Insecure Attachment: Is Fear Destroying Your Relationship?
Insecure, or anxious attachment, can come between you and your partner, creating arguments, lack of trust and have both of you baffled about how to cope with these strong emotions.
People with insecure attachment truly struggle with feeling emotionally secure with their partner or spouse. They can become overwhelmed at times with worry and may need excessive reassurance. People with anxious or insecure attachment can be or feel:
. Very sensitive to any signs of rejection or that they are not important to their partner
. Challenged to express their needs in the relationship in a calm way
. The need to be continually reassured that they are loved
. A strong desire to know exactly where they stand in the relationship ("Does my partner
. Preoccupied with the relationship when they receive what they feel are mixed messages
from their partner
. Difficulty in regulating emotions when there are even minor problems
in the relationship; can experience panic when they believe the relationship is in jeopardy
. When it feels the relationship is threatened, may call, text
excessively, withdraw, keep score (how long it took partner to return
calls), threaten to leave, ignore partner when they really want to be close.
Unfortunately, the fears of the anxious partner can drive a serious wedge between the couple. It's not unusual for me to see a couple in which they are nearing the point of ending the relationship because the never-ending cycle of fears and accusations has become so painful for both partners.
In this article, we'll discuss the concept of attachment, as well as some ideas on how to cope if insecure attachment is a problem for you or your partner. You'll learn there is often an understandable root cause for anxious attachment; how having an anxious partner puts stress on the other person in the relationship; and how to work toward becoming more secure with your partner.
The Source of Attachment
Adult attachment is the term that describes how or whether we seek comfort and closeness from others and are able to give the same to our adult partners. Our ability to form attachments with a few important other people offers us a safe haven to help weather life's ups and downs. When we fall in love, we create a bond that is the core of our connection with our partner.
Research continues to show we are physically and mentally healthier when we enjoy these close attachments.
We learn to attach in childhood. If our parents were attentive and responsive to our needs, if we could rely on them to consistently comfort us and if we felt genuinely loved, we would most likely develop a secure base that we would take with us into adulthood. We experienced that the most important people in our life could be trusted to soothe us, and this, in turn, gave us greater confidence to explore the world. We knew our caregivers would reassure us when needed.
On the other hand, if our parents were not warm and connected to us, we came to feel less secure in ourselves, in the world in general and with others who become close to us. It is difficult for people with insecure attachment to trust others -- and to trust that they are truly loved.
Yes, childhood matters! Study after study continues to confirm that our attachment styles are significant contributors to our healthy relationships as adults. This is not to "blame" our parents, but to understand that we may not have received all that we needed.
It's also important to note that our attachment style also can be affected by our adult experiences. A hurtful relationship can cause us to be more cautious with future partners; we can also shift attachment styles within the relationship itself, depending upon circumstances.
The Good News!
However, attachment styles are not permanent. We can work to become more secure in our relationships. We can learn to select partners who are secure and can therefore help us feel more secure as well.
Knowing our own attachment style and that of our partner can open the door to a wealth of self-compassion and understanding.
There are three basic attachment styles: Secure, anxious and avoidant. People with avoidant attachment often maintain a distance from people, though they desire to be close; may struggle with interpreting cues from their partner; and may at times be critical of their partner.
Many people find they have traits or characteristics in more than one type -- or that their style changes depending on the situation.
Knowing our own and our partner's attachment styles can be invaluable in working on a closer connection with our partner. If we discover a difference in attachment styles, we can deepen our understanding of ourselves and our partner -- and discover how to better meet their needs.
How Do You Express Your Insecure Attachment Fears?
An anxious person can unintentionally inflict their fears on their partner. Often, what the partner sees are emotions such as anger, accusations and criticism. They can feel overwhelmed by your waves of intensity.
What neither of you may realize, however, is that the emotions you express and that your partner sees are not the true reflection of what is going on inside you.
Your biggest fear is losing the relationship, right? But, your partner only experiences anger and blame. Your partner sees you as always angry, and he or she can't do enough to please you or soothe you. What they may fail to know is how fearful and anxious you are of any distance that comes between you.
Impact of Your Insecurity on Your Partner
No doubt, your fears have had a negative impact on your relationship. Your partner may now react defensively, and your anxiety may lead to frequent arguments. Partners of people with insecure attachment suffer as well and may feel:
--Accused and blamed for behaviors they don't feel are problematic, such as not returning a text fast enough
--Inadequate to soothe your anxious fears, no matter how hard they try
--Not trusted. Your accusations aren't true, but your partner's attempts to calm you always fall short.
--They can't relax. At times, partners come to fear your next explosion of emotions.
--It's hard for them to stay close. Your partner may worry things won't ever improve.
What You Can Do to Make Things Better
By this point in this article, you may have developed a new understanding of your hidden fears. There are a couple of steps that might be helpful.
1. Admit that you have insecure attachment. There's no shame in this; you're taking a courageous step to understand yourself.
2. Become more aware in the moment of your behavior toward your partner and the impact on him or her. You can learn to breathe to relax, to take time before you react and to use other coping strategies before your emotions escalate.
3. Share with your partner what you are realizing. By naming the problem, you can together work toward better ways of handling your distress.
4. It's sometimes helpful to understand the origins of your attachment fears. It might be childhood (though blaming our parents isn't helpful; it's often useful to realize that all people have shortcomings). If you were deeply hurt in a previous relationship, you may be bringing those fears forward into the current one.
Sometimes, Outside Help Is the Answer
One of the early processes we approach in couples therapy is to develop an understanding of each partner's attachment style. Gently, we work to reveal how different attachment styles are unwittingly creating conflict in the relationship.
I use Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, which is based on science and research and is the most effective form of couples counseling. We work to get to the "heart" of your distress, while all along helping you build greater compassion and understanding toward yourself and each other.
You'll learn how to create a more secure and trusting bond, how to cope better when anxious attachment occurs and how to recover from the pain that the difficulties of different attachment styles may have created.
Linda Schwartz is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works exclusively with couples and individuals on relationship issues. She uses Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, the most effective approach to helping couples recapture their close connection, to learn to resolve issues through deepening their understanding of each other's needs and to heal infidelity and any past hurts in the relationship. Linda offers a free, 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about the counseling process. She can be reached at 602-882-0533 or Linda@awarecounseling.com.