Relationship Attachment: The Attachment Styles in Love

love-attachment-stylesChildren respond to their primary caregivers in specific ways that are well-known to most people, and particularly to those in the field of attachment science. But did you know that adults also become attached to their loved ones in specific ways? Adult attachment theory– the most advanced relationship science– fits these ways into three main attachment styles, or manners in which people perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships. These three attachment types are secure, anxious, and avoidant.

1. Secure

The secure attachment style is the most common attachment style — just over 50 percent of the world’s population have a secure love style. If you are secure, you are comfortable with intimacy. You are effective at communicating your needs and feelings to your partner; you have an innate understanding of the give-and-take of romantic relationships. You aren’t bothered by small issues.

Being reliable and consistent, secures may seem boring at first to those with other styles because there is little drama in their love lives. But secure people have a stabilizing effect on those with less secure styles and they report the highest level of satisfaction in their relationships.

2. Anxious (Preoccupied)

Anxious people, who make up about 20 percent of the population, crave intimacy and are often overly concerned with their relationship and partner. Anxious individuals worry that their partner does not want to be as close as they do and at times experience negative emotions. If you are an anxious type, you are sensitive to your partner’s moods and actions, and take these personally. On the upside, you are good at understanding your partner’s emotions.

attachment-stylesThose who are anxious do well with secure people. But they are often attracted to people who make their anxious tendencies worse: avoidants.

3. Avoidant (Dismissive)

People with an avoidant love style make up a quarter of society. Avoidants equate intimacy with a loss of independence and autonomy. Because of this they try to minimize closeness and partners often complain that they are emotionally distant. As an avoidant you have the basic human need for attachment and love but tend to feel suffocated with too much intimacy.

Avoidants do not easily understand their partner’s mental and emotional states. But if you are not an avoidant, you are likely to meet them while dating — they are often on the dating scene due to having short relationships Avoidants do not usually date other avoidants.

A rare 3 to 5 percent of the population have a fourth style: anxious-avoidant. If you have an anxious-avoidant style you are uncomfortable with a lot of intimacy but are still concerned with the availability of your partner and the progress of your relationship.

A large number of studies have confirmed these types to exist across cultures. Knowing your type and the type of your partner or potential partners can help you to understand tendencies and motives in relationships.

What’s your attachment style?

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31 thoughts on “Relationship Attachment: The Attachment Styles in Love

  1. My type is Anxious. I don’t need a test to verify that, though I will take it. I just know I am. I fit the description perfectly, though I must say I don’t worry my husband doesn’t want to be as close as I do. I know he does. But whenever he gets angry, or sad (regardless if it has anything to do with me), I get really anxious. I need a constant reassurance that I’m loved and that everything’s alright. Since I display some Asperger syndrome traits, these things need to be said to me in raw form. I understand this must be exhausting to my husband, but he doesn’t complain. I’d say he’s a combination of secure and anxious, if it’s possible.

  2. Update: I took the test. And I was right: My type is anxious (preoccupied)

    “According to your questionnaire responses, your attachment-related anxiety score is 4.92, on a scale ranging from 1 (low anxiety) to 7 (high anxiety). Your attachment-related avoidance score is 2.00, on a scale ranging from 1 (low avoidance) to 7 (high avoidance).”

  3. Mira,

    “My type is Anxious. I don’t need a test to verify that, though I will take it. I just know I am. I fit the description perfectly”

    I thought the same about myself when I read the description. :)

    “I’d say [my husband] is a combination of secure and anxious, if it’s possible.”

    Hmmm, I wonder. Perhaps he is anxious, but less so than you are?

    From what I know, if a person is secure they don’t exhibit many anxious traits (if they did, they would be anxious). Secure people for the most part are even-keeled. It’s avoidant and anxious people that (surprisingly to me) can look alike at first glance.

  4. Well, he’s definitely not avoidant. And yes, I’ve dated avoidants in the past. And no, it wasn’t fun. What makes anxious people get in a relationship with the avoidants, I wonder? They should not be so common: there are more secure people and anxious ones (50+20%), so how come many anxious people date avoidants? (I think you’ve answered that in your post: avoidants prefer short term relationships, and they are on the dating market often, so it’s easy to find them).

    My husband might be anxious, but less than me, or he shows it differently.

  5. I thought the same about myself when I read the description. :)

    Really? You don’t seem like an anxious type at all; you seem secure. Also, you don’t seem like an introvert. But I guess what I’ve always suspected about Internet (= written) communication is true: people often don’t seem the same in written and eye to eye communication.

