Do you ever feel panicked after a date, wondering if he’ll text you? Or do you feel like you want to run for the hills every time your relationships start to get close? Do you seem to attract people who get too clingy and it drives you away? Or you’re always chasing after someone who won’t commit?
All of these patterns are directly related to your attachment style, and it could be getting in the way of you finding a healthy relationship.
Attachment describes the bond that develops between a child and a primary caregiver (birth parent or other caregiver) in the first few years of life. This interaction creates the foundation for how we interact in our adult relationships. It is a crucial framework for understanding adult relationships and dating.
There are four main categories of attachment, including Secure, Anxious, Avoidant, and Anxious-Avoidant. Research has shown that these attachment styles remain fairly consistent into adulthood. However, the good news is that with awareness and therapy, people can make changes in their primary style.
So what does attachment have to do with dating? The answer is: EVERYTHING!
Let’s start with an example of how the different attachment styles might respond to this common scenario in dating. You’ve been dating someone new, and it seems to be going well. However, he hasn’t texted you in 24 hours. Here are common reactions from each attachment style:
Anxious style: You’re in panic mode by this point, wondering if he’s cheating on you, leaving you, or disinterested. You feel obsessed with thoughts about it, and can’t get out of the bad mood that has accompanied your panicked thinking.
Secure style: You may be wondering where he is, but generally have a sense of trust that there is a good reason for him not texting. After all, things have been going well between you. You send a text and say, hey, how are you?
Avoidant style: You may not even notice that he hasn’t texted in 24 hours! Or, you may even feel relief to have some breathing room.
Anxious-Avoidant: You don’t even relate to this question, because you haven’t been on a date in years. You are likely wishing you had a relationship, but the thought of it is so vulnerable and terrifying that you avoid dating altogether.
Do you fit with any of these reactions? Here’s some more background on the different attachment styles.
A Secure Attachment is formed when there is a warm, secure, and consistent relationship with a caregiver as a child. Securely attached adults tend to be more comfortable with relationships, intimacy, commitment. You give partners the benefit of the doubt, because you have had the experience of a trusting, loving relationship. You are comfortable with depending on your partner, and with your partner depending on you. Relationships don’t cause a lot of stress for you.
An Avoidant Attachment is formed when your caregiver doesn’t give a lot of warmth, consistency, or nurturing as a child. You learn that it isn’t safe to depend on others, so you keep your distance. Intimacy and close relationships can make you uncomfortable, and feel like they are a threat to your independence.
An Anxious Attachment is formed when there is inconsistent love and attention from a caregiver. One minute there is nurturing, the next minute you may be crying and being ignored by your caregiver. This leaves a child feeling anxious and wondering when the next dose of attention will come around. As an adult, you tend to crave closeness and reassurance from your partners, and will become highly anxious with any indications of your partner’s distancing. You are highly sensitive to your partner’s actions.
An Anxious-Avoidant Attachment is formed when a caregiver is consistently rejecting of a child. The the caregiver may criticize a child for expressing emotion or pain, or encourage a child to be independent before they are ready. As an adult, you may feel like you don’t deserve love, and it is difficult to trust others. You may fear relationships, and take your time to become involved. When you do get attached to a partner, you may become overly dependent and fear separation. You may avoid conflict and intimacy.
When you know your attachment style, you can be aware of why you crave or resist intimate relationships. You can figure out what makes you tick. You can identify the perfect attachment style that you need in a partner. You can manage dating and relationships with awareness and confidence because you understand how your brain is looking for love.
If you want to learn more, stay tuned. This is the first article in a series that will describe each attachment style in more detail, with strategies to help you understand your pattern in dating and relationships.