What is attachment and why is it important in relationships?

If you’ve been struggling with relationships, there may be a few reasons why. Getting to know what attachment means is an important starting point if you’re looking to find a safe and long-lasting relationship. As you read… remember that although your attachment style is typically stable, it can be plastic. It can change for the better!

Attachment theory is focused on relationships and how we bond to one another. Everyone has an attachment system, and this system develops throughout your life, beginning at an early age with how your needs were met by your primary caregivers. This continues to develop throughout your life and generally falls into two categories. A secure or insecure attachment system. Insecure attachment can further be broken up into either an anxious or avoidant attachment style. If you are having a hard time in relationships, you may be insecurely attaching to others.

So, what do each of these three styles look like?

A secure attachment is a comfortable relationship style that is consistent and trustworthy. People with secure attachment often have little drama in relationships. Secure attachment doesn’t typically get “riled up” or “shut down” the way an insecure attachment style might. Effective, assertive communication is the pinnacle of moving towards a secure attachment.

Anxious attachment is classified as living in the sixth sense of danger. If you have an anxious attachment style you may preoccupied with your partners behaviour, feel insecure or uncertain of your own needs. You likely begin using protest behaviours such as picking fights, threatening to leave, or having inconsistent expectations of your partner. When you use protest behaviour you continue the cycle of anxiety, because you never know whether your partner is responding to your needs or your protest behaviours. Of the clients I work with, anxious attachment seems to be the most common I see. So, remember you’re not alone.

Avoidant attachment can be categorized as keeping love at an arm’s length. You may feel emotionally unavailable, shut down in conflict or avoid deep connections altogether.

Now that you know some of the basics… how can you move from an insecure attachment style to a secure one?

Becoming emotionally brave by figuring out what your needs are in a relationship is the first step. Focus on your needs by using effective communication with others in a very specific way. For example: “I want __”, “I need __” and “I feel __”. Learning to be non-apologetic for your needs, and assertive with them takes some learning and practice. Understanding how to not place blame on your partner and avoid accusations by centering communication around your needs is equally important. Once you learn what you need in a relationship, you become better able to set boundaries for yourself and can then filter out partners who can or can’t meet your needs. This will save you from wasting time or energy on relationships that don’t serve a purpose for you.

If you want to learn more about attachment theory and how your attachment style may have developed reach out to myself (or another professional) who can help you with this in the context of therapy. There are several resources you can find outside of counselling as well, any of which I am happy to recommend to anyone reading!

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