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Your attachment style and your relationship

All of us develop an attachment style in our earliest years. This style sets the tone for how we will build our own relationships –with romantic partners, with friends, and even with professional colleagues. 

By better understanding your own attachment style, you can better understand yourself and how you relate to the most important people in your life. People with insecure attachment styles may struggle with trust, vulnerability, and communication in relationships.

Key points

  • Attachment style developed in your past affects your present.
  • By recognizing your attachment style, you can gain insights into your own behavior.
  • Your attachment style can change over time.
  • You can learn to trust and nurture healthier relationships.

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Secure and insecure attachment styles

All infants are totally dependent on their parents or other primary caregiver for physical needs (food, shelter, warmth, and clothing) and emotional needs (comfort, affection, and stimulation). When those needs are met reliably, the infant feels loved and loveable – and develops into an adult with a secure attachment style that is able to support healthy adult relationships. They grow up with a “template” for what a nurturing relationship looks like and are able to implement that template with friends and romantic partners.

When the needs of the infant are not met or are met erratically, the child may develop an insecure attachment style. Instead of a template for healthy relationships, they grow into adults who have difficulty forming and maintaining nourishing adult bonds. 

Overly dependent on validation. May feel insecure, clingy, or jealous.
May struggle to express their emotions or needs.
Comfortable communicating needs and with closeness.
Strong desire for intimacy and afraid of being vulnerable.
Interactive Infographic: the four attachment styles
Interactive Inforgraphic. Hover over ? to get more information about each type of attachment style

What are the four different types of attachment styles?

An attachment style refers to the behavioral and thought patterns developed in early childhood or throughout one’s childhood and life experiences, that influence how adults form and maintain relationships.

Avoidant-fearful attachment style

People with a fearful-avoidant attachment style may:

  • Have a strong desire for intimacy and connection.
  • Feel afraid of getting too close or being vulnerable with their partner.
  • Experience conflicting emotions and struggle with trust in their relationships.

Anxious attachment style

People with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style are often:

  • Overly dependent on their partner for validation and may feel insecure or anxious when their partner is not available.
  • In need of constant reassurance.
  • Clingy or jealous in their relationships.

Avoidant-dismissive attachment style

People with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style often:

  • Value independence and self-sufficiency over intimacy and connection.
  • Come across as emotionally distant or detached.
  • Struggle to express their emotions or needs to their partner.

Secure attachment style

People with a secure attachment style tend to:

  • Feel comfortable with intimacy.
  • Are able to balance their need for independence with their need for connection.
  • Are able to communicate openly and honestly with their partner.
  • Are generally trusting and supportive in their relationships

Your attachment style can change over time

Research has shown that a person with an anxious or avoidant attachment style who is in a long-term relationship with a person who has a secure attachment style can evolve over time. 

Therapy can also help you shift your attachment style. You can learn new ways to trust in a relationship. You can learn how to nurture healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

Looking for help?

If you think that your relationship difficulties can be traced back to your Attachment Style, reach out to a therapist who understands attachment theory for professional help.

More reading

Arriaga, X. B., Kumashiro, M., Simpson, J. A., & Overall, N. C. (2018). Revising Working Models Across Time: Relationship Situations That Enhance Attachment Security. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 22(1), 71–96.

Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2010). Attached: the new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find-and keep-love. Penguin.