The science behind attachment styles in relationships

Explore the 4 attachment styles in romance. Understand how they shape relationships and affect emotional connections.

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In romantic relationships, do you find yourself constantly on edge, worrying about the state of your relationship? Or are you easily able to trust and rely on your partner? Because you know they won’t let you down?

Our attachment styles, which often take root during our early childhood days, have profound implications on how we navigate our romantic relationships as adults. Let’s explore the four primary attachment styles and their impacts on our relationships.

Looking for more fulfilling relationships in your life? Discover how communication and attachment styles shape relationship dynamics, and how to use them to your advantage.

What is attachment theory?

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory, developed by psychologist John Bowlby, provides valuable insights into how our early experiences with caregivers shape our bonds and relationships throughout life. This is accomplished through a process called ‘internal working models’. 1

Simply put, the way we interact with our caregivers as children forms an internal template for how we will interact in relationships throughout life. How you feel about yourself, and your relationship with another person is shaped by this internal template. 2

For example, if your parents were loving and caring, you might feel secure in relationships and be more trusting. But if your caregivers are constantly unreliable or critical of you, you may become anxious and avoidant in relationships as an adult.

At its core, the four attachment styles describe how we respond to our need for security and closeness in romantic relationships. These are:

Knowing our attachment style can help us understand our interactions with others and how we view relationships. It can also help us find ways to improve our relationships and build healthier emotional bonds.

Discover how attachment styles impact intimacy in love relationships. Unravel the secrets to healthier connections.

1. Anxious/Preoccupied

1. Anxious/Preoccupied

Are you constantly worried about the future of your relationship or if your partner truly loves you? Do you feel like you’re always trying to draw attention and affirmation from your partner?

If so, you may have an ‘anxious/preoccupied’ attachment style. This first type of attachment style is characterized by low self-confidence, and a tendency to push for more closeness than your partner may be comfortable with.

What it looks like

People with an anxious/preoccupied attachment style crave affection and closeness but often feel inadequate. They tend to be overly sensitive to their partners’ behaviors, overanalyzing them for signs of rejection or abandonment. 2

These individuals might also have difficulty making decisions because they’re nervous their partner won’t approve of them. They often become anxious if their partner is distant or not paying them enough attention, leading to mistrust and clinginess in the relationship. 3

You’ll know you have an anxious/preoccupied attachment style if:

How anxious attachment style affects adult relationships

An anxious/preoccupied attachment style can make balancing autonomy and closeness in romantic relationships difficult. The person with this style may feel overly dependent on the partner for validation and reassurance. 4 5

This can lead to them acting in ways that drive their partner away, such as being overly clingy or demanding. The partner can also become overwhelmed by the individual’s need for attention and reassurance, making them feel stifled. 6

When anxious/preoccupied feels like their partner is distancing themselves, they may become overly clingy or suspicious. These behaviors can create tension and resentment in the relationship, making it difficult to have a healthy relationship.

Discover powerful strategies for couples to conquer insecure attachment. Strengthen your bond and foster a more secure love connection with these strategies on how couples can overcome insecure attachment.

For these individuals to build healthier relationships, learning to be more independent and secure in themselves is essential. Therapy and other forms of self-help, such as mindfulness meditation or journaling, can help these individuals build self-confidence and trust in their relationships. 7

2. Avoidant/Dismissive

2. Avoidant/Dismissive

The second type of attachment style is avoidant or dismissive. Do you find yourself constantly pushing away your partner and being reluctant to open up or share your feelings?

If so, this may indicate the ‘avoidant/dismissive’ attachment style. This type of attachment is characterized by a need for independence and emotional distance in relationships.

What it looks like

Individuals with an avoidant/dismissive attachment style have difficulty getting close to their partners. They may find it difficult to express their emotions and be uncomfortable with receiving affection or support from their partner.

As children, these individuals may have had caregivers who were emotionally unavailable or unsupportive. As a result, they learned to control their emotions and protect themselves from getting hurt by pushing away their partner.

People with this attachment style often have positive self-views and are keenly independent. However, they may have negative views of others, trusting them less and viewing them as unreliable. 8

They are also emotionally distant and avoid conflict to preserve the relationship. As a result, these individuals can come off as aloof and uninterested in the relationship. 9

You’ll know you have an avoidant/dismissive attachment style if:

How avoidant attachment style affects adult relationships

Individuals with an avoidant/dismissive attachment style may struggle with intimacy in relationships, as they often have difficulty trusting others or opening up to them. This can lead to short-term relationships and a need for long-term commitment.

