Attachment Styles In Breakups

The Truth About Saving Your Marriage

Coach Lee answers questions on Attachment Styles and Theory

1. Can you explain the basis of attachment theory? How does this apply to adult relationships?

Attachment theory is a psychological framework developed by John Bowlby in the mid-20th century in attempt to understand the emotional bonds and attachments that humans form with others, particularly in early childhood.

It claims that humans are biologically predisposed to form emotional bonds with caregivers, usually parents, to ensure their survival and well-being.

This attachment style continues to influence our relationships throughout our lives, including adult relationships.

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Attachment style applies to adult relationships in several ways, influencing how individuals form and maintain connections with romantic partners, friends, and even colleagues.

Here’s a deeper look at how attachment theory applies to adult relationships:

Understanding Relationship Dynamics: Attachment styles established in childhood can affect how adults engage in relationships. People with secure attachment styles tend to have healthier and more stable relationships, while those with anxious or avoidant styles may encounter challenges related to intimacy and communication.

Partner Selection: Attachment styles can influence partner selection. People often unconsciously seek partners whose attachment styles complement or resonate with their own. For example, an anxious person may be drawn to an avoidant partner, creating a push-pull dynamic.

Communication Patterns: Attachment styles can shape communication patterns in relationships. Secure individuals are more likely to communicate openly, express their needs, and listen empathetically to their partners. In contrast, anxious individuals may overanalyze and seek reassurance, while avoidant individuals may struggle to express their emotions or needs.

Conflict Resolution: Attachment styles can impact how couples handle conflicts. Securely attached individuals tend to resolve conflicts constructively, focusing on finding solutions and maintaining emotional connection. Anxious individuals may escalate conflicts due to their fear of abandonment, while avoidant individuals may withdraw or become distant during conflicts.

Emotional Intimacy: Attachment styles play a crucial role in emotional intimacy. Securely attached individuals are more comfortable with emotional intimacy and can provide emotional support to their partners. Anxious individuals may crave intense emotional closeness, while avoidant individuals may struggle to share emotions openly.

Relationship Satisfaction: Attachment styles can influence overall relationship satisfaction. Securely attached individuals tend to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction, as they can navigate the challenges of intimacy and independence effectively. In contrast, anxious and avoidant individuals may experience more dissatisfaction and relationship instability.

Impact of Past Relationships: Past relationship experiences, especially traumatic ones, can further shape attachment styles and affect adult relationships. For example, a history of unhealthy relationships or betrayal can intensify anxious or avoidant tendencies.

Parenting: Attachment theory is also relevant to parenting, as caregivers’ attachment styles can impact how they raise their children. Understanding their own attachment style can help parents provide more secure and nurturing environments for their children.

While attachment styles are rooted in early experiences, they are not set in stone.

Through self-awareness and possibly guidance from professionals, individuals can develop more secure attachment patterns and improve their relationships.

It is also true that people can develop anxious and avoidant attachment styles based on troubled relationships with those who aren’t their parents – for example in school or as adults.

2. Please list the attachment styles, and for each, bullet point some common signs of that style.

The three primary attachment styles are:

Secure Attachment: People with secure attachment styles typically had caregivers who were consistently responsive and attentive to their needs as children.

They tend to have a positive view of themselves and others and are comfortable with intimacy and independence in adult relationships.

Signs of secure attachment:

  • Positive Self-Esteem: Individuals with secure attachment tend to have a healthy self-esteem and a positive view of themselves without being arrogant or selfish.
  • Comfort with Intimacy: They are comfortable with emotional intimacy and can trust their partners to be there for them.
  • Effective Communication: Securely attached individuals are skilled at open and effective communication in relationships.
  • Emotional Regulation: They can regulate their emotions well and handle stress and conflicts in a constructive manner.
  • Reliability: Secure individuals are reliable and consistent in their relationships, providing support and care to their partners.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: Individuals with this attachment style often had inconsistent caregiving in childhood, leading to heightened anxiety about their relationships.

They may be overly concerned about being abandoned and tend to seek constant reassurance and closeness in adult relationships.

