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Creating Secure Attachment

article

Christopher Guider, MA, LMHC, NCC

Healthy relationships require the right mix of intimacy and independence. Those with insecure attachment struggle to get this balance right. They either worry excessively about their relationships or hold themselves back from fully committing to their partners.

Shaped largely by early childhood experiences, insecure attachment can persist throughout the lifespan, affecting the quality and outcome of adult relationships. Thankfully, those with insecure attachment can learn to trust and commit to their relationships by adopting new beliefs and behaviors.

Below are some suggestions for how to do this.

Key Skills for Secure Attachment

Learn about your attachment style

Learn about the four main attachment styles as well as the associated thoughts and behaviors. This empowers you to spot trends in your relationship history and make a plan to break unhelpful patterns.

Examine your beliefs about relationships

Views about relationships tend to get set early in life. If your caregivers were unsafe or neglectful, you’ll likely be distrustful of your adult relationships. For that reason, it’s important to investigate what is actually true about your current relationships and abandon outdated beliefs and interpretations.

Next time you hesitate to trust or commit to your partner, try to find evidence that justifies your concern. Consider that you may be projecting experiences from past relationships onto your current relationship.

Act opposite to your anxious or avoidant style

Those with insecure attachment tend to cling to their relationships (anxious style) or hold themselves aloof from them (avoidant style). If you have an anxious style, try taking small steps toward becoming more independent. If you have an avoidant style, try letting down your guard and initiating intimacy.

The goal is to find the sweet spot where you have healthy levels of both intimacy and independence. It’s hard work to break a pattern, but remind yourself of the many rewards of improving your relationships.

Increase your emotional awareness

If you’re unable to manage and work with your emotions, you’ll likely be more reactive in your relationships, which decreases attachment security. Learning to express and tolerate your emotions makes you better able to empathize with those of your partner.

Communicate openly and listen empathetically

Working toward a secure attachment requires communicating your hopes, fears, and concerns in a respectful, open-hearted way. Non-verbal communication is equally important. Eye contact, nodding, and physical contact can help defuse tension when used skillfully. When conflict does happens, listen empathetically to your partner and determine how you can help each other feel understood and connected, even if you disagree.

Seek out others with healthy relationships

If you want to run a marathon, it’s helpful to surround yourself with successful runners. In the same way, you can improve your relationships by learning about how people with healthy relationships think and behave. Notice or ask how these individuals set appropriate boundaries in their partnerships.

If you don’t have a partner, remember that seeking someone who is securely attached can make it easier in your own journey toward secure attachment. If you’re in a relationship, reflect on areas where improvement is needed.

Minimize stressors

Stress can worsen attachment issues, even among those with secure attachment. This is particularly true of relationship-related turmoil, such as frequent arguments or the prospect of separation or divorce. Be proactive by committing to self-care, addressing conflict before it escalates, and engaging in calming activities with your partner.

An Integrated Approach

To summarize, these are the steps you can take to work toward secure attachment and improve your relationship satisfaction:

  • Learn about your attachment style
  • Examine your beliefs about relationships
  • Act opposite to your anxious or avoidant style
  • Increase your emotional awareness
  • Communicate openly and listen empathetically
  • Seek out others with healthy relationships
  • Minimize stressors

These actions work with thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, giving you an integrated approach to breaking old patterns and becoming more securely attached.

As you work toward secure attachment, keep this principle in mind: Relationship harmony revolves around skillfully expressing your attachment needs and discerning those of your partner. Set aside regular time to reflect on how you and your partner can help each other feel respected, understood, and loved. With consistent effort, this practice can lead to greater intimacy and a more fulfilling relationship.

Get these attachment tips in worksheet format here: