Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Attachment

How to Love Someone With Attachment Issues

You can’t seem to stabilize your relationship. What’s really going on?

Key points

  • Research suggests that, when it comes to our close relationships, people generally fall into one of three ‘attachment style’ categories.
  • It's important to first identify which type of insecure attachment style your partner possesses so you can take the right measures to address it.
  • In the case of an anxious attachment style, partners should provide clear reassurance of their unconditional love.
Eric Ward / Unsplash
Source: Eric Ward / Unsplash

Many people come to therapy questioning why their relationship feels more difficult than what they think is normal. They say things like:

  • “I can’t seem to keep things on an even keel.”
  • “I love them so much, and I know they love me, but they make it so difficult.”
  • “How do I get them to see things from my perspective?”
  • “I desperately want this relationship to work, but I feel like the emotional cost is too high.”

Feeling this way can mean many things. Seeking support from a mental health professional can help you identify and address the underlying issue(s).

One possible explanation is that your partner has certain personality traits that make it difficult for you (or anyone, for that matter) to maintain a healthy intimate relationship with them.

Here are those traits—how to not let them become a barrier to your love for each other.

Identify the type of attachment insecurity that might be responsible for the relationship choppiness.

Psychological research suggests that, when it comes to our close relationships, people generally fall into one of three ‘attachment style’ categories:

  • Secure. People with secure attachment styles have an easier time establishing and maintaining healthy, close relationships (possibly because they experienced healthy and stable interpersonal relationships growing up).
  • Anxious. Anxious attachment styles tend to come with a negative self-views and require high levels of contact and reassurance from an attachment figure. Their anxiety may stem from past experiences, often in childhood, where they may have received inconsistent care from people they depended on.
  • Avoidant. Individuals with avoidant attachment styles often maintain distance from people to avoid vulnerability and the potential for rejection. This style could originate from past experiences of consistently poor or absent caregiving.

Not surprisingly, it is the second two attachment styles, anxious and avoidant, that pose problems to healthy romantic relationships. However, they do so in different ways.

It is important to first identify which type of insecure attachment style your partner possesses so you can take the right measures to address it. This leads to the next point:

Behave in a way that buffers your partner’s attachment style from relationship "spillover" effects.

Even people with attachment issues can learn to have healthy, productive intimate relationships. It just takes a bit more work.

Part of this work must be done by your partner, perhaps by engaging in psychotherapy to understand where their issues originate and how to not let destructive tendencies undermine their close relationships.

Another part of this work can be done by you. Once you have identified the type of attachment insecurity at play (anxious versus avoidant), you can learn to act in ways that mitigate its negative effects.

A new review article published in Nature suggests that:

  • In the case of an anxious attachment style, partners should provide clear reassurance of their unconditional love and continued commitment to the relationship. This can come in the form of accentuating positive regard, expressing emotions that convey commitment, or soothing distress through physical touch. “Receiving greater support and gratitude from partners can help highly anxious individuals feel more satisfied and reduces attachment anxiety over time,” writes the lead author of the paper, Nickola Overall.
  • In the case of an avoidant attachment style, partners should strive to demonstrate their trustworthiness as well as respect avoidant individuals’ autonomy. Downplaying problem severity, validating avoidant individuals’ point of view, or giving credit for their sacrifices can reduce avoidant individuals’ patterns of anger and withdrawal during arguments or conflict. “Forms of caregiving that clearly demonstrate that their partners are trustworthy and respect avoidant individuals’ personal autonomy typically reduce anger and disengagement when avoidant individuals need support,” says Overall. “This helps avoidant individuals feel more committed to their relationships and experience reductions in attachment avoidance across time.”

Conclusion

There are many reasons why you may feel like it’s impossible to have a healthy and constructive relationship with someone you love. It could have to do with your partner’s personality and attachment style, as discussed above. There may be another flaw in your relationship that needs to be addressed before things can get better. It might be that you or your partner (or both of you) have unrealistic expectations for the relationship. There might be a nagging communication issue. In all of these cases, individual and couples therapy is a great place to get help.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

advertisement