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  • Fear of Abandonment: People with anxious attachment often fear abandonment and may be overly concerned about their partner leaving them.
  • Seeking Reassurance: They tend to seek constant reassurance from their partners to alleviate their anxiety.
  • Intense Emotions: Anxious individuals may experience intense emotions, including jealousy and insecurity, in their relationships.
  • Difficulty with Independence: They may have difficulty being independent and may rely heavily on their partners for emotional fulfillment.
  • High Sensitivity to Rejection: Anxious-preoccupied individuals are highly sensitive to any signs of rejection or disinterest from their partners.

Avoidant Attachment: Those with an avoidant attachment style may have had caregivers who were emotionally unavailable or intrusive.

They tend to be self-reliant and uncomfortable with emotional intimacy in adult relationships.

  • Emotional Independence: Avoidantly attached individuals value their independence and may be uncomfortable with emotional intimacy.
  • Difficulty Expressing Emotions: They may have difficulty expressing their own emotions and may seem emotionally distant.
  • Fear of Enmeshment: Avoidant individuals fear being emotionally enmeshed with their partners and may need significant personal space.
  • Minimal Reliance on Others: They tend to rely on themselves rather than seeking support or comfort from others.
  • Dismissive of Emotional Needs: Avoidant individuals may dismiss their own emotional needs and minimize the importance of emotional connection.

It’s important to note that these signs represent general tendencies associated with each attachment style and that individuals may display a combination of traits from different styles or shift between styles depending on circumstances and personal growth.

Attachment styles can also be influenced by past experiences and therapy, and they are not fixed or immutable traits.

3. How can understanding your attachment style, and your partner’s, benefit your relationship? Please give examples wherever possible.

Understanding your own attachment style, as well as your partner’s, may significantly benefit your relationship in various ways. Here are some key advantages with examples:

Improved Communication: Knowing your attachment style and your partner’s can lead to better communication. For instance, if you are aware that you have an anxious attachment style and tend to seek reassurance, you can express your need for reassurance to your partner in a clear and non-confrontational way.

This can help your partner understand your needs and respond more effectively, reducing misunderstandings and conflicts.

Example: If you’re feeling anxious about your partner’s recent behavior, instead of becoming accusatory, you can say, “I’ve been feeling a bit insecure lately, and I’d appreciate it if we could talk about how things are between us.

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Can you reassure me about our relationship?”

Increased Empathy: Understanding your attachment style and your partner’s can promote empathy. When you recognize that your partner’s actions and reactions are often shaped by their attachment style, you may become more empathetic and less likely to take things personally.

Example: If your avoidant partner needs some space after a disagreement, instead of feeling rejected, you can remind yourself that it’s their way of coping with emotional intensity. This understanding can help you give them the space they need without feeling hurt.

Conflict Resolution: Awareness of attachment styles can aid in conflict resolution. Couples can recognize that their attachment-related insecurities may be triggering conflicts and work together to address these underlying issues.

Example: Let’s say you have an anxious attachment style, and your partner tends to withdraw during arguments.

By acknowledging these patterns, you can have a constructive conversation about how to navigate conflicts in a way that meets both your need for emotional connection and your partner’s need for space.

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Building a Secure Base: Couples can intentionally create a secure emotional base by understanding their attachment styles. This involves providing each other with emotional support and reassurance, which helps both partners feel safe and valued in the relationship.

Example: A securely attached couple may establish a routine of checking in with each other during the day, sending loving messages, or spending quality time together. This helps maintain a sense of connection and security.

Personal Growth: Recognizing your attachment style can be a catalyst for personal growth.

When you understand how your attachment style may have been shaped by past experiences, you can work on healing and developing more secure patterns of attachment.

This personal growth can lead to greater relationship satisfaction and resilience.

Example: If you have an avoidant attachment style stemming from past trust issues, you can seek therapy to address these issues and develop a more secure attachment style. As a result, you may find it easier to trust and open up in your relationship.

In summary, understanding your own attachment style and your partner’s can enhance your relationship by promoting effective communication, empathy, conflict resolution, and personal growth.

It allows you to work together to create a more secure and fulfilling connection, despite the challenges that may arise from your attachment styles.

