The relationship between a child and a caregiver can impact the quality of our relationships in adulthood. The foundation, or the relationship between a child and caregiver, is known as the attachment style. An attachment style lays the blueprint for our assumptions about safety and trust as adults. Our attachment styles as adults are clearly shown in stressful moments.
So, what is your attachment style? There are three distinct categories of attachment styles: Secure, Insecure Anxious, and Insecure Avoidant.
Infants in this category tend to show distress in observable ways (I.e., crying), but their distress is not excessive. Secure attached infants appear relaxed when seeking help from caregivers and appear clearly calmer after interactions with their caregivers. As adults, individuals in this category are able to communicate emotions effectively, can show and receive expressions of intimacy, and can create health, appropriate boundaries with others. Individuals are able to address interpersonal difficulties through problem-solving skills and effective communication, rather than arguments. Further, these adults feel secure being alone and with others and feel confident in looking to their partners for help and comfort.
Insecure anxious infants tend to respond to stressful events with more extreme crying and notable distress. They also tend to reject a caregiver’s attempts to provide relief. As adults, they may feel more nervous and less secure about their relationships. Individuals are more likely to feel real or imagined stressors like neediness, jealousy, control, and mood swings in relationships. This may stem from a likelihood to negatively interpret others intentions, words, and actions. This negative interpretation may impact their ability to trust their partners to be there in times of need, and may cause individuals to perceive abandonment. Adults in this category may prefer to be with others rather than be alone.
Infants tend to cry less during stressful situations and are indifferent in receiving comfort or help from caregivers. As adults they may be more likely to feel abandoned or overwhelmed by your relationship partner. Adults may also be more likely to feel that the world is unsafe and may shut down their own emotions.
The good news is that we are not locked into our attachment styles. Just as we learned to interact with others at a young age, we can learn to be more effective in communicating our emotions, thoughts, and needs with our loved ones.
Here are some helpful steps in building a stronger relationship:
1. Recognize your attachment style. Review the above material and determine which style describes you well. Or, choose to take an online quiz, we suggest this attachment quiz (https://www.attachmentquiz.com/quiz.html).
2. Learn new tools to decrease conflict escalation with your partner. This step emphasizes the need to move away from agitation and detachment. It’s important to not react to your partner with emotional intensity, such as yelling. Your message will likely not get across. Instead, take time to relax and collect your thoughts prior to engaging in heightened emotional discussions. Use a phrase like “let’s talk about this topic in a few minutes when we’re both calm”.
During the discussion, be more open-minded and flexible to partner’s opinion, but also being assertive in communicating own needs. Try to generate a number of options to resolve an argument or problem. Make sure the options incorporate the needs of both parties. Strive to identify your own thoughts and feelings and then communicate them via “I statement”. For example, “I feel worried when you come home late.” rather than “You can’t keep coming home so late! It’s inconsiderate”.
3. Breakup with old, unhelpful patterns and build connections that you want. Learn to experience your emotions without yelling, screaming, fighting, or withdrawing from conflict. This can be done through practicing self-care or self-soothing techniques. For example, meditation, gratitude journaling, mindfulness, exercise, and breathing techniques
4. Reach out for help if you or your relationship need further guidance.
Trinder, M., & Wertheim, E. (2005). Training teachers in building empathy and compassion in young people, In M. Kostanski (Ed.), Proceedings of the Victorian Branch Australian Psychological Society Annual Conference.
The Devastating Way Your Childhood Bonds Can Make-or-Break Your Adult Relationship – Virginia Gilbert
Chen, A. (2019). The Attachment Theory Workbook: Powerful Tools to Promote Understanding, Increase Stability & Build Lasting Relationships. Althea Press. ISBN: 978-1-64152-356-1