Genre: Self-Help
Publisher: Tarcher
Published: 12/30/2010
Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel S. F. Heller reveal how an understanding of attachment theory-the most advanced relationship science in existence today-can help us find and sustain love. Attachment theory forms the basis for many bestselling books on the parent/child relationship, but there has yet to be an accessible guide to what this fascinating science has to tell us about adult romantic relationships-until now.

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find - and Keep - Love

Let's be real: Relationships can make you feel amazing. They can be a great source of comfort, security, and warmth. Conversely, they can also be stressful, painful, exhausting, and leave you full of anxiety. What gives? If you find that your relationships often reflect more of the latter, it's likely it has something to do with your attachment style. Attachment is the bond we form with other people and our style of attachment is the particular way we attach to others. Attachment style is pretty important and can influence everything from how we relate to others to what kind of partners we pick. Read on to learn about different attachment styles, the best antidote for relationship troubles (regardless of your style), and the number one thing you need in a relationship for it to last the long haul.

Everybody needs somebody!

We are reliant on other people to get our needs met. More than that, being close to other people can bring us great comfort. Researchers were able to confirm this when they had female participants engage with a stressful situation. Some women were allowed to hold their partner’s hand, others were not. When women held their partner's hand, the part of the brain associated with stress was significantly less activated. Just holding their partners hand lowered their stress. Sweet, right? It has also been shown that being in a negative relationship causes raised blood pressure whenever you’re around your partner, which could be detrimental to your health in the long run. So, relationships are important. One key aspect of relationships, attachment, is the bond we form with a significant person in our life. It withstands a certain amount of time and leads to a need for continued contact. Now that you understand how good positive attachments can be (Goodbye stress!!) and how negative attachments can be bad (hello health problems!), here’s where it comes from.

Why do we attach? Blame your genes and your parents.

You might wonder why people attach to each other at all. It's because it's embedded in our genes! Right when we are born, we begin to reach and yearn for the security of our mothers. This desire has a historical basis: our ancestors knew they needed to rely on each other for survival to gather food, stay safe from predators, and for protection. In present times, that ancient desire for attachment is molded by our earliest attachment: the one to our parents. When a child’s needs are consistently met, they will likely form a secure attachment that will carry them through until adulthood. Attachment styles can change, largely due to the impact of your environment. For instance, your attachment style can become unhealthy due to the impact of a negative relationship in adulthood.

What’s all the fuss about? Anxious attachment styles

Imagine this scenario: Your partner is normally home from work at 5:30 PM on weekdays. You look at the clock, and it's 6:00 PM, and they still aren’t home. How do you react? Many people would assume that their partner was stuck in traffic, or worry about a possible car accident. For those who are anxiously attached, they might begin to worry that their partner has left them or stopped loving them. For these individuals, the worry often becomes completely overwhelming, and can morph into a panic. To deal with the overwhelming anxiety, they might call their partner multiple times or do something erratic.

Individuals who are anxiously attached tend to be preoccupied with anxiety about their partner and their relationship, and these feelings are so powerful they can govern the way they act. This style is characterized by a need for constant contact with your partner, paired with the tendency to personalize the things your partner does. This can be draining for both people in the relationship.

If this sounds like you, to address this style, partner with someone who is able to fulfill your needs. Be with someone who is secure, available, and willing to talk to you about what you’re feeling. A good match for you is someone with a secure attachment style.

Stay away! Avoidant Attachment Styles

Imagine your partner asks you to move forward in the relationship in some capacity. They want to move in, they want to get married, maybe they want to get matching tattoos. Some people see this as a positive thing: relationships moving forward. For a select few, cementing relationships like this can induce an intense feeling of panic or be stifled. Some individuals prize independence above their personal relationships. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, when it becomes your only goal, it causes relationships that are important to you to fall apart. If that’s your experience, it's very likely you have an avoidant attachment style. Those who are avoidant eventually tend to find that their partners are too needy. They feel confined when they are with someone else, and will begin to pick apart their flaws. Often they have an idealized picture of someone they would like to be with, but most people just don’t meet their standards. People with avoidant attachment styles have difficulty reading others, and blame them when things go wrong.

If this sounds like you, to address the problems that can arise with this style, put in the effort to see your partner in a more positive way. It is important to look for where you are at fault in conflict, instead of blaming others.

Secure Attachment Styles

Some people really are comfortable with closeness and independence in relationships. These are the people with a secure attachment style, and if you’re looking for one, you’re in luck. It is the most common attachment style. Being with someone who has this style is a significant predictor for a good relationship. Why you might ask? People who are securely attached can understand their partner's autonomy without being too indifferent or attached. Say you snap at your partner about one thing, but it was really just because you were stressed. Someone securely attached will understand that you weren’t snapping because of them, and will give you space to feel better and collect yourself. Pretty sweet, right?

Regardless of your attachment style, here’s how to make your relationship work better

Communication is one of the most important parts of a relationship, regardless of how you attach. Unfortunately, communication can also very easily go awry when people aren’t being clear about what they want, or when they’re sending mixed messages. A great example of this can happen during the initial dating stages of a relationship. Let’s say you and your date have hung out several times, but no one has made a move. What gives!? You can fret about it, or you can clearly communicate your concern by telling your date how you feel. Though the possibility of coming off a certain way might be uncomfortable, not knowing the truth is even more uncomfortable! If you talk about it, you can understand the truth about your relationship with your partner and level your expectations accordingly. This strategy works in relationships for all issues, just be sure that while you are honest about the problem you’re experiencing or concerned about, you aren’t blaming your partner. There’s a difference between, “You’re a shady person because you stay in contact with your ex-girlfriend” and, “It makes me feel insecure when you talk to her, how can we fix this?”. If your partner doesn’t feel attacked, they’ll have an easier time hearing you out.

Fighting isn’t a bad thing

Fighting is an important part of a relationship. It can be healthy if it leads to a solution. There are two ways to help this happen. First, don’t generalize. Don’t start an argument by talking about a trip and then shift it to being about someone taking the trash out. Focus in on the topic you’re arguing about. Second, pay attention to your partner’s well-being, not just your own. Compromising on issues that cause contention can create happiness for both of you.

Most importantly, don't be wary of bringing up things that bother you or creating conflict. Working through difficult situations can deepen your attachment to your partner. You’ll be relieved because you won’t have to carry the stress of dealing with what was bothering you and your partner won’t feel like they have to guess what’s on your mind. It's a win-win!

The single most important thing you need in a partner

If anxiously attached individuals find themselves paired with avoidantly attached individuals, the relationship will often be painful and difficult for both of them. While the anxiously attached person will desire closeness, intimacy, and commitment, the avoidantly attached person will desire boundaries and independence. Marriage? Separate bedrooms? Kids? These can all become sources of conflict. Fundamentally, these two are mismatched because they cannot meet each other's needs. The moral of this story? Find a partner who meets your needs, whatever those are. This is the key to a successful and fulfilling relationship, along with healthy communication.


Your attachment style can influence everything from how you relate to others to what kind of partners you pick. Read to learn about different attachment styles, the best antidote for relationship troubles (regardless of your style), and the number one thing you need in a relationship for it to last the long haul.


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