In the latest entry to our new Healthista Collective, Sexual and Relationships Psychotherapist Kate Moyle helps you figure out what’s your attachment style and what it means for your relationships
What is an attachment style?
What does this mean for my relationship?
Can one psychological theory really predict the future connections that we make, and the relationships we build?
I recently read the book Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find and keep love by Amir Levine MD and Rachel Heller. It has left me really considering myself and others in terms of these distinct styles that I have noted below. Listed on page 44 of this book are the following definitions which are split into three distinct styles.
Attachment style #1 – Secure
Being warm and loving in a relationship comes naturally to you.
You enjoy being intimate without becoming overly worried about your relationships. You take things in stride when it comes to romance and don’t get easily upset over relationship matters.
You effectively communicate your needs and feelings to your partner and are strong at reading your partner’s emotional cues and responding to them.
You share your successes and problems with your mate, and are able to be there for him or her times of need.
Attachment style #2 – Avoidant
It is very important for you to maintain your independence and self-sufficiency and you often prefer autonomy to intimate relationships.
Even though you do want to be close to others, you feel uncomfortable with too much closeness and tend to keep your partner at arm’s length.
You don’t spend much time worrying about your romantic relationships or about being rejected. You tend not to open up to your partners and they often complain that you are emotionally distant.
In relationships, you are often on high alert for any signs of control or impingement on your territory by your partner.
Attachment style #3 – Anxious
You love to be very close to your romantic partners and have the capacity for great intimacy.
You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like him/her to be. Relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy.
You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in your partner’s moods and actions, and although your senses are often accurate, you take your partner’s behaviours too personally.
You experience a lot of negative emotions within the relationship and get easily upset.
As a result, you tend to act out and say things that you later regret. If the other person provides a lot of security and reassurance, however, you are able to shed much of your preoccupation and feel contented.
There is also a less common attachment style, which is a combination of anxious and avoidant.
What do these attachment styles teach us?
But rather than boxing people into a style, and closing the door on them being any other way; what this can do is highlight how we can understand each other better and how we relate, rather than discriminating on the basis of it.
Our attachment styles can help illuminate how we operate within relationships and offer information on characteristics.
This can be incredibly useful, because often when we don’t understand, our imagination fills in the gaps for us, and we jump to the assumption that it must be something we are personally doing wrong.
As humans we are very quick to internalise and assume the fault is with us rather than in the dynamic. Which is why understanding what is going on inter-relationally, can also play an important role in stopping us jumping to self-criticism.
Knowing more about attachment styles is about developing awareness rather than developing blame, we understand that there is something beyond the perceived deliberateness of a behaviour; and that person has an innate style rather than being labelled with unhelpful terms such as ‘needy’ or ‘cold’.
As a relationship psychotherapist, attachment theory can help us to consider the couple in a new way, not as Jack and Jill, but as Anxious and Avoidant.
What we also know is that these styles become more intensified the more each partner senses what they fear.
For example, the anxious partner fears that their partner is pulling away, so they try to close the gap or hold onto the relationship tighter; and the avoidant partner senses the other’s need for closeness and tries to increase the space between them.
So what attachment style boils down to is your ability to be comfortable with intimacy or closeness, and your preoccupation with your relationships and your partner’s feelings for you.
We will likely all identify with one of the descriptions above, and be able to guess at the style of our partners both past and current. It can help us to illuminate patterns and therefore be more aware of when we are falling into them again.
It makes us think about the fit of the person for us. If we believe ourselves to be of an avoidant attachment style, and we regularly getting into relationships with people who are anxious?
This can also show why we sometimes feel that we are just in the same relationship time and time again, even with a new partner.
Because there is an underlying blueprint or pattern that we subconsciously go back to as default.
So in conclusion, we can see how this underlying map can impact areas of our lives such as sex, communication, conflict, expectations and attitudes.
In relationships we navigate the steps of an intimacy dance, sometimes closer and sometimes with space in between one another; but the point that attachment theory makes is that this is normal, but the focus is on how comfortable we are with this experience of closeness and separateness.
The work of attachment theorists not only offers us a way of understanding others, but the reflection of how we see ourselves in relation to them, acting as a tool to get to know ourselves better.
Kate Moyle is an Accredited Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist in central London. She specialises in working with those that are struggling with difficulties with their sex lives and sexuality, including many in their twenties and thirties who are impacted by the stresses of modern life.
She was a therapist on the Six Part BBC series Sex On The Couch, and is a regular media contributor on the topic of sex and relationships, and is passionate about having open, honest and realistic conversations about sex; that help people to feel educated and aware in order that they can make the informed decisions that are best for them and feel comfortable in their sexuality.
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