Insider's guide: How to determine your partner's attachment

Discover the key to emotional intimacy by recognizing your partner's attachment style. Strengthen your bond with proven techniques.

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Conflict in any relationship is inevitable, and it’s especially true when it comes to romantic relationships. In times of stress or crisis, attachment styles play a big role in how couples handle disagreements. 1

Understanding your partner’s attachment style is critical in managing conflict constructively. In this article, let’s explore how attachment styles shape intimacy in romantic relationships and how to determine your partner’s attachment style.

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.

Why understanding attachment styles is important

Why understanding attachment styles is important

Attachment styles are a crucial part of any relationship. They are the subconscious expectations and behaviors learned in early childhood and developed over time, which shape how an individual behaves and responds to emotions. 2

During the 1950s, psychologist John Bowlby was the first to research attachment styles. He stated that infants have an innate need for secure connections and attachments with their primary caregivers. 3 

He argued that how a child is nurtured in childhood affects how they approach relationships later in life. In other words, our attachment style forms during childhood and is usually carried into adulthood. 4

There were initially three distinctive attachment styles, but a fourth attachment style was later introduced. The four major attachment styles are: 5

Knowing your partner’s attachment style gives you insight into how they respond to conflict in a relationship. Awareness of the dynamics at play is crucial, as this can guide you and help you understand why certain behaviors may manifest.

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

10 Tips for identifying your partner’s attachment style

10 Tips for identifying your partner's attachment style

Understanding how your partner responds to conflict and distress can help you healthily manage arguments. Here are some tips for understanding your partner’s attachment style:

1. Observe communication patterns

Communication is a huge determining factor behind a partner’s attachment style. Pay attention to how your partner talks about their upbringing and past relationships and how they communicate with you in moments of conflict or stress. 6

Do they shut down when they feel overwhelmed? Do they become clingy and needy? Or do they remain level-headed and understanding even in times of distress? 

Matching communication patterns is crucial for relationship harmony. Learn strategies to balance diverse styles effectively.

2. Explore relationship history

An excellent way to better understand your partner’s attachment style is to explore their past relationships. If they had romantic relationships before yours, ask them open-ended questions about these experiences and how they felt for them.

Ask without judgment and listen carefully to their responses. This can provide valuable insight into what kind of attachment style your partner most likely has.

3. Assess their reaction to stress

Stress can be a huge factor in determining a partner’s attachment style and how they respond. Pay attention to how your partner reacts when you feel overwhelmed or under pressure. 7

Do they withdraw and become emotionally distant? Or do they try to be understanding and work together to find a solution? Knowing their reaction can provide clues into your partner’s attachment style.

4. Evaluate emotional availability

Being emotionally available and vulnerable is a key component of a secure attachment style. Notice how your partner behaves when it comes to being emotionally available.

Do they remain distant and shut down? Or do they open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable around you? This can provide valuable insight into the kind of attachment style they have.

Knowing how to become vulnerable paves the way to a deep bond with your ISTP partner. Explore tips for forging a strong and lasting connection.

5. Analyze approach to independence

Healthy relationships require a balance of independence and togetherness. Pay attention to how your partner approaches these two aspects of the relationship. 8

Do they prefer to do things independently or need constant reassurance that you’re there for them? Knowing how they approach this is essential in understanding your partner’s attachment style. 

6. Recognize emotional triggers

Attachment styles can also be triggered when certain emotions arise in the relationship. When conflict surfaces, pay attention to how your partner reacts.

Do they become overwhelmed and shut down? Or, do they remain level-headed in the face of distress? Understanding what triggers your partner’s attachment style can help you manage conflicts more efficiently.

7. Listen to their words

How your partner speaks is also an important indicator of their attachment style. Pay attention to how they talk about relationships and any underlying feelings that come up when discussing intimacy or closeness.

Do they express fear or insecurity regarding being vulnerable? Or do they have a more open attitude toward being close? Analyzing how someone expresses themselves can be telling of their attachment style.

8. Show empathy

When trying to understand your partner’s attachment style, it’s important to show empathy. Listen without judgment and work together to find a solution for both of you. 9

By being understanding and patient with your partner, you create a space where they can feel more comfortable opening up and talking about their experiences. This can be incredibly helpful in identifying your partner’s attachment style.

Empathy is at the core of loving an INFJ. Explore what to expect in a relationship with INFJ personality type for a deeper understanding.

9. Encourage open and honest conversations

Honesty is also key in understanding your partner’s attachment style. Open and honest conversations can help you get to the root of any underlying issues or feelings that may arise within the relationship. 10

Ask gentle questions without forcing your partner to talk if they don’t feel ready. This will create a safe environment for both of you to share and discuss anything that comes up without feeling judged or misunderstood.

10. Seek professional help

If you’re having difficulty identifying your partner’s attachment style, seeking help from a mental health professional can be beneficial. A therapist or psychologist can help you and your partner identify unresolved issues influencing their attachment style.

In addition, they can provide guidance and support on navigating the best potential conflicts that may arise in the relationship. Knowing your partner’s attachment style gives insight into how they respond to stress or tension and helps create a deeper connection between you.

By following these tips, you can easily identify your partner’s attachment style. This will allow you to understand each other’s needs better and create a healthier relationship dynamic.

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

  1. 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. ↩︎

  2. Sheinbaum, T., Kwapil, T. R., Ballespí, S., Mitjavila, M., Chun, C. A., Silvia, P. J., & Barrantes-Vidal, N. (2015). Attachment style predicts affect, cognitive appraisals, and social functioning in daily life. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 296. ↩︎

  3. Feist, J., Feist, G., & Roberts, T. (2017). Theories of Personality (9th ed.). McGraw Hill. ↩︎

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

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

  6. Cherry, M. G., Fletcher, I., & O’Sullivan, H. (2013). Exploring the relationships among attachment, emotional intelligence and communication. Medical education, 47(3), 317–325. ↩︎

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

  8. Järdmo, C., Frisén, A., & Wängqvist, M. (2023). Experiences of romantic relationships among early adults who do not turn to their long-term partner when in need of love and support. Scandinavian journal of psychology, 64(2), 133–141. ↩︎

  9. Decety, J., & Jackson, P. L. (2004). The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 3(2), 71–100. ↩︎

  10. Shulman, S., Tuval-Mashiach, R., Levran, E., & Anbar, S. (2006). Conflict resolution patterns and longevity of adolescent romantic couples: A 2-year follow-up study. Journal of Adolescence, 29(4), 575–588. ↩︎

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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