September 8th, 2020
As a couples counsellor specializing in premarital counselling, I love talking about relationship resources and tools.
In previous weeks in this relationship series of videos, I spoke about communication, conflict resolution, keeping the intimacy alive, the 5 love languages, what boundaries are, personal boundaries/ boundaries with in-laws, and boundaries in marriage. Please feel free to check those videos out if you haven’t already. In upcoming weeks, I will be covering how to manage inevitable struggles in your relationship, and personality differences.
So let’s dive into attachment in relation to romantic relationships.
See my vlog here:
We are meant to be in connection with others. We are designed to depend on each other with a sense of community. Our most important relationship with another human as adults is our romantic partner. Can I count on you emotionally when I really need you most? Will you be there for me when it really matters? Am I reassured in your comfort? If yes, you have a secure sense of connection and attachment.
Attachment research has been around since John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Ainsworth developed the strange situation test where she found that infants had three main attachment styles: secure, insecure avoidant and insecure ambivalent/resistant. Bowlby has said that attachment plays a “role in life from cradle to grave” (1969). The importance of that bond does not just end in childhood. It continues on into adulthood and impacts on our romantic relationships. My focus in this vlog is on adult attachment.
There is much current literature on adult attachment that draws on these decades of attachment research. I love the work of Susan Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy. You can find these books by her – “Hold Me Tight”, “Created for Connection”, and “Love Sense”. I use this Emotionally Focused approach with my couples all the time. It is helpful to understand the negative dance or cycle that couples find themselves in so that they can learn how to change the music and shift their dance into a positive cycle. I think in the next video, I will focus on Sue’s book, “Created for Connection”.
I also really like Levine and Heller’s book called, “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love.” In their book, they have a questionnaire that you can take to determine what your attachment style is. You can also find it on their website
On this site you can decipher your own attachment style, and also your partner’s attachment style. It’s helpful to know yours and your partners’ attachment style, as it may help to explain some behaviours.
I also like Chen’s book, “The Attachment Theory Workbook: Powerful Tools to Promote Understanding, Increase Stability and Build Lasting Relationships.” It has some great tools for reflection on each attachment style, and a chapter on understanding the dynamics and interactions between the different attachment styles in a couple.
So, what are the different attachment styles? The books I mentioned focus on three – secure, anxious and avoidant. Anxious attachment can sometimes be referred to as preoccupied. Avoidant attachment can be either dismissing or fearful.
The securely attached person has a high emotional intelligence. They are open, honest, and readily able to build connection with their partner. If their partner is upset, they are easily able to comfort them, and if they are upset they would want comfort from their partner. They generally know that their partner is there for them when they need them.
The anxiously attached person may feel insecure and have low self-worth. They tend to romanticize love rather than basing it on reality. They may be needy, demanding, jealous, and controlling. They may fear abandonment and be apologetic often. Their love tank never seems to feel full no matter how much love is shown to them. They are hungry for connection and have a lot of love to give, but can never seem to get enough or feel they are worthy of love. They may think, for example, that if their partner doesn’t call them back right away, it means that their partner doesn’t love them.
The avoidant-dismissing attached person may see others as unavailable or unreliable, and so they are more reliant on themselves. It is hard for them to share with others or comfort others when they are in distress. They may be emotionally distant and avoid true intimacy. They shy away from vulnerability and detach easily from others. Even though they do care, they pretend they don’t care if their partner doesn’t want to be with them.
The avoidant-fearful attached person also sees others as unavailable or unreliable, but they still have that desire for closeness. They may feel others will hurt them, but they still want to try. They struggle with an inner conflict where they want intimacy but also resist it. They fear closeness but they also fear distance or abandonment. They may cling to their partner when they feel rejected, but then feel trapped if they get too close. They can get easily overwhelmed by these reactions and their mood can be unpredictable.
Just because you may have grown up with a certain attachment style to your caregivers does not necessarily mean that you will continue to have that same attachment style into adulthood. It can change depending on who you’re with. A securely attached person may feel feel fearful avoidant if, for example, their partner has cheated on them. Or an anxiously attached person may feel comforted and soothed in a very secure and loving relationship. Your attachment style may be different with different people depending on the dynamics of the relationship.
So in summary, check out the tools to figure out what your attachment style is and your partner’s style. It may help you to better understand where your partner is coming from, explain some behaviours, and may help to build more empathy for each other. Work together towards that trust and emotional safety, so that you can both feel reassured and secure that you are there for each other when you need each other most. This will develop over time with little demonstrations of trust, comfort, gentleness, and follow-through when needed.
Hope this was helpful. In the next video I’ll be covering how to manage inevitable struggles in your relationship.
Let me know if there are any other relationship videos that might be useful to you.