This type of attachment style can also make it difficult to resolve conflicts in relationships. These individuals may refrain from discussing problems or be too quick to end arguments without resolving the issue, leading to unaddressed resentment and tension.

Because avoidant individuals don’t like relying on others, they may be reluctant to compromise or make an effort to meet their partner’s needs. This can lead to one-sided relationships where only one person is putting in the work, leading to frustration and resentment.

For individuals with an avoidant/dismissive attachment style, knowing how to be comfortable with dependence and vulnerability can be key. While being independent is important, opening up to and trusting other people helps you build deeper and healthier relationships. 10

3. Disorganized / Fearful-Avoidant

3. Disorganized / Fearful-Avoidant

Are you often confused and conflicted when it comes to relationships? Do you have a hard time trusting others but find yourself drawn to them at the same time?

If so, this may indicate the disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment style. These individuals may have experienced inconsistent or unresolved care from their caregivers as children.

As a result, they learned to cope by avoiding emotional closeness and distance in relationships.

What it looks like

Those with a disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment style often find trusting relationships difficult. They may be simultaneously drawn to and repelled by their partner, leading to intense ambivalence and confusion.

These individuals often have difficulty expressing their emotions and may swing between feeling overly self-confident and anxious or insecure. They may also feel overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and fear when attempting to become emotionally close to someone.

Some signs that you may have a disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment style include:

How disorganized attachment style affects adult relationships

Because they fear intimacy, individuals with a disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment style often struggle with forming close relationships. These people may find themselves in unhealthy relationships because of their difficulty trusting others and lack self-confidence.

Those with a disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment style may also have difficulty resolving conflict in relationships. They often alternate between wanting to flee or fight, leading to ineffective communication and unresolved issues.

Because effective communication is key to successful relationships, those with a disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment style should learn how to express their emotions properly. This can be difficult, as individuals with this attachment style may also have difficulty recognizing and regulating their feelings. 11

Identifying and managing emotions is essential for those with a disorganized/fearful-avoidant attachment style. Learning to trust others and develop self-confidence is also important, as is understanding that dependence and vulnerability are essential for healthy relationships.

4. Secure Attachment

4. Secure Attachment

Are you comfortable expressing your emotions and connecting with others on a deep level? Do you enjoy being close to your partner and feel secure in the relationship? 

Doing so may be an indication that you have a secure attachment style. Individuals with this type of attachment style often experienced consistent and responsive care from their caregivers as children, allowing them to develop trust in others and themselves. 

What it looks like

Those with a secure attachment style are often comfortable with expressing their emotions and connecting at a deep level. As children, they learned that their caregivers were present and available when needed. 

As a result, they have internalized the message that relationships are reliable and safe. As adults, they are comfortable expressing both positive and negative emotions to their partner without fear of judgment or rejection. 

These people are also comfortable with both depending on and being depended upon in relationships, leading to feelings of security and trust. 

Secure attachment styles often look like:

How secure attachment style affects adult relationships

Those with a secure attachment style often have healthy relationships. They feel comfortable depending on and trusting their partners, leading to feelings of security in the relationship. 

Secure individuals also experience more positive emotions in relationships, such as contentment and joy. They can effectively communicate their needs and empathize with their partner, improving problem-solving. 12

Because secure individuals are comfortable with both dependence and independence, they are more constructive with conflict. These individuals can often have productive conversations and work with their partners to resolve issues. 13

These people also understand the importance of compromise and meeting their partner’s needs, leading to a more satisfying relationship overall. They recognize that relationships require effort and work but trust in the connection. 

Secure individuals understand that relationships can be beautiful and challenging, and they are willing to accept both aspects of their relationship. This leads to a more stable relationship and allows them to experience deeper connections with others. 

Ideally, all individuals should strive to develop a secure attachment style for healthy relationships. This involves understanding the importance of empathy, communication, and trust and learning to manage one’s emotions effectively. 

But developing a secure attachment style can be challenging, and building up trust and confidence in relationships takes time. If you struggle with forming close relationships, consider seeking professional help from a qualified therapist or counselor specializing in attachment-based therapy. 

FAQ about attachment styles in relationships

FAQ about attachment styles in relationships

1. What are 4 types of attachment styles?

Attachment theory proposes four primary attachment styles based on the quality of early caregiver-child interactions. These styles influence how individuals approach and experience romantic relationships later in life. The four types of attachment styles are:

These attachment styles profoundly influence how individuals perceive and interact in romantic relationships, highlighting the importance of understanding one’s attachment style and its potential impact on relationship dynamics.

