Understanding Attachment Styles


Your attachment style determines how you approach intimate relationships. It’s vitally important to understand the way that you attach to others and the way they attach to you. Recognizing and understanding your own and others’ attachment styles will help you develop and maintain more intimate and fulfilling relationships, help you feel more secure in your relationships, and help you avoid developing rocky relationships.

Four general attachment styles that adults demonstrate in romantic relationships

We now have decades of quality research that paint a clear picture of how attachment style influences relationships. The four general categories are:

  • Secure

  • Anxious-Preoccupied

  • Dismissive-Avoidant

  • Fearful-Avoidant

Nobody is 100% one category or the other. It is helpful to consider these as orientations that guide individuals in relationships. These are not chosen preferences that people can simply decide to fundamentally alter at their whim. Rooted in infant development, attachment style is deeply embedded in the person. Traumas such as betrayals and loss also influence attachment style.

Secure Attachment

Secure attachment is the ideal. Securely attached individuals tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. They feel connected with their romantic partner and feel safe allowing themselves and their partners to venture out independently in the world more freely.

Secure adults have secure bases, and they are secure bases for others. A secure base is someone who helps you experience and believe that you have a reliable system of emotional support in your life. He or she does this by tuning in to your emotional expressions and responding with understanding, acceptance and empathy.

Think about how toddlers venture out from their mother at a park and return periodically to “touch base”. Gradually, the toddler ventures out further for longer periods, as she learns to trust that her safe haven will be there for her needs. When the child becomes distressed, she can retreat back to the safety of her secure base for comfort and calming.

Securely attached individuals in a romantic partnership serve as secure bases for each other. Feeling securely connected allows each other to have their own independent life. These individuals are open and honest, treating each other as equals. By focusing on their partner’s needs they offer each other comfort and support in times of distress, and they look to their partner when they need attuned caregiving.

Insecurely attached individuals make attributions about their partner’s behavior during and after conflicts that exacerbate, rather than alleviate, their insecurities. They have more limited capacity to create a safe haven for their partner to retreat to for understanding, acceptance and empathy.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment

Anxious-preoccupied attachment involves an individual looking to another to complete them. They sense a void within themselves and create fantasies of another person rescuing or completing them.  Instead of maintaining feelings of love and trust toward their partner, they crave the other as something to be consumed to meet their own needs. This insatiable craving causes them to be preoccupied with their fears.

Preoccupation with fears causes them to be clingy, possessive and demanding. This doesn’t allow space for the other to live independently. Because they often fear rejection or abandonment (including abandonment through death), anxiously-preoccupied attached individuals often interpret their partner’s behaviors as confirmation of their fears. For example, a man might see his girlfriend having a rewarding social life outside their relationship, and he worries she won’t need him, so he tries to obstruct her access to her friends. This lack of trust and safety undermines the relationship.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment

Dismissive-avoidant attachment involves an individual isolating themselves from deep emotional connection. In a misguided effort to create safety, this individual restricts himself from the vulnerability necessary to create and maintain close intimate connection. He denies the importance of others for his emotional well-being and tends to act indifferent in emotionally charged situations such as a discussion over the couple potentially breaking up.

Individuals with a Dismissive-avoidant attachment style choose not to be emotionally close to others. They aren’t able to provide understanding, acceptance and empathy for their partner, nor do they reach out to their partner for it. You can imagine how disastrous this aloofness is when partnered with somebody with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style who has an insatiable need to be reassured.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

Fearful-avoidant attachment involves an individual being torn between the need for the emotional connection with their partner and fear of the vulnerability that connection requires. Much like the Dismissive-avoidant types, they try to keep from feeling the need for connection. However, they can’t overcome their craving for the connection—the very thing they fear.

These types experience inner turmoil and demonstrate unpredictable moods and behaviors. The person they want to go to for connection becomes the person they are afraid of being connected with. It’s like being thirsty and fearing any drink with water will poison you. This confusion makes for a tumultuous, and often abusive, relationship as the partner is being both pulled in and pushed away.

How does Widowhood affect Attachment Styles?

Widowhood results in separation anxiety and grief. Working through grief is essential for moving on with life and relationships. People vary in the coping strategies they employ, and attachment style influences how people grieve and approach new and existing relationships.

Securely Attached Individuals

Securely attached individuals use the most effective coping strategies to move on with life and relationships, as they naturally reach out to others in healthy ways for support.

Anxiously-Preoccupied Attached Individuals

In general, Anxiously-Preoccupied Attached individuals are very focused on their own distress and are driven by a need to fill a void. This influences who they attract and how they enter those relationships. Some are prone to jump into bad relationships instead of employing positive emotional coping strategies.

Dismissive-avoidant and Fearful-avoidant Attached Individuals

Dismissive-avoidant and Fearful-avoidant individuals tend to devalue their relationships and stay isolated. Some avoid meaningful connection with others by substituting virtual connection in an attempt to reach out without feeling vulnerable. This presents an obstacle to the emotional connection with others which is necessary for healthy grieving and the development of new romantic relationships.

To learn more about how these attachment styles manifest in romantic relationships and what you can do to improve your attachment style and connection with others see the post Emotional Security.


Corey Stanford was widowed June 3rd 2012 when his late wife committed suicide. He married Tiffanie Kimball Stanford in 2014, and together they raise their three boys in Fayetteville, AR. Corey lives by the adage, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” As a Certified Professional Coach, Corey helps younger widows and widowers expand their vision for the future and achieve balanced and fulfilling lives. You can contact Corey at [email protected] and visit www.stanford-coaching.com


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