The way we communicate has a lot to do with our attachment style which was formed early in our development. Our attachment style plays a critical role in how we approach, interact, respond and react to our partner as we attempt to resolve the conflict. Understanding your own attachment style will provide a window into your vulnerabilities and strengths within your relationships. It will also allow you to make changes if necessary.
Our model of attachment influences how we get our needs met in life and in our relationships. Ironically, unless you know your attachment style, people often find partners that confirm our models – meaning if we grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, we will often seek out in an attempt to duplicate similar patterns as adults. We do this even though these relationships are unhealthy and often hurt us.
Michael and Susan**
Michael and Susan have been together for 7 years. When they first met, Susan had a dismissive and avoidant style. She recognized that she could at times easily detach from others and had a tendency to avoid intimacy. She wanted to change this but knew it would take some significant work and introspection on her part. Although her parents were (and still are) loving, they were never emotionally available. Their divorce also had an impact on her life; as a result, she had a tendency to ‘check out’ in her relationships and appear somewhat complacent. However, that is not how she felt – that was just how she coped. Susan carried this same style through much of her adult life. It wasn’t until she met Michael that she realized her relationship pattern and made changes so that she could create a healthier relationship with him. Michael, on the other hand, was a secure person and provided the environment and the ‘space’ to help her grow. He challenged her when something came up and was able to communicate with her in such a way that made her feel safe – safe enough to acknowledge her vulnerabilities while simultaneously learning how to open up and feel more secure in their relationship.
What’s your style?
A person with an anxious attachment will feel insecure about their partner’s feelings and feel unsafe in the relationship. They become clingy and demanding. Because anxious people bond quickly, they don’t take the time to assess if their partner can meet their needs or if they are a good fit. Their anxiety hijacks the rational part of their brain. They jump right in! They tend to see the ‘we’ and what they share in common, idealize their partner, and overlook potential issues. If their partner acts independent, they will interpret this as they are leaving and affirm their fears. For example, if their partner is interacting with other people, they might interpret this as ‘they don’t love me’ because they have an anxious attachment style and have anxiety about where the relationship is and where it’s going. Because relationships have some uncertainty about them, especially in the beginning, this often gets interpreted as unstable, which encourages more anxiety in the anxious person.
A person with this type of attachment will feel that, in order to get their needs met, they will have to be with that person all the time for the sake of reassurance. To support this theory, they actually choose a person who is isolated and hard to be with, which only reinforces their belief. This becomes a no win situation and reinforces their anxious and preoccupied attachment style. They often feel ‘desperate in relationships and have an ‘emotional hunger’ (Firestone). They look to their partner to rescue or complete them (Firestone). Their sense of safety is through clinging to their partner.
A person with this type of attachment style is dismissive and distant. They appear emotionally detached. They feel the way to get your needs met is to act as though you don’t have any needs. This never works! A person with this style will choose a partner who is more demanding or possessive. People with this style tend to lead inward lives; they deny the importance of connection, of others, can easily detach and shut down emotionally (Firestone).