Understanding relationships through attachment styles

Discover the profound impact of attachment styles on romantic intimacy and learn how they shape lasting connections in relationships.

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It’s a no-brainer: relationships take work and effort. And part of that work involves understanding how different attachment styles shape how we relate to each other.

Attachment theory is rooted in the idea that infants need a secure bond with a primary caregiver to thrive and develop healthy social skills later in life. In this article, we’ll explore how this bond affects how we approach adult romantic relationships and the intimacy in those relationships. 1

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.

Understanding attachment styles

Understanding attachment styles

Psychologist John Bowlby formulated an attachment theory in the 1950s, stemming from his studies on children experiencing parental separation. He believed that our early attachment to a primary caregiver shapes how we act in relationships later in life. 2

This theory is now widely accepted and studied by psychologists worldwide. It’s often used to explain why people behave in specific ways or struggle with intimacy and relationships.

There are four primary attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious, and disorganized. Here’s how each of these styles differs from one another: 3 

Knowing what type of attachment style you or your partner have can help you communicate better and strengthen the relationship. This knowledge can help you to identify areas where one of you may need more support and understanding.

Want to know how the 4 attachment styles shape romance? Explore how secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful styles influence relationships.

7 ways attachment styles shape intimacy

7 ways attachment styles shape intimacy

It’s essential to understand how attachment styles affect intimacy in relationships. Your attachment style can influence the amount of trust and closeness you feel with your partner and how comfortable you communicate and express yourself.

Here’s a look at how your attachment style can shape the level of intimacy in your relationship:

1. Building trust and security

Trust is crucial to any relationship, and secure attachment styles tend to do better in this area. People with secure attachment styles are more comfortable being vulnerable, so they will likely open up and build trust quickly. 4

On the other hand, if you or your partner have an avoidant, anxious, or disorganized attachment style, it may take longer to build trust and feel secure in the relationship. These styles tend to be more guarded and closed off from vulnerability.

Building trust is vital in relationships. Explore how communication styles influence intimacy and shape emotional connections between partners.

2. Communicating needs

Knowing and respecting your partner’s needs is essential for fostering intimacy. With secure attachment styles, individuals are usually comfortable expressing their wants and needs, leading to more open communication. 5

Open communication in relationships is important, but it can be more difficult for those with insecure attachment styles. If you or your partner have an anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style, expressing yourself honestly and openly may be difficult.

You might feel like you must constantly prove yourself or that your partner doesn’t understand what you need. This can lead to feelings of frustration and distance in the relationship.

3. Balancing independence and connection

Creating a balance between independence and togetherness is essential for fostering intimacy. It’s important to find hobbies and activities that both partners enjoy doing together and carve out time for individual pursuits. 6

Secure attachment styles often do well with this balance because they are usually open and comfortable with intimacy. On the other hand, those with anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles may struggle to find this balance.

They may feel like there’s too much closeness or distance in the relationship. This can lead to feelings of insecurity and create tension in the relationship.

Knowing how to balance independence and togetherness is key. Explore tips for making introvert-extrovert relationships thrive harmoniously.

4. Relying on your partner

It’s natural to need emotional support from your partner and rely on them for comfort. People with secure attachment styles usually feel safe expressing their feelings and asking for help from their partners.

However, those with anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles may struggle to depend on their partner. They may be uncomfortable with closeness or struggle to trust someone else enough to rely on them for emotional support.

5. Conflict resolution

Every relationship encounters conflict occasionally, and knowing how to resolve those issues is essential for creating intimacy. Those with secure attachment styles tend to handle conflict better because they’re more open and comfortable communicating their feelings. 7

For people with insecure attachment styles, expressing their needs and wants in a conflict can be difficult. This can lead to anger or resentment, creating distance in the relationship.

Better conflict resolution is only one advantage of matching communication styles. Discover how aligning your approach enhances understanding in relationships.

5. Emotional vulnerability

Opening up and being emotionally vulnerable with your partner is key to building intimacy. People with secure attachment styles typically have an easier time being open and vulnerable in relationships because they feel safe and secure with their partners. 8

On the other hand, those with insecure attachment styles may struggle to express their emotions because they don’t feel completely comfortable with closeness. They may fear being judged or rejected by their partner and find it difficult to open up.

6. Communication patterns

The way you communicate with your partner can have a significant impact on the level of intimacy in your relationship. Those with secure attachment styles are typically comfortable expressing their feelings, so their communication is often open and honest.

Conversely, those with insecure attachment styles may struggle to discuss their feelings or ask for what they need. This can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of distance in the relationship.

Matching communication patterns can bridge relationship gaps. Explore strategies to balance different communication styles.

7. Making decisions and setting goals

Knowing how to collaborate and make decisions together is vital in any relationship. People with secure attachment styles are usually comfortable working together to set and reach goals, while those with insecure attachment styles may find it difficult to compromise. 9

This can create tension in the relationship because one partner may feel like their opinion isn’t being considered. Compromising and working together towards common goals is important in fostering intimacy. 10

Understanding attachment styles in relationships can help you identify what areas need attention so that you can foster understanding and intimacy. Remember, communication is key in any relationship!

Apart from attachment styles, other factors such as communication styles deeply influence the quality of our relationships. Learn how you can navigate these factors to level up the communication in your relationship.

  1. Simpson, J. A., & Steven Rholes, W. (2017). Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships. Current opinion in psychology, 13, 19–24. ↩︎

  2. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. Basic Books; New York. ↩︎

  3. Duschinsky, R. (2015). The emergence of the disorganized/disoriented (D) attachment classification, 1979–1982.History of Psychology, 18(1), 32–46. ↩︎

  4. Holmes, J. G., & Rempel, J. K. (1989). Trust in close relationships. In C. Hendrick (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology (pp. 187-220). London: Sage. ↩︎

  5. Berscheid, E. (2010). Love in the fourth dimension. Annual review of psychology, 61, 1-25. ↩︎

  6. Kyeong, S., Eom, H., Kim, M. K., Jung, Y. H., Park, S., & Kim, J. J. (2019). Neural basis of romantic partners’ decisions about participation in leisure activity. Scientific reports, 9(1), 14448. doi.org ↩︎

  7. Gurman, A. S. (2008). A framework for the comparative study of couple therapy. In Alan S Gurman (Ed.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (4th ed., pp. 1-30). New York, NY: Guilford Press. ↩︎

  8. Sels, L., Ceulemans, E., Bulteel, K., & Kuppens, P. (2016). Emotional Interdependence and Well-Being in Close Relationships. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. ↩︎

  9. Dush, C. M. K., & Amato, P. R. (2005). Consequences of relationship status and quality for subjective well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22(5), 607–627. ↩︎

  10. Reese-Weber, M., & Bartle-Haring, S. (1998). Conflict Resolution Styles in Family Subsystems and Adolescent Romantic Relationships. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 27(6), 735–752. ↩︎

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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