was successfully added to your cart.

When Romantic Attachment Becomes A Romantic Roller Coaster

By August 2, 2017Blog
romantic attachment style and relationship satisfaction

Does whether you’re anxious in romantic relationships, or aloof, affect how you and your partner perceive the quality of your relationship day-to-day and overall?

When we’re in a romantic relationship we want to feel emotions like safe/secure, calm and happy. When we do, we experience greater emotional stability within ourselves and we can fare the challenges of life much better. So what happens when you or your partner do not have a ‘secure attachment style’, i.e. you’re high in ‘attachment anxiety’ or ‘attachment avoidance’?

If you are currently attachment anxious, you are more likely to be hyper-vigilant all the time, detecting and responding to social and emotional cues from your partner and your joint environment, constantly scanning to ensure you’re ‘safe’ within your relationship. The likelihood of someone with attachment anxiety overreacting to something their partner has or hasn’t done is higher than in those that are securely attached. This can happen because they tend to have self-doubt which can skew their perception of reality towards the negative and because they are frequently in search of reassurance, reassurance that they don’t need to be anxious. This can become a vicious circle for those who have anxious attachment styles and in my experience, even when clients are aware of their anxious attachment style, they can find it difficult to break the pattern, hence the reason for seeking professional help.

If you are currently attachment avoidant, you are more likely to remain seemingly aloof, keeping a ‘safe’ emotional distance between you and your partner. Doing so is a form of self-defence based on damage limitation because if you’re not that close to someone, you won’t be too vulnerable to emotional pain. This translates to a barrier between you and your partner, one that ensures your closeness will always be limited.

Riding A Romantic Roller Coaster?

So how does you or your partner currently being attachment anxious or attachment avoidant impact how you perceive the quality of your relationship and does your perception of relationship quality fluctuate day-to-day or does it remain fairly constant?

Research by Cooper et al. (2017) set out to answer these questions and they found a number of patterns in the data to add to the romantic attachment styles literature:

  • Firstly, for both men and women, attachment avoidance was linked with decreased levels of relationship quality.
  • Secondly, when the woman had attachment anxiety, both she and her partner would experience greater daily fluctuations in their perception of relationship quality.
  • Thirdly, women’s attachment avoidance did not result in daily fluctuations in their partner’s perception of relationship quality.
  • Fourthly, greater conflict was experienced in relationships where one partner was high in attachment anxiety.

The results suggest that attachment anxious women are more likely to seek out emotional and social cues from their partner and within their relationship environment which makes them greater predisposed to creating unnecessary conflict and experiencing inner turmoil. On the other hand, when men are attachment anxious, women likely use such emotional and social cues to understand and respond to their anxious partner’s needs. For male partners of women high in attachment anxiety, it seems they are more drawn in by and become reactive to the conflict created by the anxious female partner rather than being responsive to their female partner’s needs for reassurance. This may be because the men are not as attuned to the emotional cues (and needs) of others in the way that women tend to be. Therefore, the goal for these couples is to find ways for the male partner to reassure the attachment anxious female partner to help her to become securely attached and to find ways for the attachment anxious female partner to better detect, understand and regulate her relationship anxiety. Of course, the latter is the goal for anxiously attached male partners, too.

Good questions to ask yourself if you are currently attachment anxious in your relationship:

  1. What does he/she do or not do that makes me feel anxious?
  2. How can he/she respond differently in a way that would help me to feel more secure?
  3. How can I help myself to feel less anxious and more secure within my relationship?
  4. Is this relationship helping or hindering my current anxious attachment style or am I helping or hindering my current anxious attachment style or is it a bit of both?

The finding that for both men and women, attachment avoidance results in lower relationship quality experience overall, albeit without daily fluctuations, highlights that the goal for these couples is to create greater closeness which requires the partner’s ability to create safety when the attachment avoidant male or female allows themselves to feel vulnerable within the relationship. It is important for attachment avoidant males and females to think of ways they can ‘be more vulnerable’ instead of always maintaining an emotional distance that doesn’t allow the partner to demonstrate that their attachment avoidant partner can feel safe/secure with them.

Good questions to ask yourself if you are currently attachment avoidant in your relationship:

  1. What does he/she do or not do that makes me feel I have to keep a ‘safe’ emotional distance?
  2. How can he/she behave differently in a way that would help me to feel more safe/secure?
  3. How can I help myself to behave less aloof and create more emotional closeness within my relationship?
  4. Is this relationship helping or hindering my current anxious attachment style or am I helping or hindering my current anxious attachment style or is it a bit of both?

Remember this: people’s attachment styles change throughout their lifetimes so you have the ability to change your current attachment style to become securely attached. It’s about taking the reins instead of being on auto-pilot.

 

Reference:

Cooper, A. N., Totenhagen, C. J., McDaniel, B. T., & Curran, M. A. (2017). Volatility in daily relationship quality: The roles of attachment and gender. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407517690038.