2. What attachment style is best for relationships?

The secure attachment style is the most beneficial for relationships. Individuals with a secure attachment style tend to have healthier, more fulfilling, and more satisfying relationships compared to those with other attachment styles.

Securely attached individuals have a positive view of themselves and their partners. They are comfortable with emotional intimacy, express their feelings openly, and trust their partners to be there when needed.

It is essential to note that attachment styles are not set in stone and can evolve with self-awareness and personal growth. Developing a more secure attachment style through introspection, therapy, and communication can lead to more satisfying and harmonious relationships.

The most popular attachment style among individuals varies depending on the specific population being studied and cultural factors. However, research has consistently shown that the secure attachment style tends to be the most prevalent and desired attachment style in many societies.

Secure attachment is characterized by individuals who feel comfortable with emotional intimacy, trust their partners, and have a positive view of themselves and their relationships. Studies have indicated that most adults in various cultures exhibit secure attachment tendencies. 14

It is essential to recognize that attachment styles are not fixed, and individuals can demonstrate different attachment patterns in various relationships and contexts. Additionally, cultural norms and upbringing can influence attachment styles and their prevalence in other societies.

4. How can I find out my partner’s attachment style?

Discovering your partner’s attachment style can provide valuable insights into how they approach emotional intimacy and navigate relationships. Here are some practical ways to find out your partner’s attachment style:

  1. Open communication: The most direct way is to engage in open and honest conversations with your partner about attachment styles. Share your knowledge of attachment theory and ask if they know it. Encourage them to explore their attachment style and discuss how it might manifest in your relationship.
  2. Observe their behavior: Pay attention to how your partner responds to emotional situations and intimacy. Someone with a secure attachment style might be comfortable expressing emotions and seeking emotional support when needed. On the other hand, an anxious individual may seek constant reassurance, while an avoidant person might distance themselves emotionally.
  3. Share attachment resources: Introduce your partner to articles, books, or quizzes about attachment theory. Suggest taking an attachment-style quiz together as a fun and informative activity.

Master the art of understanding your partner’s attachment style. Transform your relationship with greater emotional awareness.

Remember, identifying your partner’s attachment style is not about labeling them but understanding their needs, fears, and strengths within the relationship. Knowing each other’s attachment styles can help you cultivate a more supportive and loving connection.

5. How can I find out my attachment style?

Discovering your attachment style can be a valuable and enlightening process. Here are some steps you can take to find out your attachment style:

  1. Self-reflection: Take some time for introspection and reflect on your past experiences and relationships, especially those during childhood. Consider how your caregivers responded to your needs and emotions. Were they consistently available and supportive, or did they seem distant and unresponsive?
  2. Attachment style questionnaires: There are various attachment style questionnaires available online that you can take to get an initial assessment of your attachment tendencies. These questionnaires are based on established attachment theory and can provide insights into your attachment style.
  3. Recognize patterns: Pay attention to how you respond to emotional situations and intimacy in your current relationships. Do you find opening up and trusting your partner easy, or do you tend to keep your emotions guarded? Recognizing patterns in your behavior can offer clues about your attachment style.

Remember that attachment styles are not fixed and can change with personal growth and healing. Understanding your attachment style can provide a foundation for personal development and foster healthier relationships in the future.

Want a fulfilling love life? Discover your attachment style and enhance your relationship dynamics now.

6. What is the most rare attachment style?

The rarest attachment style is generally considered the fearful one, also known as disorganized attachment. However, it’s important to note that quantifying the prevalence of attachment styles can be challenging due to various factors such as cultural differences, research methodologies, and individual complexities.

The fearful attachment style is characterized by individuals who have experienced inconsistent, abusive, or traumatic caregiving during their early years. As a result, they may exhibit a mix of anxious and avoidant behaviors, leading to internal conflicts and struggles with trust and emotional vulnerability.

Attachment styles play an important role in our lives but they aren’t set in stone. Other factors, such as communication styles, also impact our relationships. Learn how you can navigate these factors for more insightful relationships.

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  10. Kushitor, M. K., Peterson, M. B., Asante, P. Y., Dodoo, N. D., Boatemaa, S., Awuah, R. B., Agyei, F., Sakyi, L., Dodoo, F. N., & de-Graft Aikins, A. (2018). Community and individual sense of trust and psychological distress among the urban poor in Accra, Ghana. PloS one, 13(9), e0202818. ↩︎

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  14. Fraley, R. C. (2002). Attachment stability from infancy to adulthood: Meta-analysis and dynamic modeling of developmental mechanisms. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6(2), 123–151. ↩︎

Author picture of Amy Clark
Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

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