Relationships are simple. That sounds like a bunch of hot air, but if you break them down and look at each individual’s personality, you begin to notice the predictability of certain characteristics that we all carry. The process of building healthy relationships can become easier through mistakes and practice.
But first, we need to look at our expectations. As adults, we expect to recognize and commit to safe and positive relationships without curveballs. You might think that adults will simply act like adults—we can expect maturity, clear and efficient communication, and kindness from each other. However, while relationships are simple, our personalities make things fuzzy. That is why entering into commitment before evaluating who we get involved with brings complications.
Building strong relationships requires a great deal of self-awareness. Understanding yourself takes effort, and not everyone is willing to put in that work. Many adults bury their issues and ignore them—thinking that is how they will move past their faults.
But these issues manifest themselves in our behaviors. Our positive and negative experiences, along with the way we interpret and process them, are mirrored through how we act in our relationships.
We grow up believing adult role models have their lives put together and carry these emotionally intelligent, all-knowing decisions. But as we ourselves grow through adulthood, situations begin to counter this theory.
And while we are cultivating greater self-awareness, we find that partners may lie and cheat or maybe a friend claims you are too needy—many of us find ourselves scrambling to make sense of people, their actions, and their values if they do not align with our own.
That is a waste of energy.
Learning about Attachment Theory and adult attachment can better serve your time and needs. Understanding the psychology behind how we act in and steer our relationships is essential to developing healthier relationships.
What is Attachment Theory?
Relationships are more unpredictable if you allow them to be. Understanding attachment theory and attachment styles help you easily see people for who they are.
Psychiatrist, Dr. Amir Levine, and psychologist, Rachel Heller, consolidated years of research on Attachment Theory in their book, Attached. The theory itself, developed by psychiatrist John Bowlby explains that as humans our need for closeness in relationships is, “embedded in our genes.”
Attached authors categorized closeness into three specific styles including, “secure, anxious, and avoidant,” attachment styles. These styles help interpret how we respond to closeness in our relationships:
Secure: These individuals do not shy away from intimacy and feel comfortable with closeness—they would never try to push you away. They offer consistent, loving, and supportive behavior.
Anxious: These individuals strongly desire intimacy and closeness. They need reassurance that they are loved and put plenty of time into their relationships due to their worries of rejection.
Avoidant: These individuals respond negatively to closeness. They perceive intimacy as a loss of their freedom. They give off mixed signals, put others down, and reject to keep their distance.
We all navigate our relationships under one of these specific styles. Learning about each style’s tendencies and specifically our own will lead us towards stronger relationships.
Develop healthier relationships by recognizing attachment styles
Think about attachment style characteristics when you self-reflect or evaluate current and future relationships.
Developing strong self-awareness helps you recognize your needs and values. Feeling confident in your attachment style assists in sounding the alarm or raising those red flags on people with styles that infringe on your safety and do not meet your needs.
Finding romantic partners and friends that we feel safe with is the key to growing strong relationships. Secure attachment seems like the ideal style to embody and find in partners and friends—but it does not necessarily mean the other styles are wrong.
The way we desire closeness, handle relationship issues, and set intentions vary depending on our standards. Our values and what makes us feel fulfilled look different for everyone, so carrying an avoidant or anxious style is completely ok as long as we are not intentionally hurting each other.
Anxious and avoidant attachment styles mesh well with secure styles—the secure style provides stability, which helps the other styles grow into more security with the relationship. Meanwhile, anxious and avoidant styles, when together, tend to be a toxic combination. Anxious styles crave intimacy while avoidant styles desire independence. Together they push, pull, and create a toxic cloud of miscommunication that may lead to the possibility of pain and discomfort.
The key to avoiding this hurt in our relationships is knowing yourself, your needs, and the lifestyle you want. Finding people with an attachment style you connect with, can keep you from feeling negatively activated and developing one-sided, codependent relationships.
Put in the work to develop meaningful relationships—we all deserve to feel safe and loved by our circle. Build self-awareness, know your attachment style, and understand the styles you work well with to easily recognize that in people. This will give you confidence and knowledge to avoid toxic relationships and feel safe to be vulnerable in the solid ones.