Attachment Styles, or Comfort with Intimacy, Influence How People Behave
When trying to make sense of our close relationships, it also helps to understand how people form romantic attachments to each other.
To begin with, people differ in their comfort with intimacy in a very predictable manner.
Different Styles of Attachment
Briefly, the way we form an attachment to our romantic partners is based upon the kind of care we received as an infant. And as infants, we typically form an attachment to our primary caregiver, in one of three ways.
Please note, this page draws on the work of Bartholomew, Bowlby, Shaver and Hazan's work on attachment styles and Cole and Leet's review of research on attachment styles.
When caregivers are consistently available and responsive, infants form a secure style of attachment (also see, Ainsworth). By and large, secure children feel safe and comfortable, and are able to explore and develop new skills with minimal anxiety or concern.
When caregivers are inconsistent or overly protective, however, infants form an anxious or preoccupied attachment to the person primarily responsible for their care. Anxious or preoccupied children monitor their caregivers more closely, attempt to stay by their caregiver’s side and respond more dramatically when in trouble. Anxious children are simply more fearful and less confident than infants who are securely attached.
Finally, if caregivers are neglectful, infants are likely to develop a dismissing style of attachment. Dismissing children show few signs of needing their caregivers, they do not spend a lot of time trying to get their caregiver’s attention, and they do their best to cope with problems on their own.
When we fall in love as an adult, the style of attachment formed as an infant influences how we treat our romantic partners.
People who formed a secure attachment to their caregivers tend to form a secure attachment to the person they love.
Individuals with a secure style of attachment have more satisfying and longer lasting relationships. Secure individuals are comfortable being close to their partners. They are comfortable having someone depend on them just as they are comfortable being dependent on another individual. Being more trusting, open, and understanding, they approach problems and issues that may arise with their partners in a constructive manner.
People who formed an anxious or preoccupied attachment as an infant, by comparison, are more likely to be preoccupied with their relationships as an adult. Anxious or preoccupied adults are constantly worried and anxious about their love life - they crave and desperately need intimacy - but, they never stop questioning their partner’s love (“do you really love me?”). Anxious individuals are concerned that their partners will leave them. These adults are obsessed with their relationships and everything that happens in them. They rarely feel completely loved and they experience extreme emotional highs and lows. One minute their romantic partner can make their day by showing them the smallest level of interest and the next minute they are worried that their partner doesn’t care about them. Overall, anxiously attached individuals are hard to satisfy; you can’t love them enough, or be close enough to them, and they constantly monitor their relationships for problems. Ironically, their need for love, makes it easy for anxious individuals to be taken advantage of when it comes to love and romance, which in the long run can create even more suspicion and doubt.
Finally, people who had a dismissing style of attachment as an infant are likely to form a dismissing attachment to their romantic partners. As adults, dismissing individuals are uncomfortable with intimacy - they actually fear it. They do not like it when people get close, and they don’t like being dependent on a partner or having someone be dependent on them. Dismissing individuals tend not to trust others, and they are more self-sufficient, cynical, and independent in nature. They are less likely to fall deeply in love and need a lot less affection and intimacy. Dismissing individuals are more apt to put their time into their careers, hobbies, and activities than their relationships. They also get easily annoyed with their relational partners and often display negative feelings and hostility toward their loved ones.