by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC
A Series of Articles: 5 of 6 – Attachment Style and Developing Quality Relationships
This series is focused on relationships. Article 5 of 6 focuses on attachment style. Secure attachment, anxious, and avoidant will be explored. How does your attachment style increase satisfaction and/or increase frustration in your relationships? Your attachment style assists in determining how well you engage in and recover from disagreements, struggles, tolerating frustration, adapting to difficult and unfamiliar situations; including, how you feel during good times, positive times, and the important moments in your life that you desire to be present for.
As a therapist and relationship coach, I work with clients grappling with their attachment style and the contributing discomfort, anxiety, stress, isolation, and relationship issues. Your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style have the probability to motivate behaviors, impact interactions, and increase or decrease issues within your relationship.
Individuals with avoidant attachment have difficulty connecting emotionally. For example, if you and/or your partner have an avoidant attachment style there is an increased probability of experiencing difficulty in trusting others; many times, this includes romantic partners. During uncomfortable and difficult communication, you or your partner may cease communication, deflect from the issues being addressed, or retreat completely feeling confused and frustrated.
In a newer dating situation, a person may cease contact without explanation. At times, a person in a romantic relationship will feel ‘if only, s/he will let her/his guard down. It took past relationships to build walls and working to allow one’s guard down is complex and extremely difficult for a person with an avoidant attachment. At times, the individual is unaware that s/he isn’t connecting; many times, s/he feels the same void you’re feeling, yet, has extreme discomfort in engaging in any level of vulnerability, openness, or trust. Other times, the person doesn’t connect emotionally and whether on the surface or on a deeper level doesn’t seem to have the desire to connect.
It’s important for a person with avoidant attachment to ask whether s/he feels an issue is present. Then ask if the desire to connect, trust, and to learn to feel safe in sharing exists. Through therapy, you and/or your partner will have the opportunity to develop awareness to the issues that supported the development of an avoidant attachment, how to cope with and lower frequency of runaway cognitions that may not be beneficial in present relationships, and learn new ways to engage towards developing a more secure and mutually connected relationship.
Individuals with an anxious attachment feel more fear and anxiety in relationships. For example, if there is a disagreement or difficult communication, an individual with an anxious attachment style may continue to discuss the issues, and attempt to increase verbal engagement and communication. It may feel that you and/or your partner continue the conversation after everything feels discussed- many times over, s/he may still desire to talk further. At times, you or your partner’s motivation is an unconscious attempt to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of safety by engaging. S/he is attempting to connect. However, this leads to increases in feelings of anxiety and fear, runaway cognitions, ruminations, and decreases feelings of safety for the individual with an anxious attachment, and adds much confusion and frustration for each partner.
At times, an individual with an anxious attachment and an individual with an avoidant attachment will partner in a relationship. There’s potential for increases in frustration, conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding for partners that are an anxious/avoidant combination; this is more so when communication isn’t strong, communication patterns mismatch, and/or are difficult for one or each partner to understand. However, you are able to learn ways to increase communication skills, lower pressure, minimize demands, and lower the potential for emotional lability. In this environment, communication, understanding, and empathy for each partner is vital. Couples therapy gives opportunity to begin to build awareness to internal feelings and motivations, how you give and receive love, and ways to increase emotional stability and safety.
Individuals with a secure attachment feel more security, confidence, actively engaged, and experience stronger feelings of trust in relationships. You and your partner are able to work through difficult and stressful issues with a level of reciprocal communication and responsiveness. You’ll feel comfort in being authentic and genuine, and in feeling a level of acceptance towards and from your partner. You and your partner have an increased probability in giving and receiving mutually, support is more easily embraced, and issues with communication are negotiated more successfully. Secure attachment carries into relationships with family and friends, and allows for a minimal preoccupation with being abandoned or with having the desire to create distance. You’ll have an increased opportunity to develop a mature and long-term relationship with intimacy and the benefits of developing a healthier and more satisfying relationship. It’s beneficial to allow flexibility, respect, support, and healthy boundaries. Inevitably, there will continue to be stressors, tolerating frustration, and areas to work towards embracing, accepting, and working on as partners; this is part of being human. However, working with a therapist to process your issues and develop a secure attachment benefits your romantic relationships and increases the quality of each area of your daily life.
Relationships consist of a combination of attachment styles and behaviors; each combination has the probability to buffer from or exasperate relationship issues and complexity. At times, you may experience more than one attachment style depending on the person you’re with, the type of relationship, length, and seriousness; however, most times, you’ll engage in a dominant style. Environments, genetic predisposition, past relationships, life experiences, and how you feel about yourself support your attachment style.
Temperament and personality impact attachment, communication, perceptions, and how you engage during difficult and positive aspects of life. Developing an understanding and awareness of you as a person and reflecting on where your partner is coming from allows for smoother navigation throughout the relationship. Additionally, the presence of a fundamental connection and desire from each partner to learn and grow as a couple increases success and long-term satisfaction. It’s important to be aware if you’re feeling that you’re having a relationship for two or if you’re expectation is for your partner to take on most of the relationship’s work and engagement. With that being said, take time to explore and build awareness to how each person gives in similar and different ways; it’s beneficial to make room for each.
In conclusion, developing awareness and comfort with your issues internally and in relationships is beneficial in working towards developing a secure attachment and increasing the quality of your relationships. Working with a therapist in a strong and supportive therapeutic relationship will assist in setting goals and giving yourself permission to develop a secure and healthy attachment, to develop trust, and heal from past relationship issues. You’ll have the opportunity to develop awareness as to what secure attachment is and is not, setting realistic expectations, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t in your relationship, setting healthy boundaries, and enjoying a relationship where you feel intimacy, connection, and security in a quality relationship.
COMING SOON: article 6 of 6 in the series.
Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.