Our childhood experiences with our parents or primary caregivers have an influence in the way we interact and relate with our romantic partners and friends in our adult life
Four main styles of attachment have been identified in adults:
- Secure attachment– As a child, if we have experienced a sense of security from our parents wherein our physical, emotional and security needs have been met and we felt loved, cared and understood then later on in life we relate to our friends and romantic partners in the same secure manner. Such individuals are attached yet independent in their relationship. This is the healthiest of all attachment styles
- Anxious–preoccupied attachment– In this form of attachment the individual requires constant validation, reassurance and love in order to feel secure. Such individuals become clingy if they feel that their partner is not giving them the importance and support that they desire in order to feel safe in the relationship.
- Dismissive–avoidant attachment– In this style of attachment, the individual is emotionally distant from their partners and prioritizes autonomy and independence to emotional vulnerability and closeness. They tend to lead more inward lives and does not allow emotional proximity to a lot of people.
- Fearful–avoidant attachment- This style of attachment includes fear of getting emotionally close and vulnerable but at the same time there is a desire for emotional connection and intimacy. They tend to be unpredictable in their moods. They want to get close to their partners and at the same time have a fear of abandonment.
What to Do If My Partner Has a Different Attachment Style-:
If we do not match with our partner on our attachment style, it might lead to compatibility issues and frequent conflicts within the relationship but that doenot mean that the incompatibility cannot be overcome
Example 1– Sam and Riya have been in a relationship for a year which involves a good emotional bond, companionship, love and trust. Sam knows that Riya loves him but small things bother him like why does he have to message her 1st always, why can’t she call him. Why can’t she be more physically affectionate? She didn’t hold hands or cuddle when they were together whereas Sam felt these were natural ways of showing love to their partner. She doesn’t share too much information about her days unless specifically asked and gives him a lot of space, doesn’t act jealous(which is a positive but still once in a while it feels good to see that possessiveness in our partner).
They used to have tiffs and arguments. Riya could not understand what she was doing wrong. She used to keep asking him so what if I ask for some personal space and Sam always used to see that as a sign of trouble in the relationship and kept asking what was wrong?. This irritated Riya and it started leading to small fights between them.
In this relationship, both Sam and Riya’s attachment styles differ. Where Sam is anxious preoccupied attached and requires constant reassurance and love, Riya has a dismissive avoidant style of attachment wherein she is not as emotionally involved as Sam would have desired. It does not reflect on the equation they share. They both love each other however they have different ways of expressing their bond and this took some time for them to come to terms with.
Sam realized over time that Riya needs her personal space wherein she can spend time alone and they worked towards it on the prefix that they find a balance between personal time and couple time. Sam on the other hand, started spending that time on his catching up on his writing which was his passion or spending quality time with his family/friends rather than being anxious about the status of his relationship.
Example 2– Myra and Rohit have been dating for 10 months. They had been facing difficulties since the beginning of their dating period and shared a turbulent relationship . Myra struggled to communicate to Rohit about her insecurities as she had previously experienced an abusive relationship and was always afraid of being emotionally vulnerable again.
Her possessiveness peaked when she saw him talking to his female friends even though Rohit kept reassuring Myra that the bond he shares with them is strictly platonic. There were times when Rohit was left confused as there would be days when she is open and shares everything and then there were days where she would tell him that she is afraid of how close they are becoming and disappear for days with no texts or calls. Rohit didn’t know what to do when she emotionally shut him down and created a wall between them. There were times when they both had talked about breaking up but they realized that they truly wanted this relationship to work.
It was after they sought professional help from a relationship expert that they were able to understand what was happening. It was mutually agreed that no matter what the emotional state, they will communicate to each other regarding what they are thinking and feeling even if it required some time and Myra and Rohit worked on building a safe space for her to convey her insecurities without hesitation.
1. Awareness/Knowledge– When we have full awareness of the attachment styles of ourselves and our partners then we can work on identifying how we are in a relationship. Most often than not, they might be the same way in all their close relationships.
Once we have knowledge of our partner’s attachment style, we are able to gain an insight into the relationship dynamics and look at the same events like lack of physical affection or need for reassurance in the above example in a different light. Then the insecurity and conflicts can be resolved by understanding and communicating how they express their love and focusing on them or coming to a middle ground.
2. Developing healthy attachment styles– Although our attachment styles are stable in our close relationships, it does not mean that we cannot change our maladaptive attachment styles if it is affecting our bond and focus on building healthier, fulfilling and happier relationships. Once we are aware of our attachments styles, we can communicate our expectations to our partners and let them know about what works for them and what does not in a relationship. Also, we would have to set realistic expectations in our relationships keeping in mind our needs with our partner’s ability to fulfill them.
For example- Expecting a sudden increase in affection and emotional intimacy in a distant avoidant person is unrealistic as they have been expressing love in a different manner so far hence an overnight change would not be achieved. However small acts of sharing day to day events and taking baby steps towards building physical intimacy in terms of holding hands would lead to a feeling of being emotionally close with their partner and the partner can also learn how they usually
3. Challenge our insecurities and fears– On most occasions the insecurities and fears are ingrained due to our previous experiences. They tend to become our incorrect patterns of thinking called cognitive distortions in psychological terms.
For example- In anxious avoidant individuals they might assume that their partner is ignorant of their emotional needs if they talk to or spend more time with other people and not give them quality time. Such individuals might end up saying “I knew this would happen, their love was never genuine’’ or they might push them away and create a barrier in communication.
In the second example Myra worked on writing down her thought pattern and rationally evaluating them and challenging them with a more positive realistic thought. She eventually bonded with Rohit’s friends and to her pleasant surprise they were very accepting of her as they knew how important she was to Rohit and how happy she made him. Rohit also made sure that their quality time was not compromised due to any of his commitments and conveyed it to her on the days he could not make it. Slowly they worked on building trust and a stronger communication in their relationship.
4. Space in Relationships– Both anxious preoccupied and fearful avoidant individuals might become clingy when they feel that their emotional needs are not being fulfilled and sabotage their relationships by not giving adequate space to their partners because they believe they will be abandoned by their partners.
Whereas in case of dismissive avoidant they might require their personal space more and might further distance themselves from their partners if they feel that their space is being encroached or they end up feeling suffocated.
In such situations we must understand that there might be times that our partners are unable to spend time with us or be always available when we want due to personal or professional commitments. In such cases instead of assuming that they do not care it’s important to see our previous experiences wherein they have been there for us and check how frequent has it been that they have not showed up. If it is less then it’s crucial to recognize that it doesn’t mean they love us any less or the relationship isn’t strong.
So it’s very important to acknowledge that in any relationship there would be individual time and couple time and having some space or time to pursue what interests us on a personal level is healthy
5. Mutual Support and Growth– While a change can be achieved in shifting to an adaptive attachment style, the process would require patience, understanding and mutual support in order to be successful as such changes are fundamental and hence will take time. Acknowledging that the relationship is priority for both the partners and choosing each other through the ups and downs helps in developing as an individual and building a love that will only get stronger with time.