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Attachment Styles and Adult Intimate Relationships

happy couple after couples counseling in boulder and longmont

Attachment style plays a paramount role in partner selection, the quality and dynamics of the relationship, as well as how long the relationship survives. Attachment styles develop in childhood and based on relationship experiences with parents or primary caregivers. In short, the attachment style is the way a child learns to give and receive love… or not. This blueprint acts as a model for future adult intimate relationships and friendships.

The attachment model informs how we respond to our needs, and what we do to address them. In the case of a securely attached person, you find not only self-confidence but also ease and comfort in meeting their own needs and the needs of their partner. In the case of any of the other types of attachment, however, you find a pull between partners who enable and fit the particular maladaptive attachment for each other.

Typically, we are drawn to partners that support and confirm our attachment style. The attachment style is the way we relate with one another, and in long term adult intimate relationships, we seek to replicate these attachment patterns. There is an opportunity in this replay to resolve old hurts and heal old scars with resolution; or, alternatively, the opportunity to deepen the wounds and scars.

4 Primary Attachment Styles

Secure Attachment:

Couples healthy attachment

Securely attached individuals are confident, self-assured, comfortable in their own skin, and assertive. They seek securely attached partners, generally feeling comfortable, equal, connected and at the same time independent in their relationship. Typically, securely attached adults have experienced loving parental relationships.

Anxious Attachment:

Anxious Attachment partners looking on their phones

Anxiously attached adults feel a need to cling to their partner, seeking a sense of security and safety. Often this ultimately pushes their partner away. The more insecure they feel, the more demanding and possessive they typically behave. Typically, anxiously attached adults have experienced an unpredictable parent in childhood. The parent may be sometimes angry, sometimes caring, sometimes available, and sometimes absent.

Dismissive Avoidant Attachment:

Avoidant Attachment Partner

Individuals with an avoidant attachment style tend to be aloof with their partner, preferring isolation and emotional distance. They seek to rely on themselves for emotional nurturing. They deny the importance of loved ones and emotionally shut down in intense situations. By turning off their feelings, they are able to not react. Typically, in childhood, they have experienced parental unresponsiveness to their needs.


Couples Counseling Boulder by Darleen Gegich MA LPC


Fearful Avoidant Attachment:

Avoidant Attachment Partners sitting on a bench

Individuals with fearful avoidant attachment styles live in a state of ambivalence, fearful of being both too close and too distant from others. They are unable to control their feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. They operate from the model that they need to get close to others to get their needs met, but if they get to close, they will end up getting hurt. Their fear of abandonment is strong, and they have trouble with intimacy. They may cling to their partner when they feel distant but feel trapped when they get too close. In childhood, they have typically experienced abuse such that it appears life-threatening.

Now what?

Unhealthy attachment styles developed in childhood can be overcome, and work towards a healthy adult attachment is the goal of much attachment-based therapeutic work. Understanding your attachment style and underlying anxieties and fears is key to working through the defenses to form a secure attachment.

Engaging with your partner to understand each other’s attachment styles and defenses against getting too close can ultimately help undo some of the maladaptive behaviors and work towards a healthy and secure attachment in the relationships.

by: Dr. Parul M Patel

How Imago Relationship Therapy can help

Much of the work in couples counseling using the Imago process involves learning how early childhood relationship experiences affect how you show up in your marriage or committed relationship. Often, we had to learn how to adapt and endure whatever experiences were happening in our past. Part of the Imago Relationship Therapy process is to help you become aware of your attachment styles and how they get triggered when certain things happen in your relationship

Reach out today to schedule a 20-minute phone consultation to see if couples counseling is right for your relationship.

Contact Darleen .


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