This post is also available in Dutch.
With platforms like Tinder on the rise, people are increasingly confronted with frustrating dating lives. Are you one of these people? Your attachment style may explain why. Find out here how to move past it.
Romantic relationships are among the most satisfying but also frustrating aspects of people’s lives. Many people search for long-lasting monogamous relationships but find that their, or the other person’s, interest is often short-lived. Others find themselves serial dating, desperately holding onto anyone they meet. Attachment styles may be able to explain why this happens. And understanding your own attachment style can lead to significant improvements.
How attachment styles influence your dating life
Romantic attachment can be defined as: “an enduring emotional bond that develops between one adult and another in an intimate relationship.” It’s a personal feeling related to a romantic emotional bond with another person.
In the book “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love”, psychiatrist/psychologist duo Amir Levine and Rachel Heller describe three distinct categories of attachment styles. People with an anxious attachment style often worry about their relationships. They desperately need to feel loved and feel anxious in the absence of such reassurance. People with a secure attachment style often feel comfortable with intimacy and are most dependable and stable in relationships. Finally, people with an avoidant attachment style are often afraid to lose their independence. This causes them to actively attempt to minimize closeness.
The fearful dance of love
Levine and Heller suggest good potential partners for each attachment style. They also describe the potentially destructive relationship dynamics between anxious and avoidant persons. This phenomenon is also described in detail in the Dutch book “Liefdesbang” by Hanna Cuppen.
Anxious and avoidant people often end up dating each other. This may have to do with the complex psychological “rollercoaster effect”, which refers to the addictive ups and downs experienced by people who attract and reject one another. Anxious people may, in some way, feel addicted to avoidant people and vise versa. This is problematic because it gives people with these attachment styles exactly what they don’t need: a needy or avoidant partner. And it can lead to highly unsatisfying and destabilizing relationships.
Working with attachment styles
Of course, diagnosing the problem is only part of the work. Luckily, Levine and Heller offer solutions as well. It all comes down to working with your attachment style instead of against it.
This means that you—whatever your attachment style may be—should have a good idea of what you need from a partner (hint: not necessarily what you’re most attracted to). Then, you need to set healthy boundaries and communicate these boundaries consistently, honestly, and unapologetically. You first need to understand what your personal needs, values, and preferences are. Then you should recognize that these may not be shared by your partner. Neither point of view is “right,” but it’s crucial that they overlap sufficiently and that any differences are understood and communicated clearly.
This is different from blaming your partner for what they seem to be lacking from your point of view. It’s also different from telling your partner that they are the root cause of your jealousy, anxiety, or unease. For an avoidant person, this might mean communicating your need for independence. For an anxious person, this might mean telling your partner about moments when you need them. It’s important to do this without putting all the responsibility and “blame” on them—it’s your need, not theirs. But do be clear about what their understanding would mean to you.
Beyond attachment styles
Your attachment style doesn’t have to dictate your relationships. It’s just one of many factors. By becoming aware of it, you can limit its control over you. Over time, you can learn to understand your own tendencies and prevent yourself from mindlessly acting on them.
Relationships take work, so commit to them. Healthy and honest communication helps a lot. You grow through experience once you understand that relationships are as good a mirror as you’ll ever find. Looking yourself—and your partner—in the eye with optimism, time after time, on good and bad days, will pay off in the long run.