4. Do certain attachment styles not mesh well together or create more conflict? Is it ever possible for two people with those styles to still have a healthy relationship?

Attachment styles can influence how well two people “mesh” in a relationship and can potentially lead to more conflict if there is a significant mismatch between their attachment styles.

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However, it’s important to note that with awareness, effort, and effective communication, it’s absolutely possible for two individuals with different attachment styles to have a healthy and fulfilling relationship.

Attachment styles are like the lenses through which we view and interact in relationships.

When two people with very different attachment styles come together, there can be challenges.

For example, if one partner has a secure attachment style and the other has an anxious-preoccupied style, the anxiously attached partner may seek more reassurance and closeness than the securely attached partner is used to providing.

This difference in needs can potentially lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.

Similarly, if an avoidantly attached individual is in a relationship with someone who has an anxious attachment style, the avoidant partner’s need for space and emotional independence may clash with the anxious partner’s desire for emotional closeness, potentially causing tension.

However, the good news is that attachment styles are not necessarily permanent, and people can develop more secure attachment patterns over time.

With self-awareness and open communication, couples can navigate these differences and build a healthy and secure relationship.

For instance, if both partners recognize their attachment styles and are committed to personal growth, they can work together to find a balance that meets both of their emotional needs.

This might involve the anxiously attached partner learning to self-soothe and manage their anxiety more independently, while the avoidantly attached partner can work on expressing their emotions and being more emotionally available.

In essence, while certain attachment-style combinations may require more effort and understanding, a healthy relationship is definitely possible and I see it all the time.

It often comes down to both partners being willing to learn about themselves and each other, communicate openly, and make adjustments to meet each other’s emotional needs.

Over time, this can lead to a stronger and more secure bond.

5. Please offer a couple tips for each attachment style to help them grow in their relationships. In other words, what can a person with each style work on to become a better partner?

For Individuals with a Secure Attachment Style:

Maintain Open Communication: Continue to prioritize open and honest communication with your partner. Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings, and actively listen without judgment.

Support Your Partner’s Growth: Recognize that your partner may have a different attachment style or past experiences. Be patient and supportive as they work on their own attachment-related challenges.

Set Healthy Boundaries: While your secure attachment style is an asset, make sure to set and communicate your boundaries clearly. Ensure that you’re taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being for the sake of the relationship.

For Individuals with an Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style:

Self-Soothe and Self-Calm: Work on developing self-soothing techniques to manage anxiety and reduce the need for constant reassurance from your partner. Practice mindfulness, deep breathing, or other relaxation methods.

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Develop Independence: Cultivate your sense of independence and self-worth. Engage in activities and hobbies that bring you fulfillment and allow you to feel more self-reliant.

This doesn’t mean that you become too independent of your partner, but that you have some occasional passions that you pursue individually.

Effective Communication: Practice assertive and calm communication. Express your needs and feelings clearly but without overwhelming your partner. Trust that your partner cares about you and will respond positively to your needs.

For Individuals with an Avoidant Attachment Style:

Emotional Expression: Work on expressing your emotions to your partner constructively. Practice sharing your thoughts and feelings, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.

Recognize Emotional Needs: Understand that it’s okay to have emotional needs in a relationship. Acknowledge that vulnerability and emotional intimacy can strengthen your connection with your partner.

Balance Independence with Closeness: Strive to find a healthy balance between your need for independence and your partner’s need for emotional connection. Be mindful of your partner’s emotional needs and try to meet them halfway.

Remember that personal growth takes time, and it’s normal to have some challenges along the way.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a more secure and satisfying bond with your partner by addressing any attachment-related issues constructively.

Lee Wilson is a relationship coach with more than 20 years of experience who helps couples build strong relationships or reunite following a separation or breakup. His website is

About Coach Lee

Coach Lee helps people get their ex back after a breakup. He developed The Emergency Breakup Kit, a powerful guide to winning back an ex. Get more information on the Kit by CLICKING HERE! If you are MARRIED but your spouse is considering divorce and/or your marriage is struggling, get Coach Lee's free mini-course on saving a marriage.

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