Attachment Theory in Relationships & Why You Need to Know About It ASAP

Thanks to the downtime brought by the pandemic, overthinking every situation has become the norm for so many, including myself. For me, it started with the uncertainty of COVID-19 in March and it has now spiraled into dissecting every relationship, platonic and romantic, I’ve ever experienced. Crazy, I know. After stumbling onto a podcast that featured Amy Chan speak on attachment theory, all my overthinking episodes fell into place. 

Attachment theory helps draw the connection between your childhood and why you act the way you do in relationships. The theory originated from psychologist John Bowlby. He believed that individuals’ childhoods, mainly the way in which kids interact with their caregivers, determines the way that people form relationships in the future, including the types of people they choose to make relationships with.

There are three main types of attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. The goal is for everyone to have secure attachment styles in order to feel fulfilled and participate in a healthy, sustainable relationship. About half of the population grows up with a secure attachment style, but the other half struggles with the other two styles, and I’m not ashamed to say I am one of those. Read on for a breakdown of the three different styles and what they mean for your relationships. two people resting their heads on each other's shoulders, backs facing the camera Photo by Külli Kittus from Unsplash

Secure attachment style

Like I mentioned earlier, the goal is to become a secure attachment style. Secure styles genuinely trust their partners, are open and are willing to be vulnerable. They want to support their partner while also prioritizing themselves as individuals and healthily addressing concerns in their relationship. Many secure styles have healthy relationships with their parents and look to their parents for advice, comfort and help when they need it. 

If you can't identify with a secure attachment style, don’t worry — you are definitely not alone. Realizing both your attachment style and your partner's is a huge step in the right direction. From there, taking steps to trace your attachment style to its root will lead you to becoming a secure style. Therapy is the most efficient method to develop a secure style, but if you don’t have the time or money (because most students don’t), start by journaling your thoughts on your childhood memories, experiences and past relationships, and evaluate your current ones as well.

Anxious attachment style 

Let’s move on to the anxious attachment style. This describes many first relationships and is more common within women. Those with an anxious style of attachment are always worried if they’re fulfilling their partner’s needs and whether or not they’re “good enough” for their partner. Anxious attachment styles normally develop from inconsistent parenting as a child. The constant limbo between having your needs met and unmet creates the constant need for emotional support. Being attached anxiously often means that you may define yourself by your relationship or feel as if it completes you.

Think of it this way: if a breakup would devastate your world so drastically it seems inconceivable, then you are probably anxiously attached. Not only is this unhealthy, but it’s extremely tiring. Trust me — I’ve been there. People with anxious attachment styles can end up driving away their partner because of their lack of security. This commonly leads to playing games so the person will receive attention and constant unhappiness that seeps into the relationship. This sense of desperation ends up attracting those with an avoidant attachment style, and that usually ends in a hot mess. 

Avoidant attachment style 

People with avoidant attachment styles differ because they attempt to avoid lasting relationships in the first place, and try to keep it that way by self-sabotaging relationships or keeping potential partners at arm’s length. Many avoidants do so because they’re afraid of being put in a situation similar to one experienced in childhood, and are easily perceived as narcissistic or emotionally unavailable.

Those with this type of attachment style are extremely fearful of being hurt when emotionally vulnerable. They would rather stay emotionally isolated than take the risk that comes with opening yourself up to a partner. This attachment style is better characterized with lots of casual sex and an inability to open up to new partners; therefore, romanticizing old relationships usually stems from absent and/or emotionally unavailable caregivers.

While it’s common for anxious and avoidant attachment styles to form connections and long-term relationships, the likelihood of success is slim due to the contradicting aspects of both styles. In the end, anxious styles drive avoidants away because of their need for validation and constant vulnerability that avoidants are unable to give. 

Gaining a secure attachment style can only benefit you and your partner. Insecure attachment styles have a difficult time finding a sustainable, healthy relationship and can hinder your happiness in the future. Dating during a pandemic can be difficult but take the time to find out your attachment style and work towards becoming secure — for you and your future.