Attachment Styles and How They Affect Our Adult Relationships

By Allison Cho, MA

Are you struggling in your romantic or casual relationships? Maybe you find yourself stuck in the same cycles with your dating partners or with your friends. If you’ve noticed such a pattern in your relationships, then you may benefit from looking into your past–specifically the attachment style that was likely formed in childhood.

The four types of attachment styles are:

  1. Secure
  2. Anxious
  3. Avoidant
  4. Disorganized

The first relationship we have is with our caregiver and this relationship can then affect the relationships we have for the rest of our lives! This is the basis of Attachment Theory. Our attachment styles form our nature as adults and shape how we seek/form/develop relationships with others in adulthood. Sometimes, these can be problematic by affecting our relationships and it can be beneficial to dig deeper into these, find our patterns, and start to make the necessary changes.

What do these attachment styles look like in adult relationships?

Those with a secure attachment may find themselves in healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. You may feel comfortable sharing your emotions and your needs to your partner without any fear of negative consequences, such as anger or abandonment. You may also feel comfortable and completely satisfied even if you do not see your partner everyday and you can even enjoy the times of solitude, as moments of recharging and catching up with friends. You also do not feel the need to check in on your partner multiple times a day and feel secure in your ability to trust each other and to problem solve together when issues arise.

Insecure Attachment Styles:

Those with an anxious attachment style may find themselves in relationships where they are constantly the giver. You may also put your partner or your friends on a pedestal and find yourself going out of your way consistently to give them what you think they want. You may feel like you need to please others out of fear of abandonment or rejection. When others reject you, you can take this very harshly and start to blame yourself and internalize your “failures”. You can also feel uncomfortable being away from your partner/friends and feel the need to check in on them. Without doing so, anxiety may escalate and thoughts and fears of abandonment can start to flood you. The anxiously attached adult is usually not comfortable on their own and may find themselves in relationship after relationship, but never feel fully satisfied.

Those with an avoidant attachment style often find themselves alone and participating in very little social activities and maybe have very few to no romantic connections at all. You may feel you do not need anyone else and enjoy being independent. In relationships, you may never talk about your emotions with others and seem to others to be “closed off”. In romantic relationships, this can cause strife and distance between partners and you can even be confused and not understand why your partner is upset. You may have no close friends and get resistant when others try to get closer to you. You can even be cold and unfriendly to others and find it hard to like or respect others.

Those with a disorganized attachment style may find themselves in volatile relationships, where intermittent explosions can occur, leaving participants feeling exhausted and frustrated. You may feel some inconsistency in your desires and find it difficult to trust others, often jumping from wanting connection and wanting independence. The source of your validation and anxiety can be from the same person. This can be from a desperate and anxiety-rooted need for love paired with a fear of abandonment or fear of getting hurt. The disorganized adult also finds difficulty in managing their own emotional needs as well as communicating them to others.

How to Stop the Cycles

If any of these insecure attachment styles sounds familiar to you, then you may start to make sense of the cycles of relationships you find yourself in from as early as childhood. Attachment styles can affect us in many ways, including depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and adjustment disorders.

It is human nature to want to reach out and have connections with others and it is never too late to cultivate these connections to be healthy and vitalizing sources of support that benefit us rather than cause us harm.

It is important to realize that whatever attachment style you have, it is not your fault. As infants, we need nurturing, we need care, we need love, and we need attention. For example, if we have an anxious attachment, we may not have gotten enough love and attention from our caregiver and thus, as children, felt like we had to work harder and stretch ourselves to get this attention. This introduces the idea of transactional love and as we grow older, we come to believe that we are not lovable or worthy unless we x, y, and z.

Most of the time, it is also not the fault of our caregivers. Most caregivers are doing the best they can with the situations they are dealt. Digging into our attachment styles is not a blame game, it is simply an opportunity to understand yourself more as a first step to instigating change in your life. You have the power to change your attachment style on your own.

You may likely not fit into just one of the four attachment styles. Each person’s unique experience can detail a unique attachment style. But if any of this resonates with you, you can work with a therapist to learn more about your attachment style and start making the changes you need. It is never too late!

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