This is first in a series of articles focusing on adult attachment styles and how they impact the way we deal with intimacy, how we communicate our feelings and needs and listen to our partners, how we respond to conflict and our expectations in relationships. There are four distinct adult attachment patterns: secure or autonomous, anxious or preoccupied, avoidant and disorganized or unresolved.
Someone who has a secure attachment style was likely nurtured and cared for from an early age. They probably grew up in a healthy family environment with close connections to their caregivers, who were attuned to their needs. This allowed them to develop a positive internal working model and self-image. As adults, securely attached individuals tend to be comfortable with intimacy, not worried about rejection or preoccupied with their relationship.
Numerous studies have shown the positive effects of adult attachment security on self-image, stress management, values and overall mental, physical and relationship health. The ability to trust and depend on a partner results in a “broaden-and-build” cycle. In other words, the sense of security increases an individual’s emotional stability in times of stress, acting as a resource for resilience.
Securely attached adults have constructive and optimistic beliefs and attitudes. They appraise problems as manageable, view stressful events as opportunities for leaning and have a more positive view of human nature. They also see their partner’s intentions in a positive light and therefore, react less negatively to a partner’s hurtful behavior. Secure adults score higher on measures of trust, intimacy, open communication, prosocial behavior, self-disclosure, support seeking, marital satisfaction and self-esteem.
Achieving secure attachment in a relationship–having a partner who fulfills our intrinsic attachment needs and serves as a secure base–is vital to emotional and physical health. A Harvard University study that began in 1938 and tracked a group of men throughout their lives, found that the men who had at least one loving and supportive friend, mentor or relative, were better able to overcome adverse events. Those who were more successful at maintaining intimate relationships also lived longer. The study concluded that the capacity for intimate relationships was the primary factor related to flourishing in all aspects of men’s lives.
Secure Attachment Traits
Couples who are securely attached in their relationships tend to share the following traits:
- They desire closeness and enjoy emotional and physical intimacy.
- They are emotionally available to each other. They are aware of their feelings, share them openly and have empathy for their partner’s feelings.
- They support and respect each other and make each other feel safe and protected.
- They communicate open and honestly and work together to resolve problems rather than escalate conflict.
- They are flexible and willing to adapt. They can see things from their partner’s point of view and accept feedback without feeling criticized or controlled.
- They can forgive their partner and themselves for mistakes or hurtful behavior.
- They feel secure about their sexual relationship, understanding that sex is part of emotional intimacy, not merely physical.
People with a secure attachment style bring that style into their adult relationships and are more likely to experience the many benefits of a securely attached partnership. But even if you experienced trauma, neglect or a lack of love from your attachment figures in early childhood, there is always opportunity for positive change. At Evergreen Psychotherapy Center, we have worked with hundreds of individuals and couples to help them become aware of past losses, incompletions and repetitive destructive patterns in their lives. We then provide opportunities to integrate and heal these roadblocks so that they are able to enjoy securely attached relationships.