Adult Attachment Part 2: Adult Attachment Style in Dating and Marriage - My Love Code
posted: Oct. 23, 2019.
Welcome back to the Part II of our conversation about adult attachment and intimacy! Last time we talked about the main 3 adult attachment styles: Anxious, Avoidant and Secure. We painted a brief sketch of each attachment style and touched upon how attachment styles shape the way we show up in our intimate relationships. We wrapped up Part I with an assignment to complete a couple of adult attachment style questionnaires online and come back armed with the knowledge of your own attachment style. I hope you are ready!
Today we are going to use the knowledge of our own attachment style to examine how we structure our intimate bonds and what it means about our intimacy needs in a relationship. Let’s start off with a more detailed description of each attachment style. As you are reading the profile of each attachment style, search in your memory for friends and family who might represent each style. Also, try it on for size. Think of either present or past relationship and check which style would best describe your behavior in that relationship. Here we go:
Anxious attachment style:
People with Anxious Attachment Style worry quite a bit about relationships, they crave intimacy and often are preoccupied with the mission of “finding love”. They experience themselves as incomplete without that special someone and often harbor doubt whether they are truly deserving of love.
When dating, they are insecure about themselves and unsure whether their feelings are mutual. They tend to play “games” and use manipulation to stoke their partner’s interest in order to avoid abandonment or rejection. For example, folks with Anxious Attachment Style are likely to be calculated about their texts and phone calls: She texted me back an hour later so I will wait for an hour before replying; I called him last time so this time I will wait for him to call me; If I play hard to get he will want me more, etc.
They are your friends, who constantly talk about matters of the heart. They are either excited about the new date, envisioning their life together, or heartbroken over the potential love interest that did not pan out. On a date they may ask about their date’s exes and prior relationships, gauging whether their date is emotionally available.
If something is bothering them, Anxious types have hard time communicating their upsets directly, expecting you to read their mind. Instead of explaining what is upsetting for them, they will use protest behaviors. Protest behaviors are acting out behaviors such as withdrawing, sulking, keeping score, acting hostile, presenting ultimatums and using manipulations. Protest behaviors in essence are tantrum behaviors to protest the behavior of their partner that was experienced as upsetting. As paradoxical as it might sound, protest behaviors are geared toward engaging their partner and restoring closeness. Think of a more refine version of a child’s tantrum. In the end the kid hopes to be picked up and soothed by the parent.
Since the inner experience of people with Anxious Attachment style is marked by insecurity, they tend to personalize relationship events and assume that it is about them or is their fault. For example, if you had a busy day at work and did not call them during the day, they may interpret it as your diminishing interest in them. They also play out their insecurity through suspecting their partner’s infidelity, being hypervigilant to any interest their partner may experience toward anyone else (a look, a choice of words in a text, Facebook post, etc).
People with Anxious Attachment style see their partner as worthy and deserving of love, however, they do not perceive themselves as such. They experience themselves as needy, undeserving of love and inadequate in some ways. Manipulative and controlling behaviors are merely an attempt to secure the bond with their beloved out of fear of being abandoned and rejected. This fear of abandonment, rejection and of being alone are the reason folks with Anxious Attachment Style go to great lengths to find and secure love at any cost, longing to merge and become one with their beloved.
Although dating or relationship with a partner of Anxious Attachment Style presents its set of challenges, they have the potential of being wonderful spouses. Once their insecurity and anxiety is soothed, they are deeply committed, loving and engaged, fully invested in their beloved and their relationship.
Crave closeness and intimacy
Sensitive to any sign of rejection
Difficult to communicate directly what they need and act out instead
Need to be reassured and feel loved
Has to know where they stand in the relationship
Moved by fear of rejection, abandonment and being alone
Avoidant attachment style: Folks with Avoidant attachment have similar intimacy needs as the rest of us, however, they learned to deny and push aside their need for closeness. Instead they emphasize their need for autonomy, self-sufficiency and independence. Moreover, they feel tangibly uncomfortable in situations with high degree of closeness.
Just like folks with Anxious attachment style use protest behaviors to get their partner’s attention and re-establish closeness, people with Avoidant attachment style use distancing behaviors to re-establish distance in moments where intimacy becomes overwhelming. Distancing behaviors can be criticism and devaluation of the partner, untimely silly jokes, the myth of a legendary ex-partner whose grandeur no one can surpass (“he was the love of my life”), avoidance of conversations about relationship and commitment, withholding of physical and verbal affection, holding on to an idealized version of relationship that does not include the partner, keeping things vague in the relationship etc. Physical space as well as time and schedule can be used to create separateness. For example they might “struggle” to fit you into their schedule, or they might prefer to leave after sex and spend the night at their place, they might walk a bit ahead of you or divide items at home to mine vs yours. They set rigid boundaries and rules in the relationship, being reluctant and unwilling to integrate you into their life.
