SF Counseling Center

Attachment Style and Relationships

Attachment style plays a significant role in how we navigate socially and form and maintain relationships. Our attachment style primarily comes from our upbringing and how our caregivers responded to our needs. These early experiences can create a template of how we view relationships and how comfortable we feel within them. WIth consistent and emotionally attuned parenting, we develop a secure sense of our attachments.  This security allows us to seek out closeness and feel confident in our connection with others. Another attachment style can be withdrawing and avoiding close connections.  In this attachment style, closeness to others can feel uncomfortable to us and drive us to distance ourselves from those we care about. In yet another attachment style, we worry about our connections to those we care about and often desire more closeness than our loved ones might.

In our work as therapists, we see struggles around attachment emerge in all types of relationships. Typically, each person brings one of these types of attachment styles into relationships. These attachment styles can compliment one another or the opposite- cause an increased amount of difficulty or anxiety for each respective individual. For example, in a relationship in which one member of a couple often travels for work, the couples’ attachment styles can create conflicts in that one person may desire more contact during the separation than the other. In conflicts such as these people can come to blame themselves or their partners for their varying levels of needs. People come to us often having damaging and harmful words ascribed to them including things like withdrawn, unavailable, co-dependent or needy.

Our style of attachment does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. In fact, our desire for closeness and our relationship to it is what likely served our early ancestors very well. It would have given us an evolutionary edge to know how to be closely bonded to a few select members of our tribe.

In our modern day world, what can help us navigate this is an awareness of what type of attachment style we tend to exhibit. For example, if you are someone who can be more avoidant, the knowledge that you might distance yourself when closeness feels a little scary can help you to approach this differently and find comfortable ways of relating.

Our attachment style also does not necessarily have to be set throughout our lives. Through awareness and within the context of important relationships (including the therapeutic relationship), we can learn to become more securely attached and begin to have more fulfilling relationships.


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