The success of a relationship may very well be based on how you tend to form attachments; a style that became hard-wired into the brain at a very early time of life. If your parents used a particular style of attaching with you in infancy and early childhood, that will contribute to the infrastructure for how you tend to attach as an adult.
People tend to form attachments on a continuum which has avoidant attachment at one extreme; anxious attachment at the other extreme and secure attachment at the midpoint. The anxious connector will sometimes appear to be clingy, mistrusting, and possessive about his/her partner. The avoidant connector will sometimes appear to be indifferent, disinterested and withdrawn. Some people make attachments with others that go from one extreme to the other: “I don’t want you; please don’t leave me!” They overshoot that midpoint of secure attachment and don’t get much joy or comfort from their connections with others. Here is a rather primitive graphic, illustrating the concept:
My mother, God bless her, would worry like crazy about her kids. She was overprotective and overly concerned that some awful danger would befall us. She was anxious in her style of attachment. Guess how I tend to attach?… That’s right; I am an anxious attacher. My husband is more avoidant. Sometimes we go round and round: when I start trying to control him, he keeps to himself and ignores me. When he is acting aloof, I tend to try to get him to engage with me; sometimes by picking a fight with him. Neither of these approaches work very well, so we have to consciously make adjustments.
The age-old rule of “opposites attract” also applies here. We will often find an avoidant attacher paired up with an anxious attacher. They end up unconsciously enabling each other in their respective styles. The more an anxious attacher goes after an avoidant partner, the more avoidant that partner becomes. Conversely, the more withdrawn an avoidant partner becomes, the more anxiously his/her counterpart behaves.
The good news is that if you have some awareness about how you both tend to attach, you can each work on taking a step in toward that midpoint of secure attachment. An anxious attacher will do very well with a word or two of reassurance. An avoidant attacher will be more present when she/he can have a bit of space and private time.
An understanding of the attachment style of both you and your significant other will protect your relationship from unnecessary conflict because if you understand your respective styles, you will take the attaching behavior of your significant other a lot less personally. You can then be present to support each other in stretching out of attachment comfort zones to meet somewhere in the middle with a secure connection.
This all makes sense. Very helpful!
Thank you for explaining a complex issue in succinct terms. Sue Johnson’s work in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a great resource for anyone wanting to understand more fully the concept of attachment in relationships.
Great post! I think attachment is such an interesting subject. I recently posted a blog about parenting styles and I think they are closely related. (www.growingthroughrelationships.blogspot.com) Also, I am glad to see you referenced how couples’ interactions may also be a product of their attachment to their primary caregiver. This is all so interesting 🙂