Attachment Styles in Relationships

The Attachment Style is the emotional bond you developed from a young age with your primary caregivers, fast forward – these experiences influence how you relate, engage and respond to others and in particular with your partner. The 4 attachment styles (derived from psychologist John Bowlby) are:

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

Have you noticed repeated patterns
in your love life?

Chances are, you’ve done more than your fair share of repeats in the way you communicate or don’t, the way you emotionally connect or not and the way you handle conflict (the fights, the silent treatment and ‘F**k You’s).  All these can become heightened emotionally and physically in a couples relationship.  Any unhealthy  patterns, or unresolved past issues (even from childhood) or previous adult relationships, can influence the way you connect with your partner.  Often these link into your underlying attachment styles.

Attachment Styles explained …

As an infant: if when you reached out for closeness from your caregivers as an infant, but was met with a distant mannerism, emotional unavailability and harsh judgement, you may have learned to refrain from using certain emotions and more likely to have an avoidant attachment. 

As an Adult:  this appears as an independent person who doesn’t feel the strong need to connect with others or their partner on a deeper level.  They may feel more comfortable having casual relationships or flings with others who also keep their emotions at a distance.

As an infant:  If you experienced unreliable emotional communication during infancy where your caregivers were unable to give you consistent comfort and respond to your needs, you’re more likely to have an anxious attachment. 

As an Adult:  this appears as having difficulty understanding their own emotions let alone their partners and limiting their capacity to maintain a stable relationship.  They may shy away from intimacy, may become clingy or fearful in the relationship.

As an infant:  if your caregivers had erratic and bizarre behaviour and were unable to give you stable emotional responses to your needs, you’re more likely to have a disorganised attachment. 

As an Adult:  this appears as trying to self-soothe or check out of any heightened emotions, or that may be perceived as threatening and unsafe.   The coping ways to self-soothe and emotional checking out may turn into self-sabotage, with use of substance abuse or destructive behaviour within intimate relationships.

As an Infant: If your primary caregivers made you feel safe, accepted and comforted as an infant and were able to respond to your emotional and physical needs, you’re more likely to have developed a secure attachment. 

As an Adult:  this appears as self-confidence, the ability to communicate your needs, ability to manage conflict in a healthy way, respond to intimacy and handle relationship challenges.

So how do I recognise my Attachment Styles in the relationship with my partner?   

Here are some examples…


‘I don’t have to say or show that I love you, you should know by now’

‘Sometimes I don’t know how to explain what I feel, so I hold back’

‘You’re too needy’

Avoidant partners tend to want to be independent, self-sufficient, strong, don’t want to depend on others and don’t need support from their partner or anyone else.   They tend to hide or suppress their feelings when faced with an emotionally challenged situation.  What may come across as them being emotional unavailable, is often the opposite and choose to not show or talk about it – they may possibly not understand their own emotions because they weren’t shown.



‘Please don’t leave, I’ll do anything’

‘I can’t handle being alone’

‘I need your reassurance to know we’re okay’

Anxious partners operate from a high level of anxiety around being with or without their partner, seeking their approval and support from them, when they’re with them or not.  They tend to hold their partner up on a pedestal whilst they themselves have low confidence and self-worth.  If they lack the support and intimacy from a partner, it can lead them becoming more clinging or demanding, almost desperate for love.


‘I’m confused about what I’m feeling’

‘I feel angry and scared at the same time’

‘Go away!  Come back!’

Disorganised partners operate from a place of fear as they’ve learned to connect through chaos and unpredictability of love and affection, sometimes they will create drama just so they feel normal within their disorganised way of connecting.  They want to feel settled and at ease in being close to their partner, but struggle at the same time as they themselves try to work through what they’re feeling.



‘I feel so hurt, but I’ll get through it’

‘Help me understand what’s t happening for you’

‘Let’s talk’

Secure partners operate from a place of honesty, tolerance and emotional closeness.  They thrive in being within a close relationship but also don’t fear being on their own either.  They don’t depend on approval from their partner, rather they have a self-acceptance and positive view of themselves and others.


I’m a bit of all 4 Attachment Styles!
Now what?…

Generally people can be a combination of different attachment styles, depending on what you’ve experienced in life, relationships you’ve had, current relationships and the insights you’ve learned about yourself and your partner.  However in times of crisis, you may go back to a default pattern, even if it’s a dysfunctional one, because it’s what you know and what you’re used to.  When couples are in crisis, they may find themselves re-assessing their relationship and may realise ‘this just doesn’t feel right’ – and this can open up some pretty big changes for them both.


Benefits of understanding your Attachment Style in relationships

By understanding your attachment style, you’re able to learn how to better connect with your partner to a more secure, accepting and compassionate way – when both partners are able to connect in this way, they thrive in a healthier and happier bond.


There’s hope!

So after reading this you may have identified your attachment styles and how you connect with your partner.  Are you wanting to make some changes for the better for you and your partner?  Remember, things won’t change until things change.  Nothing is permanent if you’re willing to make the changes towards a secure relationship with your partner. 


How I work with couples towards a more secure and happy relationship

Part of the process in working with couples is exploring their attachment styles – by gaining a deeper understanding of their patterns, they come to terms with underlying issues, learn how to communicate truthfully and safely and learn to handle conflict in a more empathic and constructive way.  This process takes courage and time, towards strengthening their sense of self and their close relationship bond.

If you’re seeking counselling with your partner or for yourself, click here to book your Couples or Individual Counselling session.


Where you can learn more about Attachment Theory

‘Attached:  The New Science of Adult Attachment and how it can help you find – and keep – Love’ by Amir Levine, MD and Rachel, S.f. Heller, MA.

‘Attachment Theory in Practice’ by Susan M. Johnson


Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol I. Attachment (1st and 2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P.R. (2007). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Guilford Press.

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