Have you ever wondered why your partner reacts so instantly to you? Would you like to be interesting, not angry? Understanding your attachment style, or how you related to your primary caregiver as you grew up, can provide a clue to the immediate, visceral reactions that sometimes occur in your current relationship. Instead of being angry, you can be curious!
Consider the four attachment styles we learned from the groundbreaking work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. In 1949, Bowlby wrote a report on homeless children after the war, which greatly increased our understanding of the ways in which people react at any given time in their basic relationships. Ainsworth continued to improve our knowledge base by experimenting with infants and their different reactions to caregivers and strangers. It’s messy stuff, and our development over time has a lot to do with the results. But these basic styles are true. The first is secure, and then there are three types of insecure attachment: anxious/clinging, anxious/avoidant, and disorganized.
Four attachment styles
The good news is that on average, more than 70% of people have a secure attachment style, where they can maintain a codependent relationship and act without fear of acting out their own ideas/desires, but can rely on their partner for support when needed. The other 3 styles can cause problems when trying to relate to others.
The first insecure style is restless/clinging, which exhibits 15%. This means that the person is unsure of the reliability of the caregiver, usually the mother. After being with a stranger in these experiments, the infant initially sought, then was rejected, reassuring contact. The baby wasn’t sure if the mother would respond reassuringly. It turns into an adult, unsure of whether or not their man will be there for them. Thus, they always desire a relationship, but are too afraid to pursue it and may tend to cling. Often, there may be a history of trauma that exacerbates or causes the effects of this style.
The second insecure style, anxious/avoidant, also had about 15% of the children in these experiments show no interest in the mother. This is because the caregiver is consistently unavailable to meet their needs, so they learn to avoid seeking contact. This can be, for example, people who constantly immerse themselves in video games, or even very successful CEOs who have learned to devote all their efforts to other activities, and can achieve very high levels of achievement even though their relationship skills are very low. One’s trauma history can be influential here as well.
The final style is irregular. Imagine being the child of a parent with bipolar disorder. Having to constantly adjust to different emotional cues as one’s mood swings from highs and lows can be very disorienting. This can result in an adult responding in one way this minute and responding in a completely different way five minutes later – in other words, out of order. This is a lower percentage due to the relative rarity of the conditions.
Not Angry, Curious
It’s easy to see how looking at these attachment styles can affect your relationship. They are a useful lens through which to view how you approach relationships. We don’t get to choose our attachment style any more than we choose our biological parents or primary caregiver. However, increasing your awareness of your style can help you act with more awareness in your choices today.
How are you interested now? Here are some good questions to ask. This is actually two versions of the same question. Ask yourself, “Why does this make me so angry?” or “I wonder why this bothers my partner so much?” Curiosity is a healthier approach to your relationship than anger.
If you need help with this, contact me here. Working through difficult relationship issues takes time. My approach is to help you learn to solve your problems yourself using research on attachment theory to increase your awareness over time and lead you to healthier, interdependent relationships that can deepen as you move through life together.