Attachment Styles

Couples’ Attachment Styles

Teresa Sahhar Couples

HOW YOUR EARLY CONNECTION WITH YOUR PARENTS IS AFFECTING YOUR MARRRIAGE 

“Mom finally got a diagnosis that explains all the symptoms she had the last several months. It’s multiple myeloma – blood CANCER.” I read the Facebook message sent by my sister, and a sick feeling immediately invaded my stomach. Cancer.

I HATE CANCER.

I’d seen too many people suffer and die from it. And now it was visiting my own family. I wanted to crawl into bed, go to sleep, and pretend everything was normal. Anyone would have felt as anxious as I did at receiving news like this…wouldn’t they?

ANXIETY

I felt that. But inside myself, I knew that it was about much more than the diagnosis. Even though the mere mention of the word “cancer” was bound to tie my stomach in knots, there were many other emotions churning inside me as well. As a handful of tears escaped down my cheeks, I was surprised that I felt anything at all. I didn’t expect to feel a thing at this news! I never feel much in situations like this. I liked it that way. I could tell that my husband wanted to comfort me in some way, but he had learned to keep his distance because I would probably push him way and insist that I was okay. I almost scolded myself for my tears. Does that sound harsh?

CRUEL?

I’m not a terrible person. Really, I’m not. Most of those who know me in my daily life would say I’m a good person. Fun to be around, even. But those who know me best know that I struggle to be “close” to those most important to me. They are familiar with my uneasiness when someone I love says “I love you,” and I cannot make those same words cross my lips. They would tell you I am independent and self-sufficient. That I really don’t need anybody. If I’m not a terrible person…

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Nothing. Nothing is “wrong with me.” I did grow up INSECURELY ATTACHED, though, dismissive-avoidant to be precise. When I was a child, my family never knew how to be emotionally close.

In psychology, attachment theory has been around since the late 60s when John Bowlby began studying how infants seek physical and emotional closeness with a primary caregiver – usually their mother. Bowlby, along with his colleague Mary Ainsworth, learned that, when a child is afraid or fearful and attempts find comfort with the mother (or other primary caregiver), the degree of sensitivity shown by the caregiver determines whether the child will have a secure or insecure attachment. According to this theory, there are four attachment styles in children.

Volumes have been written about attachment and children and it is easily researched – there is not space to discuss it here. What many people don’t know, however, is that the attachment styles they developed when they were very young are still affecting them today! The emotional and physical bonds they did or did not experience with those most important to them when they were young are being mirrored in their most important relationships now. This is especially true with couples!

HOW YOU BONDED WITH YOUR MOTHER OR FATHER IS AFFECTING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SPOUSE!

Just like the attachment styles in children, there are 

FOUR ATTACHMENT STYLES IN ADULTS:

Adults who are securely attached are usually more satisfied in their relationships.
  1. Secure Attachment Adults who are securely attached are usually more satisfied in their relationships. They typically feel secure and connected with their partner, but still allow themselves and their spouse “freedom to move” in the relationship. The relationship is usually honest and equal. Partners can love each other while still feeling independent.
  2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Adults who are anxiously attached seem to be desperate to form a bond. In fact, they tend to feel as though they are starving for emotional connection. Instead of feeling “real love” or “real trust” toward their partner, they spend much of their time looking for their partner to “complete them.” They often feel fearful and unsure of the relationship and of the love of the partner. When this happens, they may become clingy, possessive, or demanding. Many times, this behavior only pushes their partner away, confirming the anxiously attached partners fears that they were not ever loved in the first place.
  3. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Adults who develop a dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to emotionally distance themselves from their partners. Sometimes they seek isolation and feel “pseudo-independent.” The avoidantly attached adult leads a more inward life and may easily detach from loved ones, denying their importance. In emotional situations, they are able to “turn off their feelings” and not react.
  4. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Adults with this attachment style are in a constant state of ambivalence – they fear both being too close to others and too distant. Many times, as children, these persons lived in abusive homes. The person or people they needed to go to for love and comfort were the same who hurt them. They learned quickly that those they love cannot be trusted. As adults, those with fearful-avoidant attachment know they need to move toward others to get their emotional needs met, but believe that if they get too close they will be hurt. These adults tend to have unpredictable moods and may even be drawn to abusive relationships.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these attachment styles? Do you recognize your spouse’s style? Are both of your styles working together to sabotage the way you relate with and understand each other?

THE ATTACHMENT STYLE YOU DEVELOPED AS A CHILD DOES NOT HAVE TO DEFINE THE WAY YOU RELATE TO THOSE YOU LOVE TODAY.

Therapy can help you and your spouse learn change the maladaptive attachment patterns you’ve learned throughout your lives. You can work toward forming an “earned secure attachment” and learn new styles of attachment that will help you maintain a fulfilling and loving relationship.