When you’re swapping stories with friends about your dating lives, you’re bound to find a wide array of experiences represented. Some people might be serial daters and always seem to be in a relationship, some may be totally averse to commitment and prefer casual situationships, and others might opt for being single for the long term. The habits and behaviors people form in their sex and dating lives can be influenced by any number of factors, but did you know that your early life might be one of the biggest?
Although it can sound far-fetched, the first few years of your life can actually make a massive impact on how you operate in relationships and the kind of partners you tend to match with. The effects your childhood can have on your romantic choices as an adult come in the form of attachment styles—a psychological term that categorizes how relationships in your earliest years impact your relationships later in life.
If you’ve ever started seeing someone you’re really excited about, found yourself frequently fixating on how they felt about you, or felt a lingering fear that they might lose interest or ghost you without any clear indicators of such, you just might be dealing with an anxious attachment style. Alternatively, if you notice that you often distance yourself emotionally from partners or tend to withdraw from new relationships even when they make you happy, those could be signs of an avoidant attachment style.
While attachment theory is well-established and researched in the psychology world, it has only recently become a hot topic in the dating world. Anyone can gain helpful insight into their own patterns and behaviors by learning about their attachment style, but it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. Ahead, experts break down the concept of attachment theory, how you can learn more about your attachment style, and why it’s a great tool to use to reset your dating life.
Meet the Expert
- Stephanie Moir, LMHC, CRC, is a bilingual mental health counselor, vocational evaluator & director at Serene Mind.
- Maria Inoa, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in Jacksonville, Florida.
What Is Attachment Theory?
Despite its role as a popular buzzword in the dating world, attachment theory has been a trusted tool in psychology for decades. In 1969, British psychologist John Bowlby published Attachment and Loss, a book featuring his research on the relationship between young children and their mothers and how the nature of that connection affects their relationships later in life. As he continued to research this topic, attachment theory was born—and many other psychologists and experts have continued to develop and improve upon his work since. “As children, we need to attach or bond with our caregivers, since they provide for us and nurture us so we can thrive,” says Stephanie Moir, MA, CRC, LMHC. “This very foundation can continue to translate and repeat itself throughout our lives in various forms but still maintain the same initial need to survive. This can happen in multiple social settings, such as friendships, coworkers, and our romantic partners.”
Understanding the Four Attachment Styles
The subsequent research done by experts after Bowlby has created several different versions of attachment theory and the specific attachment styles named within it. That being said, there are four core attachment styles that are generally accepted in the psychology world, according to self-love coach Maria Inoa, MSW, LCSW. Understanding the typical traits and behaviors within each attachment style can help you figure out which one might be relevant to you.
- An anxious attachment style, Inoa shares, can be characterized by feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem, a fear of rejection or abandonment, and overall uncertainty about how secure your bond with your partner is. If you tend to worry that they’re going to leave you, feel anxious when they don’t respond to a text or call within a short amount of time, or experience feelings that you aren’t “enough” for them, you probably fall under this category.
- Inoa explains that those with avoidant attachment styles tend to be very self-reliant and often have a fear of intimacy or commitment. If you often catch yourself withdrawing from a partner or relationship once it gets too intimate or engaging in dating behaviors like ghosting or stonewalling, this might indicate that you have an avoidant attachment style.
- A disorganized attachment style is often seen as a “mix” of both anxious and avoidant attachment. Often while someone with a disorganized attachment style wants closeness and security in a relationship, they also have an underlying fear of intimacy. You might have a disorganized attachment style if you don’t trust yourself or others, have low self-esteem or find yourself going back and forth in decision-making when it comes to your relationships.
- While plenty of people experience the impact of the other attachment styles in their relationships, there are others who have a secure attachment style that indicates emotional intelligence, the ability to regulate their own emotions, and a sense of balance between independence and intimacy with others, according to Inoa. You can deduce that you have a secure attachment style if you tend to maintain healthy, long-term relationships, feel confident and secure both within yourself and your connections with others, and are able to handle interpersonal conflict well.
How Understanding Your Attachment Style Can Help You Reset Your Dating Life
Although becoming familiar with your attachment style can benefit any relationship in your life, it is especially helpful to recognize how your attachment style impacts the way you date and your behaviors in romantic partnerships. “Understanding your own style helps you to understand why past relationships have failed and even why you attract a certain type of person,” Inoa says. “It helps you to ask better questions early on to find out if the person you’re dating leans more toward a secure style.”
While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with having an anxious, disorganized, or avoidant attachment style, the negative characteristics that often come from them can not only affect your dating life but also your partners and the success of your relationships as a whole. Moir explains that learning more about your attachment style and how to navigate it within your romantic connections can help you identify and fix your blind spots. “Blind spots are barriers that will prevent us from having the relationship we dream of having. When these blind spots are removed, we can start to see patterns [in] our relationships that we actually can be more aware of and start reshaping. The relationship we have with our parents is a mirror reflection [of what] we have with our partners until we do something about it.”
Reaching a secure attachment style is, of course, the goal for many people, but it isn’t always necessary to have a healthy and fulfilling dating life. Even if you struggle with an anxious attachment style, meeting a partner who is securely attached can help you heal some of those traits and feel more comfortable in your relationship, Inoa says.
Therapy can also be a great tool for understanding your attachment style and learning healthy coping skills to use when issues pop up. Seeking counseling from a mental health professional—whether alone or with your partner—is a great way to gain insight into how your dating habits stem from your attachment and what to do when they begin to negatively affect you or your partner. It’s also possible to work through attachment issues as a team with your partner, even if you both struggle with them. As with any relationship, communication is key, so taking the time to have open and honest conversations and expressing your needs and feelings can do wonders to enhance the health and security of your partnership.