  6. Mira,

    “I’ve dated avoidants in the past. And no, it wasn’t fun.”

    Me too. Yes, it was quite hard. I think I dated one of the most avoidant people in the world.

    “What makes anxious people get in a relationship with the avoidants, I wonder?”

    I may write a post on this topic.

    I read that anxious people are attracted to avoidants because it confirms their self-perception. Anxious people worry that their partner doesn’t love them as much, that they want more intimacy than their partner can provide, and that they will be let down by their partners. Who better to confirm this idea than the avoidant? Anxious people are a bit self-involved.

    “(I think you’ve answered that in your post: avoidants prefer short term relationships, and they are on the dating market often, so it’s easy to find them).”

    Right, and people with a secure style tend to find a partner and stick with them. They are stable and don’t go through as many partners before settling down, so there aren’t as many that are out on the market. Plus, avoidants and avoidants lack the “bond” that keeps relationships together for a long time (surprise, surprise).

    But what’s more — avoidants are attracted to anxious people too! So it’s a lose-lose (lol).

  7. “You don’t seem like an anxious type at all; you seem secure.”

    I wish. I’m an anxious type. I have a secure persona, I believe. So guys are surprised when I unleash Anxious Alee. :)

    The basic traits of anxious people are all me: wants a lot (a lot!) of closeness, needs to be reassured and feel loved, preoccupied with the relationship, takes partner’s moods and actions personally, etc. I’ll let AJ be my witness on this one.

    It’s weird though, because I scored secure on the questionnaire:

    “According to your questionnaire responses, your attachment-related anxiety score is 3.80, on a scale ranging from 1 (low anxiety) to 7 (high anxiety). Your attachment-related avoidance score is 2.70, on a scale ranging from 1 (low avoidance) to 7 (high avoidance). Combining your anxiety and avoidance scores, you fall into the secure quadrant. “

    I think because my relationship with AJ is good for the most part, it allows me to feel more secure than I usually would. If this were some years ago that anxious score would be higher than yours, I’m sure.

    “Also, you don’t seem like an introvert.”

    Oh, I’m an introvert. Just one that likes to talk to interesting people about interesting topics.

    I don’t like being around people for long periods of time because I begin to feel and look aggravated, cranky, and nervous (which makes people think I don’t like them, but I do). Actually, I go out of my way to not be around people and I’m basically mute in real life. On introversion tests I score between 75-95 percent introverted.

  8. Well, I have to say I’m pretty secure and I think my husband is as well. You pretty much described our marriage. I think that is why we work so well with each other even though we got big differences on a cultural level.

    *after test* Yep I’m pretty secure.

  9. Nkosazana, that’s good: secure partnerships are probably the longest-lasting of all. But I bet you two are not the exciting couple around…

    Just kidding. ;)

  10. Ah we have our moments, but I can do without the drama.
    We make up for the lack of drama in being adventures :)

  11. Heh, yeah Alee is definitely Anxious. Wants reassurance, intimacy, time. Anxious about what I’m feeling and if I want closeness. But not in a bad way really… it goes along with good parts about her.

    That’s funny it says they are attracted to the Avoidant type. Errr, that’s me. :)

    I’m not sure about this relationship style system… makes everyone out to be messed up, unless they’re Secure.

  12. AJ,

    “That’s funny it says they are attracted to the Avoidant type. Errr, that’s me.”

    Really? Is that what the test says?

    I thought you would be anxious-avoidant. You have some avoidant traits, for sure, but there is a good bit of anxious in there.

    “I’m not sure about this relationship style system… makes everyone out to be messed up, unless they’re Secure.”

    I don’t see it like that, although I guess you could see it that way. I see them as simply different styles of attachment.

  13. My turn! :-)

    According to your questionnaire responses, your attachment-related anxiety score is 1.89, on a scale ranging from 1 (low anxiety) to 7 (high anxiety). Your attachment-related avoidance score is 1.90, on a scale ranging from 1 (low avoidance) to 7 (high avoidance).

    I’m pretty far out there in the secure quadrant, though I think I have some anxious and avoidant tendencies.

  14. Hey yeah I took the test, and it tells me I’m more secure than I thought I was! I’m pretty sure I have a lil more anxiety than my score. Like mid-range…. and avoidance I knew would at least be halfway, but thought I would have more avoidance.

    According to your questionnaire responses, your attachment-related anxiety score is 2.73, on a scale ranging from 1 (low anxiety) to 7 (high anxiety). Your attachment-related avoidance score is 3.44, on a scale ranging from 1 (low avoidance) to 7 (high avoidance).

