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Attachment Theory and Relationships

Some time ago, we published an article about attachment theory, which explains the bonds and relationships we form with others.

Mary Ainsworth, a developmental psychologist who made great progress in this field, identified four styles of attachment: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Below you can find a brief explanation of each style of attachment.



Securely attached people:

  • Find it easy to become emotionally close to others
  • Are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them
  • Have a history of warm and responsive interactions with their attachments (i.e. friends and family)
  • Tend to have positive views of themselves and their attachments
  • Live balanced lives; they are secure in their independence as well as in their close relationships


Anxious-preoccupied people:

  • Have the desire to be emotionally intimate with others, but are often hesitant in doing so
  • Seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness
  • Sometimes become overly dependent on others because they value intimacy so much
  • Tend to have less positive views of themselves and often doubt their own worth
  • Are self-critical and insecure, which lead to fears of being rejected


Dismissive-avoidant people:

  • Are comfortable without close relationships
  • Find it important to feel independent and self-sufficient
  • View their attachments less positively than they view themselves
  • Tend to suppress and hide their feelings
  • Deal with rejection by distancing themselves from their attachments


Fearful-avoidant people:

  • Have often experienced trauma in their childhood
  • Have mixed feelings about close relationships; they desire emotionally close relationships but they also feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness
  • Tend to have negative views about themselves and their attachments
  • Seek less intimacy from attachments
  • Frequently suppress and deny their feelings
  • Are uncomfortable expressing affection

So how does each attachment style impact relationships?

Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships.  They feel secure and connected with their partner, and they do not hesitate to seek support or comfort when needed. Their relationships tend to be honest, open, and equal, resulting in a generally happy relationship. Because secure adults have most likely grown up in a stable, well-adjusted household, as adults they are able to trust their romantic partner and view their relationships as valuable.

People with anxious-preoccupied attachment tend to form false connections with others because they are so desperate for a sense of safety, as they frequently look for a partner to rescue or complete them. In relationships, they are desperate and insecure, but their behavior often makes the situation worse. When they feel doubtful of their partner’s feelings, they can become clingy, demanding, or possessive towards their partner, resulting in an unstable, unhealthy relationship. In short, because of their insecurity, anxiously attached adults turn against themselves and become emotionally desperate in their relationships.

People with dismissive-avoidant attachment tend to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. Even in heated or emotional situations, they are able to turn off their feelings. Their ability to shut down acts as a defense mechanism, especially in situations where they feel attacked. As a result, they often seek isolation and can come off as overly focused on themselves and detached from their loved ones.

People with fearful-avoidant attachment live in an ambivalent state where they are afraid of being too distant or too close to others. They try to avoid or run away from their feelings, but instead, they become overwhelmed by their emotions and are unpredictable. As adults, fearful-avoidant people often find themselves in rocky or dramatic relationships. Because they have fears of abandonment, they may cling to their partner when they feel rejected. It is also common for people with fearful-avoidant attachment to end up in abusive relationships.

In order to establish a stable relationship, you need to work on your own personal development and, if possible, find a securely attached adult to build a relationship with. If you feel that you’re having difficulties in your relationships, then the best way is to look inward and to communicate openly and honestly with your partner (or other attachment).


Firestone, L. (2013, July 30). How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship

Selterman, D. (2011, July 15). Attachment Theory: Explaining Relationship “Styles.” ScienceOfRelationships.com. Retrieved from http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2011/7/15/attachment-theory-explaining-relationship-styles.html

What is Your Attachment Style? (n.d.) PsychAlive. Retrieved from http://www.psychalive.org/what-is-your-attachment-style/

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Written by Sophie Poulsen

Hello! I'm Sophie. (: I am a regular contributor here on Psych2Go. I'm currently doing my BSc in Communication and Media, but psychology has always been one of my interests. I am particularly interested in criminal psychology and how the mind of a psychopath works, though I am interested in all areas of psychology. I hope you enjoy my articles and if you would like to contact me, please feel free to do so at sophiepoulsen47@gmail.com.

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