Attachment: Understanding You In Your Relationship

John Bowlby conceptualized attachment theory as the quality of the emotional bond between the primary caregiver and child. According to Bowlby, the quality of this affectional bond during early childhood sets the stage for the quality of romantic relationships during adulthood. Therefore, infants who experienced secure and harmonious interactions with their mothers would mature into adults with healthy and satisfying romantic relationships.

Mary Ainsworth extended Bowlby’s theory of attachment, and described three major styles of attachment. These are:

  • Secure Attachment- Parent responds consistently and appropriately to child’s needs. The child uses parent as a “home base” from which to explore the environment, and checks back in with parent for comfort before further exploration.
  • Anxious-Ambivalent (Insecure) Attachment– Parent inconsistently meets child’s needs. The child is unable to use caregiver as a secure base. These children are usually distressed upon separation with indifference, anger, reluctance to warm to caregiver. The child is typically preoccupied with caregiver’s availability, seeking contact, yet resisting when it is achieved.
  • Anxious- Avoidant (Insecure) Attachment– Parent conveys little to no response to a distressed child. There is minimal affective interaction between parent and child, or the child does not convey distress when apart from parent and tries to avoid physical contact with parent.

Unfortunately, many people were not able to have the ideal, secure attachment, but experienced degrees of insecure attachment. Given that these early emotional experiences directly impact later adult relationships, characteristics from each of these early attachment styles can be found in our current relational styles.

  • Secure Attachment-These adults are comfortable being emotionally connected to their partner, and are comfortable spending time away from their partner to spend time with others and pursue their own interests.
  • Anxious-Ambivalent (Insecure) Attachment– As adults, they often look to their partner for approval and assurance, often becoming overly dependent; however, they can often be less trusting, have less positive views about themselves and their partners, and may exhibit high levels of  impulsivity in their relationships.
  • Anxious- Avoidant (Insecure) Attachment– These adults require a large degree of independence, often appearing aloof or afraid of commitment.  They tend to disconnect from their feelings, dealing with rejection by distancing themselves from partners.

So, can you see parts of yourself in one of these attachment styles? The good news is that you can work to improve your current relational functioning. You will need to work toward feeling secure as you emotionally connect with your partner, but also feel secure being on your own and away from your partner.

I would love to help you find this balance in your relationship. You can find me at