Part 2: Working Through Attachment Issues in Adult Relationships

Our attachment styles are deeply ingrained by the time we reach adulthood. As mentioned in the previous article, attachment style is developed even in utero, and it is fostered throughout our early childhood, often becoming reinforced by family dynamics and peer relationships throughout life. When one has insecure attachments, it impacts most relationships, from co-workers […]

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Our attachment styles are deeply ingrained by the time we reach adulthood. As mentioned in the previous article, attachment style is developed even in utero, and it is fostered throughout our early childhood, often becoming reinforced by family dynamics and peer relationships throughout life. When one has insecure attachments, it impacts most relationships, from co-workers to friends and of course, intimate relationships. 

Insecure attachments can manifest in different ways, but they are all punctuated with a deep sense of distrust of others ability to provide love, and an expectation of rejection. Whether one has disorganized, anxious-ambivalent, or anxious-avoidant attachment, the difficulty in trusting ones bonds with others causes relationship challenges that are hard to alleviate. It is possible to work through the landmines of attachment issues in relationships when we know what to look for, understand the triggers and work with our partners to express needs and feelings openly.

Recognizing Patterns

Over time, it is likely that you have noticed some of the patterns you fall into in relationships. Attachment styles impact who we choose to get involved with as much as how we interact with them. Often when we look at relationship patterns, we can observe similarities in past partners. We may notice similarities in how we respond, sometimes there are even patterns in the types of arguments that take place. 

Imagine you are someone else, looking at your pattern of relationships over the years; what sorts of partners have you attracted? Are there similar personality styles or temperaments that you tend to gravitate toward? Once we begin to investigate our relationship patterns, it can offer us insight into the ways we are subconsciously programmed. 

Examining similarities in partners and the types of arguments that manifest with many of your relationships can tell you a lot about your areas of insecurity. It may even help to map this out by writing down the relationships, the similar traits and the types of conflict that existed within each one. Try to reflect on your emotional state during each relationship; did you feel scared about being abandoned? Did you struggle with allowing yourself to get close to the person or have issues with trust about infidelity? It is important to remember that even as you are interacting with your partner with your given attachment style, they are bringing theirs as well. If they have an insecure attachment style or other relationship history that impacts their view of partnership, that will certainly influence the way the relationship plays out.

Exploring Triggers

When you think about your relationship patterns, what jumps out at you as being areas of struggle for you emotionally? Understanding your triggers can help you determine what you can do to alleviate current relationship stressors. Do you notice that you feel defensive about certain topics or expect the worst outcomes from your partner at times, even if it doesn’t make sense? 

Try to configure these feelings and thoughts into a statement of need. Explore the feelings that are beneath the surface and identify not only how you feel about your partner, but how this trigger makes you feel about yourself. Sometimes attachment issues can skew how we think others feel about us; they can set us up to assume the worst. As you identify emotional triggers and determine what you need from yourself and your partner in response to this trigger, it is important to find healthy ways to communicate all this to your partner. It will require some vulnerability, and that will be difficult to allow if you struggle with insecure attachment, but the end result will be worthwhile.

Communicating Your Thoughts and Feelings

If you and your partner are venturing into building attachment in your relationship, it may be wise to come up with some simple goals and rules so that you can fully support one another’s growth. Develop a word or phrase in advance to let each other know that you are feeling insecure in your attachment. By setting up a simple word or phrase it lets your partner know that you are feeling triggered in the moment so that they can understand your current emotional state. 

When one of you uses the phrase or word, it signals the other that it is time to slow the moment down and reflect on the deeper feelings. If you were triggered by your partner, try to allow yourself to be vulnerable with them. Let them know what your thoughts and feelings are using ‘I statements.’ An example of this could be, “I feel like you might be getting tired of me when I hear you say you’re bored with our life.” By framing it in this way, it takes any accusation out of the conversation and allows your partner to clarify or explain any misunderstandings. 

Help your partner understand what you need. Ask for what you need. Your feelings and needs are important and legitimate. Do you need reassurance or a hug? Ask for it. Work with your partner to be more open about your needs with each other.  Look for opportunities to support one another’s attachment needs and undo some of the faulty messages that may have developed years ago. As you do this work, it is also important to talk to a therapist to do your own attachment exploration with a professional in the field.  Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. 

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