We all exhibit patterns of behavior and thought in our relationships. But are you aware of yours? Have you considered whether they’re having a healthy impact on your relationships? Or have you, like many other people, moved through your relationships simply expecting that that’s how relationships are for you?
Attachment styles can shed a lot of light on all of these factors. Understanding yours and your partner’s can explain a lot of why your adult relationships either work or why they're filled with repeating challenges.
Attachment styles in adults largely reflect the relationship they had with their primary caregiver in their first year of life. Mary D. Salter Ainsworth was one of the first to do extensive research into attachment styles and outlined different types by studying primary caregiver-infant relationships. Through further research we now know that there are four main types:
- Secure attachment
- Ambivalent attachment (also known as anxious-preoccupied or just anxious attachment)
- Avoidant-dismissive attachment
- Disorganized attachment
The latter three are collectively referred to as insecure attachment styles and indicate potential for more challenges in adult relationships. Secure attachment is the healthiest form of attachment and the most indicative of the potential for a healthy relationship.
There are various ways that secure attachment can present. To help you understand what secure attachment is, here are a few key signs of secure attachment in adults to look out for:
Signs of Secure Attachment in Adults
Comfortable with Closeness
Someone with a secure attachment relationship style is comfortable with being their true selves in relationships. They have sufficient self-esteem to be open to disclosing information about themselves and be vulnerable with their partners.
Secure attachment styles allow people to communicate their feelings and their needs openly. Their partners don’t have to wonder about where they stand with them or how they feel about them and their relationship.
Similarly, someone with a secure attachment style wants their partner to be open with them and they’ll be supportive and understanding. Secure attachment allows people to truly step into your shoes and see things from the other’s point of view.
They’ll respond to what their partners are going through with true empathy. They will be considerate of what their partners are going through and compromise to accommodate their needs.
Can Turn to Others for Support
Secure attachment is formed when caregivers and infants have a relationship where the infant's needs are met. They grow up knowing that when they need support from someone they are likely to receive the support they need – as they did when they were an infant.
They don’t try to handle every challenge on their own and they’re comfortable with being vulnerable and open about what they need from someone else. Reciprocity comes naturally to someone with a secure attachment style and their empathy allows them to understand others and offer support when they need it.
Have Healthy Boundaries
Willing to compromise and being understanding however doesn’t mean that secure attachment means they’ll simply take everything thrown their way. Secure attachment allows a healthy balance between these characteristics and having boundaries.
They know what they need and they’ll enforce those boundaries in a healthy and calm way. In return they will respect what their partners need and try to meet those needs.
Comfortable with Being Alone
Secure attachment in adult relationships allows for a healthy balance of being independent and being with their partner. They know that time alone is important for a healthy relationship and that their partner is still there for them even when they aren’t physically together.
They have healthy friendships and hobbies outside of their relationships and understand the value of this. In a secure attachment relationship partners will encourage their partners to do this.
Tries to Solve Conflicts in a Healthy Way
In a secure attachment relationship conflicts still arise. Secure attachment won’t mean that you both want to paint the house the same color or that you both want to go to that event. Any adult relationship, whether filled with secure attachment or insecure attachment will have conflict.
Attachment styles in adults do however predict how conflicts may be resolved. Someone with a secure attachment style won’t try to manipulate their partners or only try to get their way. They will remain calm and communicate effectively when a conflict arises.
In solving conflicts, their focus is primarily on finding the healthiest solution for the relationship. They are open to compromise and open to admitting when they are wrong. Their focus is on the healthiest resolution for the relationship.
Can Form a Lasting Relationship
Irrelevant of attachment styles in adults, we all want and need long lasting relationships. Though a lot of attachment style research focuses on romantic relationships, they apply to all relationships we have.
Adults with secure attachment styles want committed, long-term relationships. They’re not the type for short, fleeting interactions. They also won’t leave someone wondering if they’re interested in them. They will be open about whether they see a potential long-term relationship or whether they don't. They want to get to know, grow with and commit to other people and form healthy, sustainable adult relationships.
Trust Their Partner
Trust is an automatic expectation for adults with secure attachment. They feel safe around others and they don’t require constant approval or reassurance. They are not the type of people who will text and call constantly when their partners are out with friends or at work.
Unfortunately that expectation of being able to trust someone is not always accurate. Though secure attachment often indicates that they’re more likely to be in healthy relationships, they’re not always. Infidelity or other betrayals of their trust can hit them quite hard, it’s after-all not what they expect.
When their trust is betrayed, it may take them a long time to build up trust with that person again. Crossing a boundary for them is not okay and though they’ll probably handle it more calmly than someone with an insecure attachment, they won’t simply accept it and move on.
Securely attached adults have a true interest in getting to know their partners. When they ask you how you are and how your day’s been, they’re asking because they really want to know. Their caregivers had an interest in understanding their needs and their emotions and so they portray that in their relationships.
Adults with secure attachment styles have a focus on truly getting to know their partners and they want to grow with them. Just as they will be open with you about their feelings and when they need support, they will want you to be too. They will want to truly get to know you and learn how to support you.
Can You Develop a Secure Attachment Style in Adulthood?
If you don’t recognize these 9 signs of secure attachment in adults in yourself or your partner, you’re not doomed to continuously have challenges in your current or future relationships. It’s possible and essential to learn how to securely attach to others.
The Harvard Study on Adult Development is an incredible study that followed a large group of people for 75 years of their lives. It found that healthy, long-term relationships were the strongest predictor of happiness, health, living longer and sustained brain functioning. The 4th director of this study outlines the findings in this succinct TedTalk.
Developing a secure attachment style is therefore imperative. It’s not always easy though. Causes of insecure attachment largely stem from our infancy and healing something that is long-standing takes time and effort.
Therapy is the most successful way to address insecure attachment styles. It can allow you to understand the cause and the patterns it’s causing in your current relationships. Insecure attachment can make it difficult to connect to a therapist and trust that they can help.
To mitigate this, online therapy may be something to try. Online counseling allows you access to different therapists and to find one that works for you. Online therapy is all effective in healing attachment styles. And if you’re doubtful about whether it’ll be worth it, it’s an affordable option to see whether it can help.
The Bottom Line
We all exhibit patterns of behavior and thought in our relationships. Becoming aware of yours and your partner’s can help you to see whether they are impacting your relationship healthily and can help you to have healthier relationships.
Healing an insecure attachment style takes intentional effort and can greatly improve relationships, and by association life. It’s not easy for someone to heal an insecure attachment style on their own. If you notice that you or someone close to you has an insecure attachment style and you’d like to try online therapy, we’re here to help when you’re ready.