Attachment styles in relationships: are you anxious, avoidant, dismissive or secure?

Delve into the four attachment styles and see how they affect your relationships

multiracial couple, embracing and holding hands - stock photo
(Image credit: Getty)

If you've already tried all of the best dating apps around and still seem to be unlucky in love, always having trouble finding and keeping relationships, there's a psychological theory that might help you understand why. It's called attachment theory. 

It says there are four unique attachment styles, which are determined in childhood and based on the care you receive from your parents. Attachment theory was developed by British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who was primarily focused on understanding the emotions experienced by infants when separated from their parents. However, it wasn't until the 1980s that researchers used Bowlby's theory in the context of adult relationships. 

As an adult, your attachment style influences everything from the way you choose a partner to how you communicate with them and the overall quality of your relationships. 

Understanding your attachment style can help you understand the underlying issues in your love life, which in turn can help you change your mindset. It's important to note that most people have a varying combination of the four styles and that it's always possible to take positive steps toward healthier, more productive relationships.

Attachment styles: Which one sounds most like you?

Anxious

When you're dating someone, do you find yourself obsessing over the fear that they'll leave you, cheat on you, or reject you? Do you worry that your partner isn't as invested in the relationship as you are? If an issue arises, do you blame yourself first and overanalyze what you possibly could have done wrong until your thoughts spiral out of control? Do you have an intense fear of being alone? You may have an anxious attachment style. 

People with this type of attachment often feel that their partner is the "better half," and they are overly concerned with the other person's state of mind. Even in a strong, committed relationship, fear of abandonment is always lurking in the back of their mind. They can be seen as clingy, needy, jealous and possessive, continually looking for validation, approval, support and responsiveness from their partner. 

People with an anxious attachment style will also often ignore signs of trouble because they need to see the relationship as stable, even when things are rocky. When they're trying to understand their partner's intentions, words or actions, they're unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt and automatically jump to negative conclusions.  

Dismissive

Do you find it difficult to get close to a romantic partner? Are you fiercely independent and self-sufficient? Do you tend to feel smothered in a relationship? Do you push people away when they get too close? Do you have a lot of acquaintances, but not many close friends? These are all signs of a dismissive attachment style

People with this type of attachment keep people at arm's length and are often mistrusting when it comes to depending on others. They have a deep fear of getting too close, avoiding real intimacy and emotional vulnerability. 

Many people with the dismissive attachment style prefer the single life and think they don't need a relationship to feel complete. They often come off as overly focused on themselves, with things like work, social life, hobbies and travel taking priority over the relationship. Their partner usually isn't involved in these activities, and if they are, it's minimal. 

They can be emotionally distant, aloof, and they can detach easily. When they have a heated argument with their partner, they can turn off their emotion like flipping a switch, preferring to hide and suppress their true feelings.  

Young man and woman, standing face to face, pensive expressions - stock photo

(Image credit: Getty)

Fearful

Think about your past relationships. Were they full of drama, with lots of ups and downs? Were you always looking for flaws in your partner, or looking for things that could go wrong? Were you afraid of being too intimate, but at the same time worried about being too distant? Did the timing always seem to be off? When you felt rejected, did you cling to your partner, but then feel trapped when they got too close? You might have a fearful or disorganized attachment style

This type of attachment is a combination of the anxious and dismissive styles. Many with a fearful attachment live in a state of constant ambivalence, and they have a lot of inner conflicts. They want a close and intimate relationship, but at the same time, they have trouble trusting and relying on others. Despite their desire for love, they resist intimacy and push people away when they get too close because they're afraid of getting hurt. The person they want to run to for protection is also the person they're most fearful of. 

Their moods tend to be unpredictable, with a lot of emotional highs and lows. One minute, they'll be clingy and dependent on their partner, the next they'll be dismissive and apathetic.  

Secure

If you thrive in your relationships and feel just as comfortable alone as you do with a partner, you likely have a secure attachment style. This is the healthiest of attachment styles, with the ability to give and accept love, intimacy and vulnerability.

People with the secure attachment style feel connected to their partner, but are perfectly fine when either is off doing their own thing. They can handle conflict with maturity, responding in a constructive, respectful way rather than attacking or being overly defensive. Their relationships are open, honest, and equal, and they're completely comfortable with mutual dependency. 

There's a healthy balance of being available to offer support and the ability to lean on their partner for comfort when they need it. They're open and in tune with their feelings, and find it easy to trust their partner. When there's a breakup, people with secure attachment are resilient—grieving, learning, then moving on.  

Still unsure which style you identify with? Try taking an online quiz to determine your attachment style. Happy dating!

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