30 August, 2023

Have you noticed repeating patterns in your relationships?

Maybe you feel insecure and seek a lot of validation from your partner? Or maybe you bolt at the first sign of emotional intimacy?

These behaviours can be signs of your attachment style.

Our attachment style starts taking shape from infancy based on how our primary caregivers (usually parents) meet our needs. This forms the foundations for how we perceive and act in relationships into adulthood.

Identifying your attachment style can help you understand your behaviour in relationships and how you relate to your partner. It can also help you recognise your vulnerabilities to form healthier, more secure bonds.

We explore the attachment styles, how they’re formed, and how they can show up in relationships.


Attachment Theory

Pioneered by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1950s, your attachment style describes the emotional connection you formed as an infant with your primary caregiver.

According to attachment theory, the quality of the bonding you experienced during this first relationship often determines how well you relate to other people and respond to intimacy throughout the rest of your life.

Your attachment style can show up in distinct behaviours in your relationship with your romantic partner – and even in how you parent your own children.

The four types of attachment styles are:

  • Secure
  • Avoidant (also known as dismissive, or anxious-avoidant in children)
  • Anxious (also known as preoccupied, or anxious-ambivalent in children)
  • Disorganised (also known as fearful-avoidant in children).

Avoidant, anxious, and disorganised are considered insecure attachment styles.

Children with an insecure attachment style can have difficulty forming healthy relationships as adults. This may be because their experiences have taught them to believe that other people are unreliable or untrustworthy.

Those who have a secure attachment style tend to find relationships easier to navigate, as they learnt early on that it’s safe to rely on other people.


Secure Attachment

A secure attachment style generally develops in children whose needs are met by responsive and loving caregivers. They’ve learnt it’s safe to trust others and to accept and give love.

People with a secure attachment style feel safe, secure, and stable in their close relationships. Here are some ways it might show up:

  • You don’t rely on your partner alone for happiness
  • You’re comfortable expressing your feelings and needs
  • You have good self-esteem and are confident being yourself
  • You’re resilient when faced with disappointment in relationships
  • You don’t feel overly anxious when you’re apart from your partner
  • You’re able to be self-reliant as well as offer support when your partner needs it
  • You’re able to regulate your emotions and seek healthy ways to manage conflict.


Avoidant Attachment

An avoidant attachment style forms when an infant or child’s caregiver doesn’t show care or responsiveness. This can cause the child to become emotionally distant from their caregiver and learn that they can’t rely on others, often ‘parenting’ themselves.

Some ways an avoidant attachment style can show up in a relationship include:

  • You’re self-sufficient and independent
  • You prefer casual, short-term relationships
  • You fear intimacy and feel ‘suffocated’ in relationships
  • You suppress your feelings to avoid emotional closeness
  • Your partner may accuse you of being distant and closed off
  • The ‘needier’ your partner becomes, the more you withdraw
  • You get uncomfortable when your partner expresses their emotions.


Anxious Attachment

An anxious attachment style generally develops when a child depends on an unreliable and inconsistent caregiver. They learn that their caregiver may or may not come through when needed, leading to trust issues and fear of abandonment.

Here are some ways it can manifest in relationships:

  • You have a negative self-image
  • You have a fear of abandonment
  • You often feel anxious and insecure
  • You find it hard to trust your partner
  • You crave approval, attention, and validation
  • You can find it difficult to regulate your emotions
  • Your partner may accuse you of being too clingy or needy
  • You often feel jealous and anxious when you’re apart from your partner
  • Your self-worth relies on how you feel you’re being treated by your partner.


Disorganised Attachment

A disorganised attachment style is formed when a caregiver consistently fails to meet their child’s needs, creating a state of fear and stress in the child through anger and/or neglect. The child may replicate these abusive patterns in their adult relationships.

Some ways a disorganised attachment style can show up in a relationship include:

  • You’re afraid of getting hurt
  • You don’t feel worthy of love
  • You may be selfish and controlling in relationships
  • You have trouble trusting and relying on your partner
  • You want to be in the relationship, but you are fearful about it
  • Your partner may accuse you of not taking responsibility for your actions
  • You find it hard to regulate your emotions, which can lead to explosive and abusive behaviours
  • You find intimate relationships confusing, alternating between feelings of love and hate for your partner.


Seeking Support

Everyone deserves a healthy, respectful relationship where they feel safe and loved.

If you’re interested in learning more about your attachment style and how to address behaviours to maintain healthier, more secure relationships, speaking to a professional counsellor can help.

Our experienced counsellors can help you explore your concerns and find healthy ways to cope and communicate with your partner.

Call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment or to learn more about our counselling services, including relationship counselling.

In a relationship, you have the power to influence your partner in a positive or negative way. Explore our tips to bring out the best in your partner.