According to attachment theory, established by 1960’s relationship experts John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, children and caregivers develop relationships that inform children’s adult relationships later in life.

Essentially, adults have four general attachment styles that shape interaction with a partner. The first attachment type is simply: “secure.” The other three fall into the category of “insecure” and are described as follows:

  • anxious–preoccupied
  • dismissive–avoidant
  • fearful–avoidant

Let’s break them down.

1. Secure

As you might expect, secure attachments lead to secure relationships. This style is often based on a childhood in which your parents were stable. As a child, you felt safe to explore knowing you had a secure base. A similar vibe occurs when you feel safe and connected with your partner.

2. Anxious–Preoccupied

Due to an unstable past, real trust is replaced by fantasy feelings. You are looking to be rescued. You feel incomplete and believe a partner can change that. The issue takes form when clinging to a partner ends up pushing them away.

3. Dismissive–Avoidant

You are (usually) physically present. But you are almost always emotionally distant. You’ve learned to seek independence. Your default setting is to parent yourself. As a result, you may appear too self-centered to fully connect.

4. Fearful–Avoidant

This style results in lots of mixed messages. You want to be close, but not too close. You need independence but fear distance. The anxiety leads to unpredictable emotional mood swings. Adding to this is the lack of any plan or strategy for getting your needs met.

We’re taught many myths about relationships—from fairy tales to romantic comedies. In reality, situations vary and change often. Therefore, we must do the hard work to understand our own behavior.

8 Clear Ways Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationships

Secure

  1. You work like a team

With security as the root, trust and respect blossom. You’re a team and that means mutual support. Competition is not an issue. You both celebrate when one achieves a victory. You work together to tackle struggles.

  1. Shared independence

You don’t fear or challenge your partner’s independence. You see such freedom as attractive. It’s something to admire, in your partner and in yourself.

Anxious–Preoccupied

  1. Clinging behavior

“Needy” is not a positive label. No one wants to feel trapped. However, anxiety can make this our default style of interaction.

  1. Paranoia

The anxious-preoccupied attachment style creates paranoia. You never feel safe or secure. We might even miss signals or positive opportunities. Instead, we project our fears and create issues when none exist.

Dismissive–Avoidant

  1. Living in delusion

It’s an illusion to see yourself as an island. It may feel safe at times. In reality, it’s a recipe for relationship problems.

  1. You often shut down

You often find yourself shutting down rather than facing your feelings. This sets up reactions like:

  • Passive-aggression
  • Silent treatment
  • Denial of root causes

Fearful–Avoidant

  1. “Drama”

Emotional swings are common to fearful-avoidant attachment style. This results in what we often call “drama.” We’ve all known that couple. One day, they’re snuggling. The next day, it’s a screaming match.

  1. Increased chance of abuse

Domestic abuse is more common than we’d like to admit. In many cases, the fearful-avoidant attachment style is present. The abuser keeps his partner guessing. The wrong guess, of course, often result in a violent reaction.

How can your attachment style be addressed and/or changed?

As you may have noticed, we don’t always fit neatly under one label. In addition, our attachment style can vary. It can be different for each relationship. This reality can be good news. The flexibility means we can, and often do, change.

An excellent first step is to talk with a therapist. Together, you will examine past experiences that shape present patterns. Another option? You and the partner with whom you’re “attached” can try couples counseling to reach productive solutions.