What do you do if your partner is out with friends for the night? Hope that they’re having a great time and look forward to chatting with them the following day? Obsessively press refresh on their social media accounts in case they’re cheating on you. Or feel relief that you’ve got an evening away from them?
When you struggle with trust and intimacy in relationships then there’s a good chance that you have an insecure attachment style and fear rejection and abandonment by your partner.
The theory of attachment styles was developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby with later work done by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth. In a nutshell, it looks at how our expectations for connections to other people are based on how things worked in our relationships with our early caregivers.
So that urge to ‘accidentally’ check your partner’s phone and see who they’ve been exchanging messages with may well have its roots in how your household was as a child. We tend to choose partners with styles that will create a dynamic like the one you had with your early caregiver and that won’t always be ideal. It can have real consequences for your relationships and result in destructive cycles of toxic behaviour.
Attachment types in relationships
So how do you know what your attachment type is? Are you now looking back at your relationships and trying to identify patterns? There are two main styles: secure and insecure. It’s estimated that around 60% of the population are secure types while 40% have insecure attachment behaviours.
People with a secure attachment style had caregivers on whom they could rely. They felt protected and safe in their environment. As a result, they trust their partners and don’t fear intimacy or worry about rejection. From an emotional viewpoint, it’s the healthiest place to be.
Insecure types then break down into a number of different patterns: these include anxious, avoidant, and disorganised.
Anxious styles fear rejection as a result of inconsistent care as a child. And it’s not just a fear of rejection; it’s an expectation that means they are actively looking for signs. But they’ll stay in a relationship because they think no one else will want them or in the hope of one day getting the connection they crave with their partner.
Meanwhile, avoidant types had their needs and feelings totally disregarded as a child. This means fearful avoidants want affection (and will definitely show it) but then will engage in ghosting behaviours when it all feels too much. Dismissive avoidant types come across as introverted, very self-reliant, or selfish when really, they are trying to avoid connections. Experience has taught them to fear the outcomes of caring too much.
Anxious and avoidant in a relationship
Interestingly avoidant and anxious types often end up with each other in relationships and things don’t tend to go well. The initial attraction is based on their need to either show affection or receives it. Then one backs away from intimacy and the other is certain that they will be rejected so things start to fall apart. Something like being introduced to friends and family or discussing moving in together can trigger the avoidant to step away fearing the hurt that could follow becoming more involved. Then the anxious partner feels that they were right to fear rejection and this sets expectations of the same for their next relationship.
Anxious/avoidant, also known as disorganised, attachment types also have relationship problems because they both crave and fear intimacy. These are relationships with lots of drama as they give mixed signals and go through a cycle of highs and lows.
What does this mean for my relationships?
So, what can you do if think you might have an insecure pattern? Don’t despair; you can change your style. But you’ll need help. Figuring out your attachment style is more complicated than doing a multiple-choice quiz. If it’s something that you’re worried about then it’s probably because you are having problems with close relationships. And you’re not entirely happy with your life or at ease with yourself. Changing any behavioural pattern requires work. Just think about how hard it is to make a simple change like going to bed earlier or eating more vegetables.
The best way to successfully change your attachment style and the behaviours that go with it is to work with a counsellor. They’ll guide you through exploring the issues and patterns that bother you and finding a way of resolving them. Relationships are a key indicator of how happy we are so working on this area is a cornerstone of self-care.
Don’t you owe it yourself to stop trying to recreate the past and find a future where you are good to yourself?