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How to tell what your partner's attachment style is, and what it means for your relationship.

Once upon a time we were all trying to work out what our ‘love language’ was.

How do we express and receive love, and how do we make sure that fits in with our partner’s language? Do we appreciate gift giving, quality time, physical touch, acts of service or words of affirmation?

But now, love languages have been left in the dust and it’s all about attachment styles. Similar concept, new obsession.

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Here are the four attachment styles, as explained by relationship psychologist Beth Walker:

Secure – “It’s easy for me to get close to others.”

Warm and loving nature, has high self worth and is responsive to a partner’s needs. Is comfortable with both autonomy and in forming close relationships with others, direct communication with no manipulation and leads with cooperative and flexible behaviour in relationships. This person feels content and happy in relationships.

Anxious – preoccupied: “I worry I am not good enough for my partner.”

A sense of self-worth dependent on gaining the approval and acceptance of others, suppresses their needs to please and accommodate their partner. Has a sensitive nervous system and tends to act out when triggered to alleviate anxiety. May withdraw or play games in order to attempt to get needs met. Considered “clingy” and hypervigilant about their partner distancing themselves as it validates abandonment fears and beliefs about not being securely loved.

Dismissing – avoidant: “I prefer not to depend on others or have them depend on me.”

Has overt positive self view and a negative view of others, and denies feelings of subjective distress. Shames and dismisses partner’s needs while shaming and denying their own needs for attachment. Self sufficiency is more important than intimacy, they downplay the importance of close relationships and are usually extremely self-reliant and independent. They’re protective of freedom, often focus on a partner’s flaws to create a mental distance, are hypervigilant about a partner’s attempts to control or limit their autonomy, and have difficulty receiving and honouring their need for love.

Fearful – avoidant – “I want close relationships but I’m scared of being hurt.”

Has characteristics of anxious and avoidant, with a negative view of self and a lack of trust in others. Has a subsequent apprehension about close relationships, anticipates to be hurt from others, feels unworthy of love, uncomfortable with closeness, high levels of distress/ anxiety and a higher risk of social anxiety and depression.

As Bethany explains, these styles are forged in childhood and without realising it, we recreate these old patterns and dynamics in adult relationships.

It’s not a new concept, in fact it was formulated by psychoanalyst John Bowlby in 1958. He believed we, as humans, were biologically pre-programmed from birth to form attachments with others as a way to survive.

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The entrenched theory seems to be having a moment right now because everybody’s discovered they can get their answer with a simple quiz. Bethany also tells Mamamia, she thinks awareness on social media and the rise of mental health awareness in general is also behind the theory’s popularity right now.

“I personally think attachment styles are more important than love languages. Attachment styles gives us a framework for understanding why we connect to each other the way we do,” she explained.

 

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Researchers Dr Phillip Shaver and Dr Cindy Hazan found that 60 per cent of us have a secure attachment, 20 per cent are avoidant and 20 per cent are anxious.

Those with anxiety, depression or relationship problems are often pointed towards this psychological theory to help them get a greater understanding of how and why certain things are happening within their relationships.

Even more interestingly, many psychologists think we can turn to the attachment theory to understand why someone might cheat.

“I believe that people with dismissing/avoidant styles cheat because they are running away from closeness in relationships,” psychologist Hal Shorey wrote in a blog for Psychology Today.

“People with preoccupied/anxious styles cheat because they are running toward closeness in their relationships,” he added.

“I have observed that when an avoidant person feels stuck in an unrewarding relationship, or are feeling smothered by their partner – they start to pick the partner apart in their thoughts. Whether the partner is warm and loving doesn’t change this,” said Shorey.

It could also provide us answers as to why someone might choose to ghost us.

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Typically a trait found in avoidant attachment style, clinical psychologist Dr Rowan Burckhardt explained to the Sydney Morning Herald, “when there is a relationship rupture with their caregivers, some children will scream and yell and cry to try and get their caregiver to come back, and other children will shut down and try and deal with the emotions from the rupture by ignoring the situation.

“But their stress levels are actually the same as those experienced by the child who is yelling.”

 

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Psychotherapist Leah Royden says that attachment styles also affect how we grieve.

Those in the anxious attachment camp tend to have the greatest struggle with death, because Royden says they’re “lacking something that takes the sharp edge off of grief.”

“If we tend towards avoidant attachment, we’re dismissive of needing others at all – which holds its own set of painful struggles, but tends to buffer us somewhat against their immediate absence,” she wrote for Psychology Today.

Basically, by learning our attachment style we can tap into the inner workings of not just our relationships, but our grief and our heartbreak.

Bethany says it is possible to change attachment styles over time, “if we reflect and question our behaviours and increase our tolerance for being alone so we’re not desperate to fill a void.”

Although Bethany also told Mamamia she finds “after about five years in a relationship it generally becomes secure anyway”.

What do you think your attachment style is, and do you think it’s affected your romantic relationships? Let us know in the comments below.

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