Today, we’ll continue our discussion of attachment style and its huge importance in dating in the third in a series on this topic. Part 1 talked about the origins of attachment and the studies that helped define the different attachment styles. Part 2 explained the three basic attachment styles and what they look like. Today, we’ll talk about how these attachment styles influence dating and how to use your knowledge of attachment to find dating success.
Now you know about the three attachment styles: the secure types who don’t struggle much with forming bonds with partners, avoidant types who fear getting too close to others and keep their partners at arm’s length, and anxious types who fear abandonment and seek a lot of reassurance in a relationship.
Once you know about the basic attachment styles, you can see where they influence dating and relationships. A person with an avoidant style needs a lot of space, an anxious type needs a lot of attention and affirmation, and a secure needs something in the middle. There’s nothing “wrong” with any particular style; the trick is to know your style and needs and to choose partners accordingly.
The problem is, most people aren’t aware of their attachment style, or they are but have been punished for it by poorly chosen partners in the past, so they’ve never fully accepted who they are. When that happens, you keep repeating the same mistakes. Here are some facts that can help you find a partner who’s compatible with your needs.
Know Your Type and Accept It. Whatever your type is, that’s you. It’s part of who you are. Being a secure type does make life easier, but there’s nothing aberrant or “wrong” about being avoidant or anxious. Everyone has challenges they must face in life, including challenges in dating. The trick is to know those challenges, accept them, and move forward.
If you’re avoidant or anxious, chances are you’ve been punished for that in past relationships. If avoidant, you’ve probably been accused of being distant, uncaring, or incapable of intimacy. If anxious, you’ve probably been called needy, clingy, or insecure. None of us is perfect; if you’ve been accused of these things, work on them, but also accept them about yourself and know that there is someone out there who will accept those sides of you and even nurture them.
Remember that attachment style can change. According to the authors of Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find–and Keep–Love, people can shift attachment styles over time. You probably won’t completely flip-flop to an opposite type, but you can shift into a more secure style when you have a connection with the right partner.
Choose well. Not surprisingly, secure types do well with other secure types. Also, avoidant or anxious types can do well with a secure person and vice versa. According to this article, a relationship should have at least one secure person in it, as a secure’s lack of anxiety around getting close to a partner offers a good balance to the deep-seated worries and concerns of the other two types. However, another science-based article states that secure-anxious and secure-avoidant relationships are more prone to breakups than anxious-anxious or avoidant-avoidant pairings. The latter have more drama and difficulty in them, but because the two people are similar in style the drama seems normal to them and they stick it out anyway. Overall, it’s a good idea to find a partner who has at least a somewhat similar attachment style.
Of course, many don’t. In fact, avoidants often wind up with anxious types, which is the worst sort of pairing because they have opposing needs that will only reinforce the other’s tendencies. In other words, the neediness of the anxious type will only push the avoidant farther away, and the avoidant’s distance will only make the anxious type more anxious.
There are a couple reasons why these ill-matched folks wind up together. One is societal stereotype: men are conditioned to be more distant, and women more needy in relationships. So when an avoidant guy and an anxious woman pair up as they often do, these societal stereotypes are reinforced and both assume that that’s “just how men are” or “just how women are,” when in reality that isn’t the case.
The other reason these two types wind up together and torturing one another? They’re unaware of their attachment style and their issues. And when you aren’t aware of your deeper-seated issues, guess what? You’ll unconsciously feel attracted to and choose people who force you to face and deal with those issues. An avoidant man who’s unaware of or unable to deal with his relationship needs will continue attracting anxious partners, forcing him to face who he is again and again. Only when he becomes aware and accepts who he is will he make better choices.
This is true even beyond attachment style: when we attract partners who are bad for us, it’s our mind’s way of forcing us to face the truth about who we are and what we need.
Whatever your style or needs, there is a partner for you. Know yourself first.
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