Adult Attachment Styles
Attachment Theory was first studied in the context of understanding the relationship between an infant and caregiver, and how attachment influences the infant’s chances of survival (Bowlby, 1958). Ideally, the caregiver’s behavior toward the child creates a sense of security. If not, the child can become overly anxious about separation or avoid emotional closeness with the caregiver. But a person’s attachment style affects relationships throughout their life. Here are the different styles of attachment and how they present in adulthood, especially in intimate partner relationships.
If your attachment is secure, being close and loving to others come easily. You can openly share your feelings in relationships and know how to respond well to the emotions of others. You welcome intimacy and do not become preoccupied or worry too much about relationships.
If your attachment style is anxious, you also find it easy to be close and experience intimacy. However, you tend to be preoccupied with relationships. You worry about your partner’s feelings toward you and expect to be rejected. You are overly sensitive to your partner’s emotions and moods and take these things personally.
If you have an avoidant attachment style you have difficulty engaging in intimacy and being close with others. Your partner feels you are emotionally distant, and you worry about the relationship being a threat to your autonomy or independence. You are not sensitive to rejection and often find it easy to deal with ending relationships.
Because our attachment style begins to develop in early infancy, it might seem there is little we can do about it as adults. But attachment can evolve and be affected by experiences we have in relationships throughout our lives. Becoming more aware of how it affects our behavior can help to improve and inform our relationships.
If you notice some of the characteristics of avoidant or anxious attachment in yourself, it can be helpful to work with a therapist on understanding how it affects your relationships and what you can do about it.
-Laura Gross, LMSW
Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371
Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find–and keep–love. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
Laura Gross is a fully licensed social worker. Contact her at:
Marsh Psychology Group: 248-860-2024