People with an Avoidant Attachment Style are conflicted about their need for closeness. They view relationships as confining. Many of them meet their need for intimacy through no-strings-attached sexual encounters or brief affairs, avoiding longer and more involved relationships out of fear of entrapment and engulfment. They send mixed signals about their intentions and interest in you, leaving you guessing. When you reach out to get closer, your partner is likely to disrupt your attempt by criticism, change of topic, silence or other strategy designed to restore emotional distance. In case your Avoidant partner initiates closeness, your reciprocation of the intimate gesture might trigger retreat as well. Your partner might feel overwhelmed by the intimate situation and resort to distancing strategies to escape it.
They have hard time talking about their experience and voicing their concerns. They assume it is your responsibility to figure it out. During argument they tend to either find escape routes, such as changing topics or leaving the room, or they explode, making the argument about you.
If Anxious folks see their partner as “Ok” while perceiving themselves as “less than ok,” Avoidant folks present a reversed picture. They tend to see themselves as being “ok,” while their partners are perceived as “less than ok.” They see their partner as needy and dependent, and while dating, suspect that their dates conspire to trap them in the wedlock of matrimony, robbing them of their freedom.
Their tendency to criticize, belittle and devalue you is not just a strategy to keep you at arm’s length and maintain their separateness. It is also an expression of their contempt toward anyone who “needs” them and is willing to sacrifice their freedom for the dependency of the relationship. The criticism and devaluation may not be directed at you, however, listen to how they talk about their prior lovers. If they cheated in their prior relationship and talk about their previous partners with criticism and contempt – it might be a sign you got yourself a lover with an Avoidant attachment Style.
Require breathing room in the relationship
Maintain control of the degree of closeness due to fear of loss of self
Experience conflict between their need for intimacy and freedom
Hot and cold in the relationship, keeping you guessing
Uncomfortable with commitment
Unable to communicate their needs directly - leave you hanging
Moved by fear of engulfment and entrapment
Secure attachment style: People with Secure attachment style are open and engaged, welcoming closeness and intimacy into their life without being preoccupied with it and exasperated in its absence. They feel comfortable with closeness and will communicate their needs directly, leaving no space for games or manipulation. You will not be left guessing and will know how they feel about you.
More so, they will be reliable and consistent, standing by their promises, calling when they said they would and keeping your plans made together. If there is a change in their schedule, they will explain the reason for the change in plans and will make it up to you. They will include you in relationship decisions and make it clear that your wishes and preferences are important to them.
As the relationship progresses they will allow you into their life, making mental, emotional and physical space for you in their own experience. If there is something bothering them, instead of giving you a cold shoulder or pretending all is well, they will tell you what is on their mind in hope to work it out together. During arguments, they will not strive to be right nor will they play the victim. Instead, they will work toward resolution of this particular disagreement and restoration of harmony in the relationship.
People with Secure attachment style are flexible and will work to reach a compromise in the relationship. Commitment does not scare them and they will share with you their hope for the relationship, which will be realistic and will potentially include you. In the moment of intense closeness, such as after sex, they will remain present and connected, letting you know how important you are for them. Intimacy comes easy for them. They see themselves and you as worthy and deserving of love. They see both, themselves and their partner as being “Ok.”
As you have noticed, folks with Secure Attachment are easy to date, connect with and build a relationship together. It does not mean that they are free from other human flaws or personal baggage. It just means that their willingness to get close, their comfort with intimacy, their ability to remain present closeness, their comfort with intimacy and their willingness to engage and commit makes them into great potential lovers and partners.
They welcome closeness
Consistent and reliable
Make your wellbeing their priority
Communicate directly and effectively
Comfortable with commitment
Moved by desire to co-create a future together
Congratulations! We have completed painting the picture of the 3 main Adult Attachment Styles, which determine to a significant degree how we and our lovers show up in our intimate relationships. Now, it is important to remember that each style is a combination of 2 scales: Intimacy-Anxiety and Intimacy-Avoidance. For example, the Avoidant style is high on Avoidance and low on Anxiety, The Anxious style is high on Anxiety and low on Avoidance and Secure style is low on both Avoidance and Anxiety scales (see Part I). In other words, within each Attachment style we have individuals that manifest the traits of their Attachment style to differing degrees. Each of us is unique. The purpose of the Adult Attachment model is to explain important differences in our relational behaviors as well as to open an opportunity for growth and fulfillment in our intimate bonds.
In the next episode we will discuss the origin of our attachment style, as well as the nature of our attraction. Why and how do we fall in love is the focus of our next conversation – stay tuned!