Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC
I see couples of all kinds in my practice, and I think that Attachment Styles are worth bringing up. Attachment Styles describe how we relate, or attach, to intimate partners. The study of Attachment Styles in couples is an offshoot of Attachment Theory which began with the seminal works of psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the 1960s through the 1980s.
Some researchers write that there are three basic styles of attachment, and others say there are four. Here are four styles summarized as though spoken by a person describing himself or herself.
Secure – It is fairly easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or abandoned – or having others not accept me. I also don’t worry about them getting too close to me.
Avoidant or Dismissive – I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me. I find it difficult to trust others completely and difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close; and often, love partners want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.
Anxious or Fearful – I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others. I want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away.
Ambivalent – I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.
Which attachment style describes you in your relationship? Do you have an idea of which style describes your spouse or partner? Does your idea of his or her attachment style match theirs? What do they think your attachment style is? Just checking…
Relationship issues can often be better understood in light of these attachment styles. I never realized just how much until two nights ago when one of my Clients, who had just read about the attachment styles, said, “Lane, I have never felt so relieved. I thought James (* not his real name) was acting like that because of me… because of something I was doing wrong. When I read about the attachment styles, I practically started crying. I suddenly saw that he is acting like that because that’s how he is.”
When you establish a relationship with someone, your attachment styles will impact the success of your union. If you are in a relationship with someone whose attachment style is not compatible with yours, do not be upset. These things can be worked out; and, when they are, the relationship may be deeper than it ever was before.
To end, I would like to share with you something beautiful that Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about relationships.
A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back—it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it. The joy of such a pattern is not only the joy of creation or the joy of participation, it is also the joy of living in the moment. Lightness of touch and living in the moment are intertwined.