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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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What's Your Attachment Style and Why Does it Matter to Your Relationship?

Uploaded: Jan 27, 2017
Let’s start with explaining attachment, which is developed in early childhood, with your primary caregiver. Depending on the type of care you received (consistent, loving & dependable; unreliable in when it would be loving and supportive; or often ignored), this leads to one of three types of attachment: Secure (anchor), anxious (wave), and avoidant (island). The words in parenthesis are from Stan Tatkin and PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy which I trained in last year). Keep in mind this a simplified explanation for our purpose here.

Everyone is biologically wired to seek secure attachment – to be and feel connected (Johnson, 2008).

What does that mean in English? It consists of five parts:

1. You give each other support and empathy (not fixing).
2. You demonstrate that you have his/her back no matter what.
3. You seek comfort from each other.
4. You seek sex from each other.
5. You create a home that is a haven that gives you the energy to face everything outside your door.

In other words, you create a Couple Bubble (Tatkin).

John Bowlby is the founder of Attachment Theory. He began his work in the 1950s. Mary Ainsworth did research that proves his work, and it’s called The Strange Situation. Follow up was done with the babies 21 years later. Check out which this video to see The Strange Situation. You’re watching for the baby’s reaction when mom comes back into the room. Does baby allow mom to comfort her (secure)? Does baby push mom away and bat toys away (anxious)? Does baby completely ignore that mom is gone and again when she gets back (avoidant)?

Here’s a video about anxious and avoidant attachment.There are many videos to watch, so take some time and explore.

The reason this matters is that however you are attached as a baby, is likely how you will attach with an adult partner. Will you let yourself be loved and comforted (secure?) Will you not trust that your partner will be loving and comforting consistently, and it leaves you wondering what you’ll get in any given interaction (anxious)? Will you expect that you cannot count on anyone, so even if you’re in a relationship, you can do everything yourself, and part of you is holding back (avoidant)?

Whether or not you are securely attached, you can live and behave as anchors in your marriage. This is great news. You get to make a choice about how you treat your partner, and what outcome you hope for in your marriage. Because of neuroplasticity, your brain can change over time, as you behave differently, and move toward secure attachment.
There is an online self-test you can take to assess your attachment style. It provides information on a continuum. Are you secure? Are you somewhat anxious or avoidant?

I would recommend taking the test twice: first with your current relationship in mind, and the second as an amalgation of all your previous relationships. Answer as accurately as you can to get the most out of the test.

I took the first test thinking about my relationship with my husband and wasn’t surprised to find secure attachment. When I took the second test, the results showed about 75% anxious and 50% avoidant. Not surprising; my dad left when I was six, and prior to that my parents were busy with politics and partying. We had a nanny. So being anxious that someone would leave me was an obvious worry. Avoiding intimacy seemed like a good self-defense approach, too.

Now I’m married to my best friend, we’ve known each other for 40 years, and married for 12 years.

Childhood coping skills are critical, and I honor the ways you were able to make do. However, child coping skills in an adult relationship usually don’t work out very well. This will be an area to work on and grow into adult strategies.

One last comment: If you are on your device a lot instead of playing with your baby/toddler, you are setting up an anxious or avoidant attachment for him/her to deal with as an adult and in adult relationships.

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