For better or for worse, your romantic attachment style will undoubtedly have a huge impact on your relationships.
Even if you’re the most secure person out there, figuring out both your attachment style and your partner’s is important as it can help you both firmly establish what you need from each other emotionally.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott tells us that understanding your attachment style will be particularly useful if that’s part of why your relationship is having problems.
If you tend to be on the more anxious side, then you’ll likely find yourself chronically worrying and needing a lot of reassurance.
Noel says there are two anxious styles which present in different ways, telling us: ‘The four attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant and disorganised.
‘Secure is what it says on the tin and if you have it there’s nothing much you need to do to change it.
‘The two anxious styles are anxious and avoidant and these styles of relating can lead to difficulties in forming, maintaining and sustaining love relationships. The disorganised style makes relating to others immensely challenging.’
When it comes to how someone can tell they have an anxious attachment style, Counselling Directory member Erica Spencer Green explains: ‘The obvious answer is, we feel the anxiety.’
‘However,’ she adds: ‘It can be difficult to recognise our often unconscious patterns of attachment.
‘One of the first telltale signs in a relationship with this style of attachment is that we tend to swing from feeling secure and happy to feeling unsure and worried about how stable the relationship is. Often the good times don’t last long enough before we need reassuring again.
‘It can feel hard to hold onto being in a good relationship when we’re not talking or getting to meet up often enough.
‘The struggle to feel secure, or worthy of security, can often manifest in needy behaviour; separation anxiety and/or criticism of oneself and/or the partner.’
Counselling Directory member Laurele Mitchell says: ‘Are you someone who lives in near constant fear of your partner leaving you and your being alone?
‘Do you worry that your partner will cheat on you or meet someone more attractive?
‘Do you fall in love hard and fast, with your relationships going from dating to moving in together in a matter of months or even weeks? Perhaps you would even describe yourself as a hopeless romantic.
‘Are your relationships plagued by insecurities about not being good enough, about having done something wrong or taking a lot of what your partner says or does personally? Then you may have an anxious attachment style.’
So what does having an anxious attachment style mean for your relationship?
‘As the name suggests, a lot of anxiety!’ says Laurele.
‘Chronic worry about what may or may not happen in the future generally means that you don’t enjoy what is happening right here, right now.
‘It can lead to a need for constant reassurance in an attempt to make the anxiety stop, which can result in your partner experiencing both you as clingy or needy and what he or she says or does as never being enough because, the truth is, it isn’t and never will be in and of itself.
‘Reassurance seeking is a quick fix and, when the initial relief from the anxiety wears off, it leaves you in need of a top-up, which results in a never-ending cycle that can be draining for you and your partner.
‘An anxious attachment style with its fear of being alone can also mean that you are less than discerning in whom you choose to date and the anxiously attached commonly attract partners with an avoidant attachment style, the combination of which, sadly, perpetuates the cycle of anxiety.’
Erica agrees that having an anxious attachment style will make you feel uncertain in your coupling, telling us: ‘I think that one of the main problems that an anxious attachment can cause is a sense of precariousness in the relationship.
‘By this, I mean that it can be difficult to hold one another in mind during absences.
‘If we don’t feel held when we’re out of sight this can lead to insecurities and feelings of being dropped, abandoned, or even rejected. In light of this, it is more understandable how difficult it would be to establish trust, one of the bedrocks of a good relationship.’
Noel says: ‘If we formed anxious styles of attachment growing up – most often linked to parenting style that were inconsistent (love at times, distance at times) – we can find ourselves repeating that through over-involvement followed by withdrawal.
‘If we formed avoidant styles, linked with absent and fear based parenting styles (including trauma and violence), we can be very fearful of intimacy all together. We can be very self-sufficient and withholding.’
Those with anxious attachment styles needn’t panic though, because they don’t have to be this way forever.
Noel says: ‘In couples therapy or personal therapy, work can be done to look at the unhelpful styles of relating and develop new more secure ways of relating to a loved one with warmth, intimacy and trust.
‘Often simply becoming aware of one’s style of attaching (forming loving bounds) can be enough to change.’
Erica agrees that a good first step is just being aware that you’ve got a problematic attachment style in the first place.
She tells us: ‘Self-awareness is a great starting point. By recognising that we feel anxious in the relationship, and to notice when this anxiety is heightened, can be really constructive.
‘Fostering a non-judgemental quality within the relationship will also help as this then allows honesty. I think it’s so important for partners to discuss the triggers that bring on the anxiety and doubt so that these can be addressed rather than reacted to in the heat of the moment.
‘For example, during the lockdown; we might need messaging more frequently if we’re not able to meet up, or it might be helpful to send each other gifts – things to hold, listen to or look at regularly. This reassuring reminder can be a great comfort during periods of absence.’
Laurele, agrees, saying: ‘Knowing what your style is and how it shows up in your relationships can, in itself, be a game changer.
‘Working with who you are and what triggers your anxiety can allow you to take responsibility for managing it and to learn how to express your needs in a more helpful way for you and your partner.
‘It can also help you to buy less into the idea of “The One” and to be more discerning in choosing a partner who is more likely to accept and love you for who you are.
‘Neediness is merely a sign of an unmet need and an understanding of attachment theory can help us to discern whether or not this is a need that a partner can reasonably meet or an unmet need from childhood that we need to learn to meet ourselves, perhaps with the help of a counsellor.
‘If counselling isn’t for you, Attached by Dr Amir Levine and Rachel Heller is an excellent book on the subject.’
Need support for your mental health?
You can contact mental health charity Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463.
Mind can also be reached by email at [email protected]
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