If you and your partner struggle to understand each other’s feelings and keep rehashing the same arguments over and over, mismatching attachment styles might be to blame. This becomes especially apparent in romantic partnerships, in which emotional intimacy is key.
The 4 Main Attachment Styles
Attachment theory states that how your primary caregivers interacted with you as a child directly affects your way of relating to others as an adult.
- Fearful-Avoidant Or “Disorganized”
People with the anxious attachment type tend to fear abandonment or being neglected. These people idealize their partner and expect the same in return, as they fear abandonment or perceive a lack of closeness in the relationship. They may get angry at their partner and pick fights if they aren’t getting their emotional needs met.
People with an avoidant attachment style distance themselves from their partners, putting up emotional walls and rigid boundaries to avoid allowing anyone too close. These individuals pride themselves on self-sufficiency, and they avoid appearing vulnerable for fear of rejection or losing their sense of self in the relationship.
The fearful-avoidant, or “disorganized”, type combines the fear of neglect or abandonment of the anxious type with the avoidant type’s fear of losing themselves or rejection. This attachment style is the most difficult to treat without professional help.
People with a secure attachment style can express their emotions and needs plainly to their partners. They can also handle rejection or criticism without bristling up. This style is usually associated with healthier relationships, though childhood trauma can make it difficult for people to develop this style while growing up.
Where Did Your Attachment Style Come From?
People with anxious attachment styles received inconsistent care and emotional comfort from caregivers as a child. Avoidants might come from a family that criticized them for crying or showing vulnerability, which is why they grow up to be adults who have difficulty with emotional conflict. A disorganized attachment comes from a child learning that caregivers might inconsistently abandon them as well as punish them for expressing basic needs.
Mismatching Styles Can Create Conflict
When it comes to attachment theory, the saying that “opposites attract” may have some truth to it. Anxious types and avoidant types tend to be drawn toward each other. In such relationships, the anxious partner may interpret their partner as being callous, aloof, self-absorbed, or uncaring, while the avoidant partner might view the anxious partner as clingy, manipulative, hypersensitive, or unstable. This creates a vicious cycle that hurts both partners.
Breaking The Anxious Vs. Avoidant Conflict Cycle
Most avoidant people don’t harbor genuine malice or ill will towards their partner. They have deep-seated emotional trauma from childhood that led them to unconsciously develop thick emotional barriers. Likewise, most anxiously attached people are not trying to reject or manipulate their partner with their emotional displays. They simply fear that their partner will not be there to meet their needs unless they show their feelings in plain sight.
Can You Change Your Attachment Type?
The answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” Like many maladaptive thinking patterns, people with insecure attachment styles are able to change with enough practice, open-mindedness, and the right tools. Therapy exercises, a growth mindset, and daily mindfulness practices can rewire your brain and change how you relate to your partner.
Relationship Counseling Can Help
One of the goals of marriage counseling is to reach a point where both parties are secure enough to meet each other’s needs. The avoidant can learn to fulfill their partner’s need for increased communication, time spent together, and emotional intimacy, and the anxious person can learn to give the avoidant partner enough space, privacy, and alone time. The key is developing a better understanding of each other and yourselves.
Couples’ Therapy In Southern California
Dr. Taji Huang is a professional psychologist and relationship counselor based in Glendale, CA. She can help you and your partner empathize with each other’s differences and move towards developing secure attachment styles. Contact her office today to schedule a couples’ therapy appointment.