If you've heard about attachment styles before, you'll know they're a pretty big deal in relationships. Essentially, your attachment style determines how you relate to your partner, which affects how you behave in a relationship, and how healthy or unhealthy your relationships are.
Attachment styles usually link back to childhood, but the good news is that understanding your attachment style can help you to forge healthier relationships in the future.
There are three main attachment styles: avoidant attachment, anxious attachment and secure attachment. So, what does it mean to have a secure attachment style?
What are attachment styles?
Before we understand what a secure attachment style means specifically, it's important to understand a bit more about attachment styles in general.
While your attachment style will affect your adult relationships, they are actually established in early childhood through your relationship with your parents.
"Attachment styles develop as a result of the bonds we make with our primary carers (usually our parents) when we are young babies," explains Relate counsellor Holly Roberts. "Attachments are formed with our parents because they give us support, protection and care, and we also learn how to manage our emotions based on how our parents interact with us," she adds.
So, whether you realise it or not, these early parental relationships are then carried over into your relationships as an adult. The human brain is powerful, right?
What is a secure attachment style?
Having a secure attachment style is the ideal when it comes to attachment in relationships. This means you have a strong connection with your partner, but you don't show any insecure (i.e. avoidant or anxious) behaviours, like being jealous or possessive over them. You'll be able to spend time together as well as going out without each other and having your own interests.
A secure attachment style doesn't necessarily mean that your relationship is perfect, though; it just means you'll be able to handle any problems in a more healthy way.
"Relationships for securely attached adults will still have ups and downs," explains Holly, "but you'll be more able to withstand any difficulties that might arise."
"You'll be more able to regulate your emotions, meaning it’s a bit easier to handle sadness and upset in a more balanced way," she adds.
Where does a secure attachment style come from?
Like with other attachment styles, a secure attachment style will have developed due to your relationship with your parents or your primary caregivers in early childhood.
This means your parent(s) or caregiver(s) will have been present emotionally and physically throughout your childhood. "They'll have been able to tend to your needs and will have helped you to feel able to express a full range of happy and sad emotions," says Holly. "Consistency is also key; your parents will have been solid and dependable, so that you were able to feel that they were always there for you," she continues.
However, Holly says it's important to note that having a secure attachment style doesn't necessarily mean that your relationship with your parents will have been (or is going to be) perfect; it just means you'll be able to quickly bounce back from any problems.
Who should you date if you have a secure attachment style?
Figuring out your own attachment style means you'll have a better idea of who might be good (or bad) for you to date depending on their attachment style - and who it might be best to avoid completely.
These are the three combinations of attachment styles for a secure person, and how a relationship made up of each combo is likely to play out:
Secure + secure: The holy grail of attachment style combos, and ideally what we should all want. "With two secure attached people, you will both feel able to explore within the relationship without feeling fearful of rejection or feeling like the other person is getting too close," Holly explains. Sounds like the dream, basically.
Secure + anxious: A secure and anxious attached relationship can work well, but it might actually be better for the anxious attached person than it is for the secure person, Holly explains. "The secure attached partner will be able to provide the security and assurance the anxious attached partner needs, but they might struggle to do this on a long-term basis, and their energy may run out," says Holly. Plus, the 'neediness' of the anxious attached partner might become too much for the secure person to manage, and they might struggle with being put on a pedestal by their partner, Holly adds.
Secure + avoidant: Similarly, with an avoidant partner, a secure attached person might be able to handle the distance their partner needs at first, but they may not be able to deal with it long term.
"Over time, the distance may become too great and the gap becomes too large to bridge," says Holly. "The avoidant partner might not be able to offer the attention, affection and closeness the secure partner needs, and the relationship will run into difficulty if both partner's needs aren’t met."
How can you work on your attachment style?
A secure attachment style is the healthiest attachment style, and it's what we should all ideally aim for - so if you already think you have a secure attachment style then you're already there!
Still, there are ways that you can work on your attachment style, and if you think you might be an anxious or avoidant person then there are ways you can work on this too.
Holly explains that those without secure attachment styles tend to seek a partner who can meet the emotional needs that they can't meet themselves. If this is the case, then it can be helpful to work on meeting your needs yourself, so you aren't relying on a partner to meet them for you.
For example, avoidant people might need to work on learning how to let others in, while anxious people might need to work on their self-esteem or knowing that they can cope alone. And the same goes for any negative patterns you recognise in your own behaviour that you don't like; identify what they are and figure out how to interrupt them.
Relate provides relationship counselling to couples and individuals. They are also offering FREE 30 minute WebChats with Relationships and Wellbeing Advisors to anyone aged 18+ who is living in England and affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more at relate.org.uk/relatehub.
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