Photo by Alexi Berry

The work of Mary Ainsworth and related research indicates that there are three attachment styles: Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant. According to research, most people fall into one of these three styles; the attachment styles then characterize behavior in relationships. The secure type needs little explanation: these partners are self-assured in all of their relationships. The anxious type worries that their partner will abandon them. They are the type to go through their partners phone, question their partner frequently about the relationship, and otherwise demonstrate worrisome and insecure behavior. The avoidant types are those that barely talk about themselves, avoid intimacy, and otherwise try to keep their partner at arms length. This is often a result of fear of abandonment. (The avoidant type is also referred to as "anxious-avoidant").

While discussing these attachment styles in my personality class, the conversation turned to whether the nature of the relationship could affect attachment style. This is reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode called "The Pez Dispenser" (Season 3, Episode 14). You can watch a segment here:

In the episode George complains to Jerry that he doesn't have any "hand" in the relationship; he would love to get the upper hand with his new girlfriend. The term "Hand," is interpreted as power. George doesn't have any power because the relationship matters more to him then his partner. He is quite smitten with his partner, and she is detached from him. To reverse these circumstances and gain hand, following the advice of his peers George breaks up with her. She is taken aback, and then becomes more attentive to George, seemingly now fearing losing him.

George's partner goes from secure to anxious, and George goes from anxious to secure. Although this is television, art (if we can call television art) often imitates life. If this shift in attachment style can change in one relationship, it isn't a stretch that an individual might have a different attachment style in different relationships. It is also reasonable to assume a contributor to this difference may be how smitten someone is in relation to the other, or as it is said, who loves whom more.

When one has a sense of power and control in a relationship, this leads to more security. Sometimes this feeling of security is a result of inherent personality traits, fostered by the initial attachment to the caregiver. At other times it may be a result of one partner being more invested, attached, attracted to, or dependent on the relationship than their partner. In some circumstances, this might result in a normally secure person being anxious in the relationship, worrying about losing their partner.

Conversely, the normally secure person may respond to this anxiety in an ambivalent way, feeling fearful about their loss of security. This person is uncomfortable with anxiety, perhaps because it is so unfamiliar, and becomes defiant in facing it. Then the individual teeters between being anxious and wanting the connection, fearing the anxiety and pulling away.

An issue with the anxious and avoidant attachment style is fear of being hurt. This is a very real possibility in any relationship. As I have written previously, any relationship can end; no matter how secure one may feel in it. When an individual is experiencing anxiety and attachment issues in their relationship as a result of the magnitude of their feelings for their partner, they run the risk of letting the anxiety ruin the relationship.

There are a number of things one can do to combat allowing their anxiety to deteriorate the relationship. First, they can manage the anxiety and make it a positive influence. For example, they might remain more considerate of their partner in order to continue to impress. One issue that leads to the decay of long-term relationships is becoming so comfortable in the relationship you take the other for granted. A contributor to divorce is feeling unappreciated in the marriage, which is an outcome of feeling one is taken for granted. A manageable amount of anxiety is of benefit.

A philosophy shift can help reduce the anxiety about being left by a loved one. First, having faith in a belief that things will work out the way they are supposed to reduces anxiety. This is a challenge to worrisome thoughts. If you believe things will work out for the best, this faith leads to the belief either the relationship will work out, or that its demise will lead to something better.

Another philosophy shift that reduces anxiety is being more Zen. Zen is living in the moment. When one focuses on being completely present in the moment, there is not room for worry. If you are present with your lover, be with them completely; if you are not with them, be completely present in whatever you are doing. Being in the moment decreases worrisome thoughts and increases the pleasure in a relationship.

Of course, there is another option: you can always look for a partner you feel more secure with.

Copyright William Berry, 2011

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