Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPA, LPC-S
Relationship Specialist, Founder of Heights Family Counseling
“It’s not you, it’s them.” Have you heard that before? It might be a friend comforting you after another break-up, or even a therapist helping you making sense of the ending of your relationship. Maybe you are feeling like it has to be you because the same thing keeps repeating itself for you; another partner cheated, another partner decided to choose friends over the relationship, another break-up... You might wonder what YOU are doing to cause your partners to continue the pattern. The answer is pretty simple, you are choosing the wrong attachment style. It really is not you, it’s them. It is their attachment style to be specific.
We love working on relationships in individual and couples format, so we use the book, Attached., a lot in the counseling room. The book talks about the different attachment styles that adults bring into relationships. There are four types of attachment styles:
Secure: Represent 50 % of the population
· Feel comfortable with intimacy
Anxious: Represent 20 % of the population
· Worry about their partner’s love and commitment
· Become preoccupied with their relationship
· Worry about their partner loving them back
Avoidant: Represent 25 % of the population
· View relationships as a loss of independence
· Minimize closeness
· Preoccupied with an ex or thinking about the “perfect” future partner
· See independence as a strength
Combined Anxious and Avoidant: Represents only 3-5 percent of the population
So you might be thinking the odds are in your favor, right?!? Individuals with secure attachment represent almost the majority of the population. However, this actually isn’t true. Individuals with secure attachment tend to have more successful relationships, so there tends to be less secure attached individuals in the dating pool. Avoidant attached individuals tend to not stay in committed relationships long, so they constantly re-enter the dating pool making up the largest percentage of the dating pool. Another fun fact, individuals with an avoidant attachment love being able to show their independence to their partner as they see it as a strength and don’t like pairing with another avoidant individual. That leaves anxious attachment individuals pairing with avoidant individuals.
Before we continue, there’s one fact that you must know: Dependency isn’t bad. Needing your partner’s love, commitment, and reassurance isn’t bad in a relationship. It actually leads to feeling more attached. Research actually shows through brain scans if you hold your partner’s hand while undergoing a stressful situation stress was not detected in the brain compared to going through the same stressful situation alone when the hypothalamus becomes activated. This research shows that needing a partner’s support isn’t co-dependency, it’s actually a biological need. This is important to note for spotting the red flags of an avoidant attachment style. When a partner starts making claims of independence, being weary of co-dependency, etc. they might be sharing insight into their avoidant attachment style.
So now we understand attachment styles, what can we do to help prevent continuing the pattern of finding Mr. or Mrs. Wrong. The most important thing to do is express your needs. Don’t try to hide your anxious feelings in order to connect to a potential partner. Express your needs, whether it is commitment, time, or affection. This allows for partner’s that would not be in the relationship long-term to exit sooner. Most importantly, expect to be treated with respect, dignity and love in relationships. These are non-negotiables in relationships and when missing, the relationship soon becomes toxic.
So what happens if you discover you are in a relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style. There is hope and counseling can often help. The first thing to do is to not hide your needs. There is also a trick to help you respond in a more attached style. Think about the secure people around you. It could be a relative or close friend, and think about how they tend to respond, relate to, and interact with the world and people around them. Lastly, when you are feeling insecure (anxious or avoidant) think of three specific actions that your partner does that makes you feel this way. Then, write three actions that make you feel more secure and loved. When someone has an anxious attachment style, having a partner who acts with a secure attachment style can actually make the person less anxious and more secure themselves. Remember, open communication, reassurance, positive interactions allow us to feel more secure.
I highly recommend giving the book, Attached., a read if you feel like you keep falling into the same relationship patterns. There are quizzes to determine your own attachment style as well as your partner’s style. Give us a call, 713.380.1151, if you want to further explore any of these areas!