Intimacy in a relationship can be a mixed blessing. When things are going well, we are happy to be close. We feel safe and secure in each other’s arms. But into every life some rain must fall. Eventually, we face some problems that seem unsolvable and the arguments start.
It’s at times like these, when we are hurt and angry, that people’s anxious or dismissive attachment styles are triggered. Once these attachment styles kick in, we can become locked in a repetitive cycle of negative interactions.
Understanding our attachment style is a key to a good relationship.
People with an anxious attachment style feel empty and lost when they feel distant from their partner. They live with the nagging feeling that at any time, perhaps after a bad argument, their partner will walk away. They keep an eye out for any sign that they might pull away, abandon them, or leave.
If they see signs that their partner is distancing, they try to bring him or her closer. They may give in or try to please their partner to save the relationship. Or, they may ask their partner to discuss the problems so the relationship will survive. If these discussions turn into arguments and their partner pulls away even more, a person with an anxious attachment style may think, “See? They don’t really love me. They are on their way out. I knew this would happen.”
People with a dismissive attachment style are on the other side of the spectrum. They are afraid of getting too close. They can feel claustrophobic in a long-term, committed relationship, so they find ways to keep a little distance between themselves and their partner.
People with dismissive attachment style are on the lookout for signs that their partner is controlling or smothering them. If they feel threatened, they react by shutting down or pulling away. For example, if their partner insists on long discussions about the relationship, people with a dismissive attachment style may respond by thinking, “I don’t care! They’re way too needy anyway. This relationship is exhausting. I need some space.”
People with these two attachment styles often fall in love and are very happy for a few years. Later on, when the honeymoon wears off, they can get locked into what seems like endless arguments with tears, slamming doors, and a sense of hopelessness.
Fortunately, marriage counseling can help couples learn to have a secure attachment style so they relax and trust each other. In fact, when partners understand the roots of their attachment styles, they begin to enjoy the relationship and find it easy to get close.