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According to attachment theory, established by 1960’s relationship experts John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, children and their primary 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
  • avoidant
  • disorganized

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 present, consistent, protective, safe and tuned into your emotional states and needs.  As a child, you felt safe to explore knowing you had a secure base. A similar feeling occurs when you feel safe and connected with your partner.

2. Anxious

Due to caregivers who were inconsistent and intrusive, you have a hard time trusting in relationship. You expect the worst from your partner. You feel like you will be abandoned at some point.  Constantly trying to please, you end up over-focusing on your lover and losing yourself.  Your giving has strings attached-you hope it will make them stay.  The issue takes form when clinging to a partner ends up pushing them away.

3. Avoidant

You are (usually) physically present. But you are almost always emotionally distant. You downplay the importance of relationships in life and have learned to be super independent. Your default setting is to parent yourself. As a result, you may appear too self-centered or independent to fully connect.  This attachment adaptation results when parents were absent emotionally or distant.  They were unable to attune to you emotionally or left you alone a lot.

4. Disorganized

Your childhood home environment was scary, unpredictable and chaotic.  The parents you looked to love and protect you were also the source of your fear.  You did the best you could to get your needs met, but you never knew what you would get.  As as an adult, you long to be close, but intimacy feels dangerous. You long for independence but fear abandonment.  You may experience unpredictable emotional mood swings. Added to this is the inability to know or ask for what you need.

We’re fed many myths about relationships—from fairy tales to romantic comedies. In reality, situations vary and change often.  If you recognize yourself in any of the insecure styles that are listed, it is important to both be compassionate with yourself and to realize that with a clear intention and some work you can change.

8 Clear Ways Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationships


  1. You work like a team

With security as the root, trust and respect blossom. You’re a team and that means mutual support and mutual respect. 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.  And, you also enjoy the closeness when you are together.


  1. Clinging behavior

“Needy” is not a positive label. No one wants to feel trapped. However, anxiety rooted in childhood or a painful earlier relationship can make this our default style of interaction.

  1. Paranoia

The anxious attachment style leaves you feeling as if you are constantly wanting but never having enough. 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.


  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
  • Cutting off a relationship suddenly when it starts to deepen
  • Denial of root causes


  1. “Drama”

Emotional swings are common to disorganized 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 disorganized 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 really 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 move from insecure to secure attachment.

An excellent first step is talk with a therapist.  Together, you will examine past experiences that shape present patterns. Compassion and understanding are key here.  As the therapist provides experiences designed to heal attachment wounds, you will awaken your own healthy attachment system. Another option? You and the partner with whom you’re “attached” can try couples therapy to reach productive solutions.

Click for more information on couples therapy.

If you would like skilled, professional support with your relationship or marriage, please click here for a free 30-minute consultation to learn about how I can be of service.

To find out more about the services I offer click here: Kate Kendrick Psychotherapy and Relationship Counseling


Kate Kendrick, MA, is a holistic psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Longmont and Boulder, CO.  She specializes in relationship counseling, couples therapy and anxiety treatment.  Kate has training in Applied Existential Psychotherapy, Nonviolent Communication, Focusing-oriented therapy, somatic therapy and Gestalt.  To find out more about Kate and the services she offers, visit her website at www.katekendrick.com.