If you’re unfamiliar with attachment styles, it refers to the way you relate to someone in a relationship—essentially, the blueprint for relationships that you learned as you were growing up. The way you were raised affects your adult relationships—a lot.
Your attachment style was taught to you from a very young age by your primary caregivers—and for most of us, for a number of years. The way your family dynamics worked plays a big part in the way your adult relationships work even if you don’t realize it.
So it’s important to take a look at a few things to determine your attachment style and see—just what does it mean for you now?
Main Attachment Style One: Avoidant
Thinking about your childhood, what was the environment like? If your family shamed you, neglected you, told you you were “wrong” all the time…or maybe they were controlling and always in your space…you probably learned to fend for yourself. That means you fall into the avoidant attachment style category.
Most likely, relationships in your family weren’t valued or seen as a resource for needs, so you learned early on not to rely on them. If something stressful or problematic happened, it probably never got dealt with or fixed.
As an adult, you most likely find yourself withdrawing when you and your partner have a fight or if things get stressful. You retreat in order to protect yourself and aren’t thinking of the other person. Psychotherapist Stan Tatkin calls this style the “island,” the person who pulls away and wants distance. You probably feel like you don’t need anyone else, even though you do, and you tell yourself you’re good alone.
Main Attachment Style Two: Ambivalent
If you had a caregiver who was inconsistent—present and available sometimes and not others—you probably felt insecure and anxious. This attachment style is called the ambivalent style, the one Dr. Tatkin calls the “wave” style, because you’re up and down like a wave. When your caregiver was there, you were okay. But you knew at some point they would vanish again.
As an adult, you may have a fear of abandonment and feel anxious if your partner pulls away when you want to talk. You probably feel secure when your partner is available, but the moment they pull away, you worry that they’ll leave or that something is really wrong.
Here’s a short video on attachment style in relationships:
Notice Your Style
If you’re not sure of your style, think about your gut instinct when you and your partner fight. Is it to talk it out or to run away? Do you seek or avoid?
Typically, we attract a partner who is the opposite of us, so it should be pretty easy to determine which style each of you has adopted. It can be pretty frustrating if you aren’t aware of how to deal with it in your relationship. Not having the tools and skills to navigate it, in fact, can sabotage what otherwise is a good relationship.
But once you determine your style and your partner’s, that’s the first step to figuring out how to work through the differences as a team. When you’re aware of the dynamic, it’s important not to expect your partner to simply reverse the style that’s been present and instinctual to them for years. Change can happen—on both individuals’ parts—but it’s slow and steady, not a sprint. When you’re both willing to learn and work together, you can function and communicate successfully regardless of your contradictory styles.
If you’d like to learn more about your relationship now, take this free test.