Do you feel secure in your romantic relationship?
For many people, safety and security are the foundation of a successful relationship. Without security, you might be worried that your partner is going to leave you or that you won’t be able to handle a breakup.
Psychologists have discovered that there are four attachment styles. The style in which we are attached to our partner influences the way that we feel about our relationships, the behaviors we display the relationship, and even how we pick partners. Secure attachment is the most common (and arguably, the most desired) attachment style. If you are not secure in your relationship, you may display the behavior of the other attachment styles:
I’m going to focus on the Secure Attachment style, what it looks like, and how you can grow into this style. Attachment styles are not fixed. Even if you display the behaviors of an ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style, you can change your mindset and feel more secure in your relationships.
How Do We Develop a Secure Attachment Style?
Attachment styles are developed before we can even say the word “attachment!” Psychologists in the 1950s observed that children go through various stages of attachment as they grow bonds with one or more caregivers.
Caregivers are supposed to us with safety, security, and basic needs from an early age. Unfortunately, some of these caregivers fail on these duties. But if a caregiver routinely provides their child with needs and is a supportive presence in their life, the child will feel secure in their relationship with the caregiver. They will trust that the caregiver will feed them, house them, and protect them. When the caregiver is gone, the child feels secure in knowing that the caregiver will come back.
This type of parenting forms a secure attachment style. As a child with a secure attachment style grows up, they are likely to display similar behaviors toward a romantic partner. They look for partners that will fulfill their needs. When the partner “leaves” or is absent, the person trusts that they will come back. This makes for a fulfilling relationship.
You can tell that someone has a secure attachment style because they display secure behaviors.
Characteristics of a Secure Attachment
Distress When the Caregiver/Partner Leaves
It’s upsetting to see your caregiver or romantic partner leave. After all, they have been able to provide you with your basic needs, including safety and security. But the distress is temporary, or concurrent with the feeling that they will come back.
This distress differs from someone who has an avoidant attachment style. When a caregiver or partner leaves someone with this style, they are not so distressed. This is often the result of poor parenting or the inability to provide for the person’s needs. Someone with an anxious attachment style is very distressed when the parent or partner leaves.
Happiness When the Partner Returns
When the partner or parent comes back, it’s exciting! There are generally positive emotions and behaviors displayed toward the other person in the behavior. After all, that person has consistently provided the person with their needs and support.
Mild Stranger Anxiety
The first studies on secure attachment style were conducted by Mary Ainsworth. In these studies, she observed an infant as it interacted with their mother and a stranger in different situations. The infants with a secure attachment style were anxious around the stranger, but only when they were left alone with the stranger. When the mother was present, the child felt comfortable with the stranger.
Security to Explore
In these studies, the child was also more comfortable exploring their environment when the mother was present. The mother served as a “safe haven.” This is a key characteristic of attachment styles. When confronted with discomfort or threats, the person may also feel that they can seek comfort in their caregiver or partner.
This security provides the person more room to explore the world around them. People who have a secure attachment style are more likely to seek support in their social groups. Their first relationships were built on trust – so they are more likely to trust people who could potentially serve their needs.
In general, people with a secure attachment style have a healthy balance of trusting their partner but having a sense of independence. They know that they can seek out support and fulfillment through romantic relationships, even after one has ended.
How to Make Your Relationship More Secure
Attachment styles are not fixed! Even if you feel insecure with a partner now, you can use communication and trust exercises to make your relationship more secure.
A 2017 study observed couples as they engaged in different types of activities to become closer. The activities included partner yoga, answering questions about themselves, and other tasks. Throughout the study, the partners recorded how they felt in their relationship and about the other person.
These tasks weren’t super time-consuming or especially hard, but they worked! People who had an avoidant attachment style saw significant improvements in their relationships just by participating in these activities. This growth made them feel more secure. Researchers also reported that these effects were long-lasting.
People who have a disorganized or anxious attachment style can also change their feelings and behaviors. This may be done through inner work or mindfulness. Psychology has shown us that these attachment styles stem from the way our parents raised us. When people come to terms with this realization, they are more likely to step back and direct their mindset to a more secure one. Our parents are not our romantic partners. By mindfully choosing partners that fulfill our needs, and putting our trust in these partners, we can change our attachment style to one that is more secure.