Have you ever wondered “If my relationship is so good, why do I keep doubting it?” That’s because relationship doubts and fears can often stem from something much deeper than the relationship right in front of us. These fears can actually stem from the very way our nervous system is wired to attach to other human beings.
According to attachment theory, the way we connect with people today is based on experiences that happened when we were very young, usually with our caregivers. However, it is also possible to develop an unhealthy attachment style from past friendships or romantic relationships.
Your style will influence your relationships with your parents, friends, family members, and, ultimately, your partner. Knowing your attachment style can help you understand the underlying reason for your relationship anxiety. The four attachment styles are avoidant, anxious, disorganized, and secure. Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics, common fears, formation, manifestation in relationships of each type and how to become more securely attached.
Someone who has an avoidant attachment style feels the need to keep people distant. They may value connection and friendship, but they are very uncomfortable with deep and personal intimacy. For this reason, they may feel safer at the beginning of a relationship or friendship before the other person starts asking for deep, vulnerable connection or commitment. Similarly, they may idealize ex partners or crushes because it feels safer than actively building connection with someone who is attainable.
A beautiful thing about the avoidant is that they have a strong sense of self. They value individuality and freedom, which is why committed relationships can feel so catastrophic for them. They fear that in committing, they will be consumed by the relationship. They don’t know how to hold that sense of independence while bonding with another person, which leads them to believe that they have to choose between the two.
In reality, it’s healthy to want to have your own space and be your own person. When this desire for freedom comes up, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your relationship or your partner. Can you make space for this desire without judging yourself?
Fears You May Spin On
- What if they’re not the one?
- What if I don’t love my partner?
- What if I feel trapped?
- What if I lose myself?
- What if I’m settling?
How it manifests in your relationship
Avoidants have a very rigid idea of how they want their partner to be. They’ll have a checklist containing every physical characteristic, personality trait, and hobby that their ideal partner will have. When their partner doesn’t match up with this checklist, it can feel stressful to them.
Because avoidants feel safest when people are distant from them, they are more prone to nitpicking their partner. Constantly criticizing someone is a way to create that emotional distance. Of course, I’m not suggesting that they do this intentionally. Many of these behaviors are deeply subconscious.
How it formed
Despite all the nitpicking and pushing away, they still fight for the relationship. Humans naturally crave deep connection, and people who are avoidantly attached are no different; they’re just not sure how to get it. This is because they haven’t had secure attachment modeled for them in the past.
Avoidant attachment forms when a caregiver or partner is emotionally unavailable or unresponsive. In a moment when we showed vulnerability and reached out for human connection, they may have responded with impatience and intolerance. From this, we internalized that it is safer to repress our emotions, depend only on ourselves, and hide our flaws. It’s important for avoidants to practice vulnerability with our partner even when it feels scary.
People with an anxious attachment type have a deep need for intimacy, but at the same time a deep fear of abandonment and rejection. Because they feel safest when they are closest to their partner, they struggle with emotional and physical distance in the relationship. They likely experience intrusive thoughts centered around if their partner loves them enough or if they are good enough.
Contrary to the avoidant, people with an anxious attachment crave the identity of belonging to someone. Because of this, they have the tendency to lose themselves in the relationship trying to become one with their partner. Rather than expecting their partner to be perfect, they might try to be perfect for their partner to avoid abandonment
Your challenge will be letting go of the belief that we have to become exactly like our partner. Find things that you’re interested in outside of the relationship. What makes you feel alive? What are you excited about? Who do you want to be? What do you want to contribute to the world?
How it Manifests in your relationship
People who are anxiously attached feel the need for a lot of reassurance from their partner. For instance, they may request frequent texts or phone calls while apart, need to be told everything is okay, or need to hear, “I love you” often.
During conflict, they may experience an intense desire to fix the problem immediately because they’re so terrified of being abandoned. Because they’re so uncomfortable with the negative emotions that come with conflict, they may avoid bringing up concerns to avoid the risk of upsetting their partner and the relationship ending.
- What if they don’t love me?
- What if they leave me?
- What if I’m not good enough for them?
- What if they cheat on me?
How it formed
In the past, they may have had a relationship where the other person wasn’t emotionally available. Their caregiver or partner may have had turbulent emotions and moods, and they may have experienced unexpected separation, abuse, or infidelity. These past experiences contribute to their fear of being rejected and abandoned, which then leads to that constant need for validation in order to feel safe.
We all want to feel safe with the people we’re connected to; this is a normal human need. People who are anxiously attached just have a harder time knowing how to access that sense of safety.
What if I Can Relate To Both?
It’s perfectly normal to relate to both anxious and avoidant attachment types. All it means is that you might be the third attachment style: disorganized. Because this style is a mix of the other two styles, we won’t be diving deeper into it. If you think this is your style, you can learn from both the anxious and avoidant recommendations.
A securely attached person is comfortable with having close, intimate relationships while still having confidence in themselves as an individual. They’re okay with periods of not being in a relationship or periods of distance with their partner and don’t have an intense need for closeness.
When we’re functioning at our healthiest in relationships, we want a balance of togetherness and separateness. A securely attached person is able to hold space for both. They feel the desire to have that deep connection with a loved one while still having a willingness to go out into the world and explore their own identity.
It’s not that insecurely attached people have more negative emotions than securely attached people; as humans, we all have negative emotions. The difference is that people who are securely attached are not as easily overwhelmed by negative emotions. They have learned how to navigate their emotions without instinctively projecting them onto the relationship. It’s easier for them to not be so reactive and explosive in difficult moments; they’re able to empathize and understand the heart of the issue rather than focusing on the surface level.
There will still be fights and disagreements – nobody’s relationship is perfect. But one of the best steps to take to being more secure is by becoming more comfortable with your negative feelings. The need to react to or push away your feelings is exactly what is keeping you from feeling the connection you want in your relationship. Build your capacity to experience uncomfortable emotions by fully owning them.
A securely attached person is able to directly ask for what they want rather than hinting or testing. They trust that their wants and needs will be met and don’t rely on a single person to meet them.
When an issue comes up, they don’t frantically try and fix it. They’re good at reading the cues. They can recognize if their feelings are out of proportion or if their partner is not ready for the conversation, they’re comfortable waiting for a better time.
Before you start spiraling and thinking that you’re doomed to be anxious or avoidant forever, it’s important to remember that our attachment styles are not set in stone. Our brains have neuroplasticity and are capable of changing over time. Of course, over time being the key word here. Frantically trying to become secure overnight will not work. Even having that awareness of your attachment can help you adjust and adapt as you work on your relationship.
In moments of weakness, rather than becoming frustrated and hopeless, give yourself grace. You’ve been operating out of this attachment style for years, and this may be the first time these insecurities have surfaced. Believe that you can build it over time. With awareness and effort, it is possible to develop a secure attachment. And if your current relationship is safe and respectful in nature, it may be the perfect space to do that work.