What's Your Attachment Style and What Does It Say About Your Relationships?
I love learning about social theories regarding relationships.
As a fairly emotional person, I appreciate anything that'll give me some insight into my feelings, which I can then use to explain my sometimes-volatile reactions. For a long while, my personal addiction was love languages. And while I still constantly analyze people to discover whether they fit into the "quality time" category like myself, I've also found a new theory to obsess over: attachment styles.
So, what are attachment styles and how do they affect our relationships? Keep scrolling for the full rundown on this new theory of relationship interactions.
The Science Behind Attachment Styles
In their book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love, psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller turn to the power of research to scientifically explain how and why different people navigate relationships in different ways. Of course, it all goes back to childhood.
To skip all the overly science-y elements, Dr. Levine founded his theory on the attachment behavior of mothers and their children. Children get attached to their mothers in different ways, which then changes how they interact with other people and the larger world in general. Fascinated by these attachments, Dr. Levine soon discovered that adults have their own attachment styles, but they become attached to their romantic partners rather than their parents. Not only can the attachment styles explain the dynamics of relationships, they can also be used to explain why things don't work out for certain people, and what can be changed to improve your romantic life.
The Three Attachment Styles
Attachment theory hinges on the idea that humans have a biological need to become close with other people, but the way we go about bonding with others varies. After discovering that adults exhibit attachment behavior, Dr. Levine found three main attachment styles: secure, anxious and avoidant.
Secure people are those who have no problem developing closeness with others. They see relationships as valuable and important, but they're not overly obsessed or preoccupied with their romantic partners.
Anxious people, on the other hand, are constantly worried about the status of their romance. They crave affection and togetherness with another person, but they're convinced that no one can love them back.
Lastly, there are avoidant people. These people have trouble developing closeness with other people, as they equate becoming attached to someone with a loss of independence. Therefore, they try to minimize bonding with others, often keeping the people they care about at arm's length.
We Bond Differently, So What?
At this point, you've probably identified your attachment style. There's not trickery in this theory—you're most likely the attachment style you think you are. But why does it matter? Well, to put it simply, because it controls how you act and react in all your romantic relationships. As the book states so succinctly, "Attachment principles teach us that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs." In order words, understanding attachment styles can reframe your own actions in a relationship, as well as those of your partner. Instead of unhealthy or annoying habits, most things you do are simply a misguided effort to fulfill your unmet needs. Levine and Heller refer to it as "protest behavior."
Protest behavior is basically our attempt to feel close to our partner in a way that meets our attachment style. In the book, it's defined as "any action that tries to reestablish contact with your partner and get their attention." It develops when our attachment system, or the emotions and behaviors we use to ensure that we stay close to the people we care about, feel threatened.
As an example, we can look at typical relationship clinginess. While most people would categorize clinginess as the annoying behavior of a codependent person, attachment theory posits the idea that clinginess is often an effort to feel close to someone when your emotional needs aren't being met. The clingy girlfriend isn't codependent—she's just looking for reassurance that her partner cares about her.
Of course, your protest behavior is almost entirely based in your attachment system. The anxious attachment style, for example, has a very sensitive meter for potential problems in their relationship. They require more attentive affection, as small changes can make them think something is wrong with the whole romance. Meanwhile, avoidant people exhibit minimal protest behavior, mostly because they don't have the same drive to remain close to other humans.
That's why attachment theory is so valuable. Instead of labeling behaviors as "good" or "bad," or writing off your nervous anxieties as the result of an unhealthy preoccupation with your partner, you can learn to identify what's missing from your relationship that's causing you to lash out. Once you recognize the issue, you can work to adjust and change with your partner, rather than continuing to convince yourself to swallow your feelings, which usually results in a string of unfulfilling relationships.
The Anxious-Avoidant Trap
Now, here's the real thing to watch out for: the anxious-avoidant trap. Essentially, the book claims that a pairing between an anxious attachment style and an avoidant attachment style has very little chance of working out. Anxious people and avoidant people have completely contradictory needs in relationships, so they're each unable to act in a way that makes both partners feel safe and protected.
However, an anxious and avoidant pairing is very common, for a variety of reasons. For one, even though they can't meet each other's needs, anxious and avoidant people subtly confirm the other person's underlying thoughts about relationships. Avoidant people are convinced that everyone wants more intimacy than they can give, which will definitely be the case with an anxious partner. Anxious people believe that no one will give ever be willing to be close to them in the way they crave, which is true of avoidant people. The relationship isn't healthy, but it does follow a script that both partners believe in, which explains why they gravitate towards one another.
In addition, avoidant people are much more commonly in the dating pool than anxious people. They struggle to bond with others, so they're often the ones who are single, making it a statistically higher possibility that you'll meet an avoidant person. Lastly, the inability to have their needs met creates a lot of uncertainty and worry for an anxious person, which is incorrectly labeled as passion. They believe their preoccupation means they're super into the other person, when in reality their anxiety is trying to tell them their partner isn't a good match.
The No. 1 way to stay out of the anxious-avoidant trap is to identify attachment styles before you get into a relationship. Then, you can immediately move on from anyone who has an attachment style that clashes with your own, saving you both from a lot of pain in the long run.
The point of attachment styles isn't to judge anyone or to force you to separate people into strict categories. The attachment theory science simply allows you to decode the underlying dynamics of your relationship that aren't often logical or easy to understand. Once you grasp the source of your emotions, you can work to improve your relationships, both by bettering your reactions and by choosing partners that can meet your needs. As they say, knowledge is power, and attachment theory science gives you a vast amount of knowledge that can be used to build healthy, functional relationships.
Now you know about attachment styles, but what about love languages? Click HERE for your love language, based on your zodiac sign.