Attachment Theory In Romantic Relationhips - Max Jancar
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Attachment Theory

By Max Jancar | Last Updated: June 4, 2021

breakups through the lens of attachment theory

Attachment theory talks about how our primary attachment bond represents a model for all our future relationships. In fact, out of that primary attachment, we develop one of four attachment styles:

Most attachment styles develop during early childhood by how children interact with their parents (specifically their mothers) and the quality of care they receive in response to their crying and general yearning for attention. (1)

These styles influence the partners we chose, how our overall romantic relationships pan out, the challenges we face in them, and how we respond when such a relationship ends.

In this article, I will discuss each style in turn, answer the most pressing questions surrounding them, and give instructions on how to go from an insecure attachment (love-addition/love-avoidance) to a secure variant.

Secure Attachment

People who are securely attached tend to be more satisfied with their relationships since they generally feel safe and connected in their relationships without feeling constrained.

Their security will promote a sense of freedom of movement for themselves and their partner so they can explore the world without worrying about niggling insecurities.

Moreover, a secure person will also offer support if their partner feels distressed and will not be afraid to go to them when they feel the same way.

The relationship will be open, honest, and equal, allowing both individuals to feel independent while still displaying a loving and affectionate nature towards each other.

In general, securely attached individuals find it easier to form and keep longer-lasting relationships because they tend to trust quicker and have less relational anxiety than their insecure counterparts — the love addicts and love avoidants.

When it comes to breakups, these people obviously have it the easiest. Sure, they still feel the pain of heartbreak just like love addicts and avoidants, but in contrast, they cope with it in an understanding and healthy way. Oh, and they also move on much faster.

Origin: Secure individuals often had parents or caregivers who kept being there for them, meeting their needs, and consistently handling their requests — they became their safety base.

Anxious Attachment

Anxiously attached individuals are the typical pleaser/codependent types who don’t love themselves and even think of themselves as lesser or unworthy.

Let’s unpack their characteristics further.

First, they’re prone to forming a fantasy bond with their partner. Rather than developing real loving feelings, they develop an emotional hunger to be and stay with them instead.

Second, they rely on their partner to meet their emotional needs and provide happiness, for they can’t meet their own needs or make themselves happy.

Third, they cling on, obsess, and worry about their partners to the point where they start pushing them away. They also tend to possess an animal-like hunger for near-constant validation and approval. In other words, they need others to tell them how great and valuable, and worthy they are.

Fourth, due to their vast insecurity, the love addicts often spam their partner’s (or ex-partner’s) phone, show up at their house unannounced, spy on them, overanalyze things they say, and generally act from a place of jealousy, fear, and possessiveness.

To put it in another way, these are the people who go batshit crazy when their relationship stops working properly or shuts down entirely.

Once broken up, the love addicts feel the most distraught out of all the attachment styles and often do one of two things. They either go on a dating rampage in hopes of finding someone new to attach to, or they try to desperately win their ex back.

And to make things worse, these people also have the highest chance of becoming depressed and vicious toward themselves following their breakup. (2)

Origin: Anxious individuals were usually taken care of by parents or caregivers who offered inconsistent responses to their cries for attention and affection and so couldn’t be used as a reliable, safe base.

Avoidant Attachment (Love Avoidant)

Avoidantly attached individuals, or to put in mainstream terms again, love avoidants are, at its core, the type of people who suppress their emotions and frequently distance themselves from those they love.

… Well, at least until those people give them sufficient space, at which point the avoidants slowly shed their shell, crawl back, and become responsive to intimacy again.

Let’s unpack their characteristics further.

First, they tend to seek isolation, avoid intimacy, and wholly focus on their own needs and comfort rather than the needs and comfort of others. However, this veneer of independence is an illusion, as everybody wants and needs to make connections in life. (3)

Second, these people often shut down emotionally and defend themselves from pain by turning off their feelings. Heated emotional situations will bring this out the most, as they may respond to threats and anger with things like, “I don’t care.”

When love avoidants get into a breakup, they often act as if it hasn’t affected them. But in reality, it has. They just repress their post-heartbreak feelings to the point where it seems they really haven’t got to them.

Sadly there’s a huge danger with this way of coping. The more a person represses painful feelings, the higher the likelihood that those feelings turn to trauma that can scar them for life.

Origin: Avoidant individuals were frequently raised by parents or caregivers who spent little to no time with them. In fact, they probably rarely acted upon the child’s requested wants and pleads for closeness. As a result, they made the kid numb to healthy attachments.

fearful-avoidant Attachment (disorganized)

Meet the worst of both worlds. These are the people who possess both — the anxious and the avoidant — attachment styles. In the mainstream, we call them disorganizedly attached.

