to really embody this attachment style. They are the people I turn to for straight-talking logic when I am struggling to make sense of a situation.
Now onto the other 50 percent of the population - whose parents perhaps weren’t able to meet their needs quite so consistently because of the general stresses and strains of life, their own issues, mental health problems, serious physical illness, death, addictions or disability in the family - who are roughly split evenly amongst the below...
ANXIOUS-PREOCCUPIED - People with this style are what you might think from the description...anxious. They struggle to relax in dating and relationships because they are insecure about themselves. They panic about being with someone and they panic about being without that someone, and read into things more than a securely attached person would i.e. “they haven’t text me for a few days, they must want to dump me”. They then often act upon this presumption, when it often isn’t true, and self-destruct the relationship prematurely with the validation of “see I was right not to trust her/him”. Because they are anxious they tend to be more needy. The anxious child within them wants high levels of reassurance and approval from their partners, because they didn’t get it from mamma and pappa. Which can then achieve the opposite and push their partner away. Some anxious people are so anxious that they actually forgo their own desires and needs to do whatever their partner wants to keep them close. Which again, is a recipe for unhappiness. Everyone needs to build a life which works for them first and foremost, and not expect their partner to complete their sense of self worth. You can read more about the anxious attachment style here.
DISMISSIVE-AVOIDANT - Interestingly this group are just as anxious and insecure as the group above, the difference is that they are so scared of being let down that they avoid getting close to people at all. They feel safer and more comfortable when they are totally independent and self-sufficient. Although deep down, they do also desire to be attached to people - because hell all humans do. We want love and intimacy whether we’re ready to admit it or not! Avoidantly attached people will often race into relationships faster than is healthy and then when they see a flicker of an issue, or a need from the other person - cut them off. They do this because they feel overwhelmed by their own emotions. Even in heated or emotional situations, they are able to turn off their feelings and not react. They may also tend to shy away from PDAs, posting pictures of their partner on Facebook or introducing them to friends and family. Interestingly the two types of people which attract each other most in relationships are the avoidants and the anxious, because their behaviour feeds the other’s core beliefs about themselves. But that is another post for another time. In the meantime you can learn more about the avoidant attachment style, how to deal with or overcome it yourself here.
FEARFUL-AVOIDANT - This group have mixed and confused feelings about close relationships. They want to get close to people to feel loved and valued, but then have somehow learnt that if you get close to people, they will hurt you. Sad sad times. Understandably this is often the attachment style of people who’ve been victims of abuse in some way. Fearful-avoidant attached people tend to find themselves in unhealthy or dramatic relationships, with lots of highs and lows...and sometimes also abusive. They may cling to their partner when they feel rejected, then feel trapped when they are close. To put this into perspective a fearful-avoidant attached person will start a relationship, and then when their partner tells them they love them - they panic. The other person picks up on this panic so the individual tries to explain themselves - which only makes them sound needy. Which then pushes the loving partner away. And the whole thing implodes. If you find yourself resonating with any of this then there is an excellent article on how to work through your fearful-avoidant attachment here.
There is a whole world of material out there around all of this. Not just on how to identify your own attachment style but on how to work through it yourself, or how to support your partner and their attachment style. I could list a zillion books and websites here but instead I will let you do your own Googling.
Whichever one of the above you relate to, with practice you can become securely attached - I hope this helps...