    Maybe, it turns out, I’m more relationship-healthy than I thought…. yeah, I’ll just go w/ that for now.

  15. AJ and Alee,

    How did you take the test? Were you thinking about your present relationship, or dating/relationships in general? I’m pretty sure they say you must take your whole relationship history/behavior into account, not just your present relationship. I did it, and my result showed (as I suspected) I was anxious. I feel much more secure with my husband than in the past relationships, but I tried to focus on whole dating history (it was painful, I must say).

  16. Hmmm if I took it with every relationship in mind, yeah lol, I’d probably score more anxious. I took it it w/ present relationship in mind.

    Dang! Almost thought I was healthy. Oh well, it’s mostly the present that counts.. not to say the past doesn’t have long-term effects.

  17. Jasmin, I knew you’d be secure. :)

    Mira, I took the questionnaire with both in mind. I think my current relationship provided a buffering effect. Instead of just “[Dis]agree”, some of my answers were “Strongly [Dis]agree” That’s why, if you look closely, my score is barely secure — on the graph, my point was close to mid-range on the anxiety scale.

  18. To all:

    Everyone doesn’t get the same questions on the questionnaire, or in the same order. The questions change each time the page is loaded, so that could also affect your results.

  19. I’m definitely the secure type, but my bf is an anxious type. What to do internet? It can get quite draining that I constantly need to reassure him and show him attention… I’m finding it more and more difficult to deal with that, it’s a lot of pressure and I don’t want to feel obliged to show him affection. =/

  20. Hi Felicia,

    Well, if it’s draining you then I’d reassess the relationship. Anxious types aren’t for everyone; I can assure you of that.

    “I’m finding it more and more difficult to deal with that, it’s a lot of pressure and I don’t want to feel obliged to show him affection. =/”

    Sure you’re not an avoidant? :)

    Regardless, that sentence says it all. You feel weighed down by him and don’t think you are/aren’t meeting his needs. You need to reconsider being in a relationship where two people just expect different things, maybe you should find someone whose needs are more compatible.

  21. I’m really wondering where do I fit in. I mean, I’m pretty much anxious, I like intimacy, I like sharing. But I’m also always on the lookout :)

    Or maybe guys between 20-30 years old just shouldn’t be in this study!

  22. Io,

    “I’m really wondering where do I fit in. I mean, I’m pretty much anxious, I like intimacy, I like sharing. But I’m also always on the lookout”

    Anxious-avoidant?…The worst.

    …Just kidding. ;)

    “Or maybe guys between 20-30 years old just shouldn’t be in this study!”

    No, everyone who has had close interaction with others qualifies, IOW, everyone. The relationship attachment styles are more or less the same as childhood attachment styles.

    If you’re the same as Mira then you’re probably more anxious than avoidant. :)

  23. leona,

    There are a few posts in the See also section about the anxious and avoidant types. You could read both of them and see how it applies to you. Anxious-avoidant does seem like a difficult style, but I’d focus on trying to integrate the two very different relationship needs.

  24. Omg. I just read this and immediately knew anxious was my attachment. I just got out of a relationship he was an avoidant. I felt more needy more anxious and it makes sense now. Now I don’t feel that bad that it didn’t work out.

  25. I scored 5…something on anxious. I just wanted to contribute to why I personally am attracted to dismissive people as I read some speculation on it earlier and did not feel it fit me. I admire independence I find making decisions and doing everything solely for yourself is admirable and I am extremely attracted to these qualities . It makes me want to compliment their life. After finally being able to label my particular brand of crazy though I think I will be a little weary of this attraction. Thanks for the article.

  26. Need some help.
    My result is anxious, which is probably true about me. I just wonder if my relationship with my partner will still work even if he’s totally avoidant and i’m totally anxious? Would that be possible to have a long term relationship between the two person? I’m worried.

  27. I have been the anxious one in the avoidant-anxious relationship, it was an emotional roller coaster. However we had good communication and were both able to express our own needs and feelings. However the avoidant partner would pull away and me the anxious would make more effort out of anxiety. This relationship lasted nearly 5years. My ex partner cheated on me in the end which broke the relationship, if he hasn’t done that we would still be together.
    My normal relationship style is avoidant-anxious, however this has changed somehow (think it was me having a couple of years being single) and now I’m mostly secure. My current partner is the anxious type, but is now more comfortable and secure as time has gone by. Every now and again we go into anxious mode or avoidant mode which lasts a day or two, but it works very well.

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