Anxious Attachment in Relationships: 7 Ways To Support Your Partner
Are they ignoring me?”
“Did I say something that made them not respond to my text immediately?”
“They’re going to break up with me…”
“I am leaving the room. It’s clear they don’t care about me.”
These are the kind of thoughts that can go through the mind of an anxiously attached individual. Before we get deeper into what it means to have anxious attachment, let’s have a look at what an attachment style is…
What is an Attachment Style?
Our attachment style is how we connect and relate to others. Not only does our attachment style influence how we form relationships, it influences how we respond to others, how we behave around others and how we interact with them.
Coined by John Bowlby in the 1950s, our attachment style is formed in early childhood, based on our relationships with our caregivers. Our adult attachment is then a reflection of the relationship we had, as children, with our caregivers.
There are four different attachment styles that one can have: 1) secure attachment, 2) avoidant attachment, 3) fearful-avoidant attachment (a.k.a disorganised attachment) and 4) anxious attachment. The last three attachment styles fall under the category of insecure attachment. All four attachment styles have their own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses when it comes to romantic relationships.
Secure attachment style
Secure attachment is one of low avoidance and low anxiety. Someone with a secure attachment has the ability to form stable and loving relationships with others. They have learned to trust and to be trusted. They are not afraid of closeness, they accept love with ease and give love with ease.
Avoidant attachment styles
An avoidant attachment is marked by a fear of being intimate. People with avoidant attachment have difficulty trusting others. Sometimes, relationships can make them feel cornered and suffocated. They have a tendency to be emotionally unavailable and to rely on themselves. Fearful-avoidant on the other hand is a combination between both anxious and avoidant attachment. At the same time, someone with this form of attachment can crave love and closeness and want to avoid it completely. They have a need to feel love, but are not willing to develop such relationships.
Anxious Attachment: What Causes It?
Of the four attachment styles, anxious attachment is marked by being fearful of abandonment and being insecure of being under-appreciated. Anxiously attached individuals tend to exhibit high anxiety and engage in low avoidance in relationships. Most often, anxious attachment arises due to misattuned parenting. The child learned, through this form of parenting, that their needs could not be met. Thus, they were not able to build a secure bond with their caregivers. This, then, translated into how the individual perceives all relationships.
Examples of Anxious Attachment in Adults
At its core, an anxiously attached individual craves appreciation, attention and support. Therefore, they are often nervous and stressed about their relationships. Oftentimes, an anxiously attached individual experiences high levels of anxiety at the thought of living without their partner, or even living alone.
Despite placing a lot of value on relationships, such individuals get worried that their partner is not as devoted to the relationship. They are often unsure about where they stand in the relationship and whether their partner actually loves them. This leads them to become insecure and demanding of attention.
5 Signs of Anxious Attachment to Look Out for in Your Partner
Anxious attachment style can be expressed in several ways depending on the partner. That being said, here are some common tell-tale signs of what an anxious attachment style could look like in a partner:
1. Negative View of Self, Positive View of Others
Anxious attachment is shown in adults who feel unworthy. The feelings of not being good enough for your partner is common for anxiously attached individuals. Such individuals have low self-esteem and low sense of self-worth. For an anxiously attached individual, their partner is the “better half”. Often, they think they don’t deserve their partner.
2. Constantly Seeks Approval, Support and Responsiveness
Some indicators are an individual who is: clingy, demanding, desperate for love, highly emotional, dependent on others, too heavily reliant on others for their own self-esteem, seeks reassurance and is often in need of your attention.
3. Fear of Abandonment, Rejection and Separation
Being rejected or not having their needs met leads them to blame themselves and consider themselves as not being worthy of affection and love. This can manifest itself as not being able to be alone or do things alone; and can lead to a tendency to be overly dependent on their partner and those around them.
4. Preoccupation with the Relationship
Due to their intense craving for emotional intimacy, an anxiously attached individual has the desire to over-identify with, embody and obsess over their relationships. This can get to the point where the individual becomes preoccupied with the emotional investment of their partner. This leads individuals to be: jealous, fearful that the relationship will end, worrying their partner doesn’t love them, being overly sensitive to their partner's needs and being reliant on their partner.
5. Excessively Seeks Intimacy and Closeness
Stemming from a difficulty to trust others, anxiously attached individuals may seek excessive closeness and may overstep boundaries regarding your independence.
Some examples of such behaviour would be: leaving 36 mixed calls if you don’t pick up your phone or wanting to know where you are at all times.
7 Helpful Strategies to Support an Anxiously Attached Partner
As in all healthy relationships, we naturally want to support our loved ones. Whether this be through verbal affirmations, by touch or by listening. Noticing that your partner has an anxious attachment style may require that you adapt how you respond and support your loved one. Here are 7 helpful strategies on how to support a partner with an anxious attachment style:
By communicating your thoughts and feelings, over time, anxiously attached individuals can feel more secure in their relationship.
The earlier you communicate your needs, the more likely your anxiously attached partner will feel a sense of security and reassurance of your relationship.
2. Listen Actively
Understand your partner better by being attentive to what they are saying and observing what they are doing. By listening actively, you show them that you are as invested into the relationship as they are. This, in turn, will reassure them of your affections towards them.
3. Be Vocal and Clear
Make sure your partner knows what you want out of the relationship. Keep your partner up-to-date with where you are in the relationship.
Anxiously attached individuals already have a hard time believing you care about them. Making the signs clear will convince them that you can be relied on and that you won’t abandon them.
Sometimes a simple “I am thinking of you” can make a difference.
4. Be Consistent
Stick to your word. Follow through on any promises or commitments you make. Show them that their feelings of abandonment are not warranted.
Be consistent in giving them attention and adhering to plans. Given their history of being disappointed, it’s important to build and sustain trust with anxiously attached individuals.
5. Be Patient
It is important that your partner knows that you will be there for them throughout the difficulty, confusion and faulty thinking.
6. Provide some Reassurance and Attention
You can provide reassurance by reassuring them they are a valued partner to you.
Generally, anxiously attached adults need reassurance that they are loved and worthy. One way to ensure they feel loved is to tell them you love them. Without the cost of feeding into their constant need for reassurance, they need to hear it every once in a while.
7. Be Expressive
Express gratitude. Make sure you tell them you love them. Pay attention to how they express their love to you and return it. Sometimes all they need to know is that you care for them and will be there for them.
Despite the aforementioned strategies on how to support your partner, how you respond to your partner should by no means be at the cost of your comfort and happiness. At times, depending on the gravity of the anxious attachment, it may be best to recommend that your partner seek some professional help for external support. Other times, just being aware of the signs of an anxious attachment style can be enough to know what your partner needs and to facilitate the process of getting them to feel safe and secure.
Establishing a sense of security in one’s relationship can be tough for someone with an anxious attachment. As a partner, the best we do is to support our significant other.
Written by Vainui Nicole, Intern Psychologist at AntiLoneliness
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