The whole phenomenon of being a fearful-avoidant stems from the fear of excessive closeness AND excessive space.

Let’s unpack the characteristics of fearful-avoidants further.

First, they tend to have frequent mood swings. When they feel rejected, they become desperate for attention and affection, and when they feel trapped or as if someone got emotionally too close, they push back and want more space.

Second, they will desperately attempt to keep their feelings at bay even though they’re seldom capable of doing so. In fact, they will try to run away from them, but instead of succeeding, they will become overwhelmed by their own reaction and fall into emotional turmoil.

When it comes to breakups, people with a fearful-avoidant attachment have mixed reactions concerning their loss.

They often start by trying to numb or push down their feelings just like classic avoidants, but after time those feelings bubble up to the surface of their consciousness, and they are forced to deal with them. At that point, they become desperate for a new relationship — a new person to attach themselves to.

Origin: Disorganized individuals are often victims of the most unkind childhood experiences like physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment from the side of their caretakers. In response to this kind of treatment, these children are often traumatized, to a larger degree than most.

Optional Grey Box Of Doom

Top questions about love addicts and love avoidants and my best attempts at answering.

1. How to get an avoidant ex to chase you?

Now, now… was someone listening to Chris Seiter again? Look, you don’t get or make any ex to chase you. I’m not saying you can’t, but that you shouldn’t. It’s a very piss-poor attempt at being a decent human being.

Here’s what to do instead. Walk away and never look back. Counterintuitively this will cause your ex to chase you way more than when you try to game them. It’s also, like… ethical.

2. Do love avoidants miss you after a breakup?

Well, sure they do! Love avoidants miss you just like any other person would. Sure, sometimes they hold this notion back and pretend they don’t. But it’s all an act. Love avoidants don’t just miss their ex-lovers, they also grieve, hurt, and deal with the exact same post-breakup stuff, like everyone else.

3. Do avoidants regret breaking up?

Rather ask, do people regret breaking up? Sometimes yes; other times no. It really comes down to your breakup. For example, if you’re a cheater and the dumpee, chances are your ex doesn’t miss you at all. Conversely, if you’re the dumper, and there was no cheating involved, your ex probably misses you.

4. Do love avoidants come back?

Maybe not at the same rate as those with an anxious attachment style, but nonetheless, yes, they do come back. Or, in words you presumably want to hear, yes, you can get them back.

5. Do love addicts miss you after a breakup?

Fuck yeah, they do. In fact, love addicts obsess over their exes and can’t stop thinking about them, nor can they stop pondering their relationship. Hence, the name, love addicts.

6. Are all love addicts codependent?

Yes. All love addicts are codependents or at least heavily inclined to codependency. However, not all codependents are love addicts. Codependency is not an addiction; it’s an emotional and behavioral condition in which a person has difficulty drawing the line between where they end and another person begins. (4)

How To Go From A love addict/love avoidant to a secure individual

Had it ever occurred to you that maybe it’s your attachment style that’s preventing you from creating the kind of love-life you want? If that’s the case, your next thought was probably something like, “well, can I change it?”

Here’s the truth: Yes you can change your attachment style. But this is far from easy. It may take months or years of therapy and self-work to do it.

Nevertheless, to make your journey easier, I’ve listed some tips on how you can go from an insecure attachment style to a secure one on your own.

Note: I will not be addressing the transition from a disorganized attachment style to a secure variant. This is because a) it’s unlikely you have that attachment since it’s very rare, and b) if you by some godforsaken miracle do have it, due to its severity, the only way you can effectively tackle it is with the help of a therapist.

The prerequisites

Before you can change your attachment style, it would probably be a good idea to nail down the one you have. To find this out, let’s play a game.

Think back to when you were still with your ex. How did you react when, let’s say, they told you they will call you in an hour but didn’t fulfill that promise.

Did you:

  1. Sit patiently and calmly and deem that your ex might’ve just been busy and forgot about the phone call?
  2. Become overwhelmed with fear, worry, anger, and frustration, ran 100+ different scenarios of what could be going on in your head, and even thought things like, “It’s over. He/she doesn’t love me anymore. He/she is probably cheating on me.”
  3. Become fearful and anxious when they actually did call you and perhaps even avoided the call altogether.

Option one would plot you into the secure individual category, option two into the love addict category, and option three into the love avoidant category.

However, this is just one of the hundreds of tests out there. If you want to nail down your attachment style precisely, give this free online quiz a shot.

In essence, when it comes to figuring out your attachment style, the most crucial part of the process is honesty. Observe and analyze your behavioral patterns with precision. What style do they resemble? Scrutinize the emotions you feel. What are they? Can you find connections between them and the attachment styles we went over?

