Man And Woman Laying Down Head To Head Holding Hands - Why Attachment Styles Matter to Your Relationship - Sandra Harewood Counselling

Why Attachment Styles Matter To Your Relationship

Have you ever wondered why your partner always wants to escape when you argue? 

Or perhaps that is why you always seem to be trying to get them to stay in the room and make things better.

It might all be down to your attachment styles.

Your attachment style matters because it shapes how you move towards and stay connected to a significant intimate partner. Knowing more about your attachment style gives you an understanding of who you are and how you show up in relationships and, importantly, a better understanding of your partner.

The human attachment system is an inherent biological and natural process that relates to everything we do in life, especially when it comes to our relationships with others. – Dr. Diane Poole Heller

In our adult intimate relationships, particularly when experiencing any imbalance in power dynamics, couples can struggle to understand their differences. Sometimes these differences are simply a matter of biology.

Early Childhood Attachment

Above all, we all need to feel attached. It’s part of our humanness. Life begins in the womb with you connected to your mother by the umbilical cord.

Your attachment story begins here and takes shape in the following childhood years, when attachment styles develop and evolve as a matter of necessity. The child must have its basic needs for affection, attention, food, safety and protection, among other things, met. Crying is how we alert our caregivers to our needs. 

In a secure attachment, grown-ups and children are attuned to or in rhyme with one another. This connection provides the foundation for the healthiness of their relationship going forward. 

Those buried memories of how your primary caregiver(s) responded to you and your needs determine how you relate to your partner. Because how safe and secure you feel in adult relationships in some way reflects how safe and secure you felt as a child. 

Attachment in your marriage closely relates to how you navigate your relationship and manage its highs and lows. With that in mind, awareness of your attachment style is important. It impacts how you communicate, repair and recover from times of hurt and develop and maintain intimacy.

You may not be consciously aware of them, but your feelings as a child remain with you into adulthood.

Black couple with secure attachment style and relationship holding hands, attachment styles matter -Sandra Harewood

Securely attached couples make up well. They seek to instigate repair after a disagreement and accept repair attempts.

4 Types of Attachment Styles

There are four main attachment styles:

  1. Secure
  2. Avoidant
  3. Ambivalent (Anxious) 
  4. Disorganised

Research has shown that most people, nearly 60%, have a secure attachment style.

But what does that mean?  

For the most part, adults with a secure attachment style develop strong emotional bonds, have lasting and trusting relationships, are comfortable sharing feelings and are not anxious about the relationship. 

We tend to be familiar with one style based on our childhood experiences. But you can find yourself adopting the characteristics of one of the other styles, depending on your partner’s style. 

Please Don’t Leave Me

Picture this. You’ve had a great evening out. All of a sudden, a careless remark made leads to an unexpected argument with your partner. Here are some common reactions from each attachment style.

Secure Attachment Styles:

You’re hurt, and you can see your partner is unhappy too. So you decide to go home. You’re still hurt, but you trust that it’s not that big a problem. You know that you have a good relationship. And like all relationships, yours will have its ups and downs from time to time.

The next day, you talk about it.  You tell your partner how you feel about what was said, and you, in turn, listen to what they have to say. You work it out, make amends and get on with your day.  

Avoidant Attachment Styles:

You become guarded close down, and have nothing more to say. You want space. Because the situation feels overwhelming, you’re beginning to feel trapped. Consequently, the energy drains from your body, and you can’t think. You might leave your partner sitting in the restaurant. If you decide to say, you’re silent. 

The following evening you’re still annoyed. Although part of you wants to, you think twice about reaching out to your partner, and you’ll probably not apologise. If your partner attempts to talk to you, you’re dismissive. 

Ambivalent Attachment Styles:

You go into panic mode. Suddenly, you’re scared that the argument means it’s the end; he will leave you.  

