Attachment Styles and Adult Relationships

Numerous studies defend the importance of attachment in childhood. They suggest that attachments at this time of life affect people's chances of having healthy or toxic relationships in the future.
Attachment Styles and Adult Relationships

Last update: 01 July, 2021

Several elements influence relationships. According to many studies, attachment is one of the most important. People experience different attachment styles during childhood. They tend to condition, but not determine, the type of relationships we have later on.

Attachment doesn’t happen by chance. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions are adaptive and help us survive. In fact, they act as alarm signals. The body receives them and is able to respond quickly and effectively to the demands of the environment. The same thing happens with attachment. In fact, experts define it as a type of emotion that ensures adults bond with and help their young.

Through attachment, a union or association is created between the adult and the newborn. This is activated when necessary, especially in times of threat or danger. For this reason, attachment is considered an emotional system.

A couple holding each other.

The objective of a relationship is to survive

Studies suggest that, when it comes to a romantic relationship, the goal isn’t just for it to survive but for its genotype to carry on as well. The evolutionary goals of a romantic relationship are similar to that of an adult and child. Therefore, we can assume that attachment plays a role in romantic relationships as well.

Furthermore, there are parallels between behaviors in both types of relationships. For example:

  • High activation levels in the early stages of the relationship.
  • The security and happiness felt within the relationship.
  • The fear of abandonment.
  • Feelings of indifference when separated (in the case of an avoidant attachment style).

Attachment theory and different types of partners

Attachment theory suggests that, in the early years of life, a child gradually develops a model of an interpersonal relationship. In other words, they learn to relate based on their beliefs and expectations of how others respond to their needs.

How our caregivers meet our needs in infancy determines how we later relate to others and establish relationships.

Attachment styles and relationships

There are three types of attachment. Each one depends on the level of care, help, and understanding they provide. From these different attachments, different relationship styles are established.

Secure attachment, secure couple

Secure attachment is categorized by a child who confidently explores the world but feels safer when their caregiver is near. Furthermore, they get care and attention when they need it.

People with a secure attachment style are more likely to develop relationships in which they recognize feelings of worry and anxiety in their partner and themselves. In fact, they know how to respond to each other’s needs. These people seek out without fear or anxiety.

Anxious avoidant style: partners who don’t rely on anyone

Anxious-avoidant attachment occurs when the child’s attachment figure hardly ever responds to their care needs. For this reason, when it comes to exploring the world, these children don’t really concern themselves with the whereabouts of their caregivers. In fact, it’s almost as if they don’t exist.

Adult relationships that arise from an avoidant attachment style are evasive. These types of people pay no heed to the anxiety and fear of their partners. They never ask their partners for any help either. As a matter of fact, these people never seek any form of support from anyone to solve their problems.

Ambivalent style

With ambivalent attachment styles, caregivers sometimes provide care, while other times they don’t. This insecurity means children don’t really want to explore the world. Because they don’t know if they’ll get help when they ask for it.

This type of ambivalent attitude in relationships means partners don’t know how to tackle their problems themselves. They also tend to be anxious and fearful. In addition, they often compulsively seek help and attention.

Attachment styles as predictors of adult relationships

Attachment styles aren’t only linked to the establishment of relationships. In fact, some experts suggest that they also predict whether a relationship will be healthy or toxic.

Hazan and Shaver (1992) state that secure attachment styles often lead to happy romantic relationships. These are characterized by positive emotions and feelings of trust. On the other hand, the avoidant attachment style leads to a partner who lacks confidence and is excessively concerned about the relationship ending. Finally, the ambivalent attachment style leads to exciting and painful experiences. They’re intense, but also unstable.

Attachment and opinions about relationships

Authors Collins and Read claim that a secure attachment style results in people who trust others. They’re also more emotionally expressive and have positive opinions of their partners.

Regarding those with an ambivalent attachment style, these people usually have low self-confidence and assertiveness levels. Their love relationships tend to be obsessive. In addition, they’re emotionally dependent.

An unhappy couple.

Experiments regarding attachment

Many investigations have focused on analyzing the association between attachment styles and relationships. Simpson, Rholes, and Nelligan (1992) studied the responses of a group of women who were told they had to attend a job interview. Those who said they had a secure attachment during childhood preferred to seek the help of their partner to calm their fears. However, those with an avoidant attachment chose not to lean on their partners and managed their anxiety on their own instead.

Similarly, Tidwell, Reis, and Shaver (1996) found, in a study of daily interactions of a given group, that people with avoidant attachment reported higher levels of negative emotions in opposite-sex interactions. As a result of this research, the researchers examined the relationship between insecure attachment and depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

Finally, Fraley and Shaver (1998) studied the behaviors of couples about to be separated from each other for a while. They found results similar to those we mentioned above.

The importance of attachment

It seems clear that there’s a connection between attachment styles and adult relationships. They seem to influence the types of partner we choose, the relationship we establish with them, and the most likely behaviors and emotional styles within those relationships.

Many factors influence whether a relationship is healthy or toxic. Without a doubt, childhood attachment style is one of them. Not only are attachment styles important for a child’s later development but they also predict certain risk factors, such as emotional dependency or obsessiveness in adult relationships.

It might interest you...
Maternal Sensitivity and Attachment Styles
Exploring your mind
Read it in Exploring your mind
Maternal Sensitivity and Attachment Styles

Maternal sensitivity and attachment theory both relate to how a mother interacts with her child. Learn more about them in this article.