Dig deep to understand your psyche, and only when you nailed down your attachment proceed to changing it. Or else you’re just going to be spinning your wheels, going nowhere.

From anxious to secure (for the love addicts)

Here’s what you can do if you’re trying to go from anxious to secure:

First, learn how to soothe your feelings. Meaning, find what triggers your anxiety and learn to become aware when you’re feeling anxious.

The thinking goes that once you figure out what triggers your anxiety, you can find ways to eliminate those triggers, and when you become aware of your anxiety, you can manage it better and not succumb to its grasp.

Second, don’t shy away from meditation, qi-gong, journaling, yoga, and other calming activities. These things help anyone suffering from severe anxiety. (5)

Third, look out for overreactions to certain situations. Try to see them for what they are, an overreaction. You do this by simply cultivating self-awareness and asking yourself in heated moments, “is it reasonable to feel so anxious in this situation, or is my attachment style playing tricks on me?”

Fourth, when or if you start dating again (please don’t rush this), look for someone who has a secure attachment style.

It’s proven that you can dilute your anxious behavior by bringing a secure individual into your life. Another plus of this is that secure romantic prospects will be far less likely to feel impacted and repulsed by your anxiousness compared to other love addicts.

Fifth, and last, replace your self-talk with a more realistic variant. Love addicts are notorious for self-belittlement, self-loather, and general negative self-talk, so implementing a more realistic way of talking to yourself is paramount.

For example, instead of saying to yourself, “I’m a failure,” you can say,” I’m okay. Everyone failed at some point.”

Or instead of telling yourself, “I’m unlovable and stupid,” you can tell yourself things like,” I’m not perfect, but I’m lovable and enough,” and “I made a mistake/acted like a dumbass, but everyone does that at some point.

Just be careful not to fall into the habit of replacing your negative talk with an overly positive variant since that’s just the other toxic extreme, and you’ll probably turn out a narcissist if you keep indulging in it.

From avoidant to secure (for the love avoidants)

Here’s what you can do if you’re trying to go from avoidant to secure.

First, practice vulnerability — practice is religiously. You need to get used to opening up to others about your views, goals, and beliefs, and the things you care about — the things you’re most scared to express.

This will be painful at first, but over time you’ll see it’s one of the best changes you’ll ever make. And you don’t need to start with a bang. Go simple.

For instance, try being actively curious about the feelings and the inner world of others. Call up a good friend, invite them for a drink and start a conversation. After a few minutes, find the courage to share some of your own deeper thoughts and emotions with them—something you haven’t shared yet. Something that makes you feel uncomfortable.

It may seem arbitrary, but try to develop a regimented curiosity and sharing pattern to build this into an emotional routine. Do this slowly and with people you trust, to allow your mind to retrain without undue stress.

Second, practice self-awareness. The same kind that’s needed to figure out what’s your attachment in the first place. But this time, the self-awareness ties to you noticing your avoidant tendencies and then, instead of closing off, opening up even more and embracing the emotional connection with others.

Here’s a practical example of what I mean.

Let’s say you’re on a date. You’re talking to the person next to you, and you begin to feel alarmed that things are moving too fast. When this happens, find to courage to not close off; just stop and think: Do I feel alarmed for a good reason, or are my avoidant tendencies getting the best of me?

And in cases where you’re already in the process of emotionally closing off from someone or even on the brink of ending the date and running away, think:

Next, you want to accept your newfound avoidant tendencies (if there are any), then quickly refocus and force yourself to stay connected to the person you’re hanging out with, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

The last tip I can give you is the same as when you’re trying to go from anxious to secure. Find a secure romantic interest when you’re out dating. As I said, it’s proven that they can dilute your avoidant behavior and make you feel more at ease and thus secure. Plus, they’ll be less likely to feel impacted and repulsed by your avoidant tendencies compared to dating someone who is also an avoidant.

Ultimately, no matter your attachment style, the road to changing it is filled with obstacles. And you will inevitably bump and crash into some of them.

Sometimes love addicts will reach out to their ex even though they know they shouldn’t. And other times, love avoidants will go on a bed crushing, cum-on-the-wall rampage with total strangers, only to push their hurt deeper into their subconscious.

It’s okay. People lose control of their Attachment Style Car all the time. Don’t beat yourself up about it. When you bump into the next obstacle, just put the bitch into reverse, get the car unstuck, adjust course, center the grill toward the right direction, and slam that gas pedal. Then repeat the whole process at the next obstacle. And on and on you go.

56 Big Ideas That Will Make You Feel Great Again

Receive a free ebook on the best ways to recover from your breakup and stop obsessing over your ex. You'll also get weekly exclusive content that will melt your mind. Spam free.