You start talking, perhaps too much, trying to stop your partner from leaving, even though they’ve told you they’re just popping outside for two minutes for fresh air. Then you start imagining the worse, thinking he’s checking his ex’s social media profile, and you’re tempted to follow him outside.

You only begin to feel calm when your partner reassures you and tells you everything is okay.

Disorganised Attachment Styles:

You can’t move. Simultaneously you feel angry. You should have known not to trust him. Just before the remark, you noticed a change in his facial expression, and you had a gut feeling the evening wouldn’t turn out well. You can feel yourself checking out and can’t hear what he is saying anymore.

Characteristics of Attachment Styles

John Bowlby, an early pioneer of attachment theory, believed that early experiences in childhood influence our development and behaviour later in life.

While your attachment style is primarily established through your relationship with your parent or another significant childhood caregiver, other factors such as trauma, socioeconomic, and environmental factors have a role.

So what do these attachment styles look like? See what resonates with you.

Secure Attachment Styles

  • You’re comfortable alone or with others.
  • You know what it is like to depend on someone but can also care for yourself. This is because you had a warm, secure, and consistent relationship with your caregivers.
  • For secure adults, mutuality in a relationship is essential.
  • In adult relationships, a secure person offers support when their partner feels distressed and reaches out to their partner for comfort when they feel troubled.
  • A secure relationship tends to be honest, open, and equal, with both people feeling independent yet loving towards each other.

Avoidant Attachment Styles:

  • Your parents might not have been that relational, showing little care or nurturing. One parent might have had a self-esteem problem or cared about themselves and what other people thought over and above them
  • For you, love means setting aside your needs for that of the caregiver.
  • You struggle with intimacy because you are petrified of showing your authentic self. Consequently, you can feel trapped if your partner gets too close.
  • Paradoxically, you have a real fear of being abandoned. This anxiety can result in turbulent relationships.

Ambivalent Attachment Styles:

  • You had some experience of a warm and secure connection with caregivers; the problem is that it needed to be more consistent and predictable. Sometimes they focused on themselves and ignored you. At other times you were the centre of attention. This varied experience led to confusion; you couldn’t rely on them to meet your needs.
  • You tend to be insecure in relationships, never entirely trusting your partner’s feelings towards you.
  • You can act in ways which only exacerbate the problem, e.g. becoming clingy, jealous or possessive.

Disorganised Attachment Styles:

  • Your home environment felt unsafe.
  • You may have experienced significant trauma or traumatic experiences as a child.
  • You find it difficult to concentrate or think on a timeline of events in your past.
  • You have learnt to be vigilant and notice mood shifts in others.
An invitation card is being held by two women - one black and one white. Why attachment styles matter in your relationship - Sandra Harewood

Attachment styles influence the way we bond and interact with romantic partners.

Why Your Attachment Styles Matter

It’s important to realise that early attachment styles are not an exact match for your adult romantic attachment. But studies show that those early attachment styles help predict patterns of behaviour in adulthood. As a result, you can be curious about how and why you and your partner relate to each other.

Curiosity leads to understanding. In truth, we all want to be understood. With this in mind, understanding your attachment style also gives you the platform for change and creating a more positive experience.

We now know from neuroscience about the brain’s neuroplasticity. Our brains are hardwired for healing. Unquestionably that means you have the capacity as an adult to create new neural pathways, change habitual patterns and focus on stepping into the healthy, secure adult relationship you want and deserve.

Over To You

How does your attachment style impact your relationship?

If you’re stuck and want to shift from blaming to taking responsibility for your life, get in touch for a clarity session. I can help.


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© Sandra Harewood 2023

About Sandra

Sandra Harewood is a couples counsellor and therapeutic relationship coach who specialises in working with women and couples stuck at a crossroads in their marriage.

Sandra helps them to make a conscious decision to commit to fixing the relationship or let it go without regret. Relationships are precious; this is your chance to begin a new journey and experience the connection and intimacy you most deeply desire.