Understanding Adult Attachment Theory

Adult Attachment Theory

Experts have tried to explain how we connect with each other using adult attachment theory. When we were kids, we have strong but simple attachments to caregivers, especially parents. Adults, however, have more complicated relationships with other people.

Many experts have explained how our relationship style roots on childhood attachment. Are they valid? Can we use our past attachment patterns to describe current interactions with other people?

History of Adult Attachment Theory

Adult attachment theory originated from early 20th century researches about child attachment. Psychoanalyst John Bowlby studied infant behaviors to see the way they react when separated from caregivers. Bowlby concluded that reactions such as crying, frantic searching, and clinging are adaptation results of the loss of caregivers (such as when the parents leave the room).

Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver revisited Bowlby’s theory in 1987, applying it in an adult relationship. They noticed that adult relationships, including romances, mimic the way they interacted with caregivers during childhood.

These theories redefined the relations between adults, especially in romantic relationships. We got explanations about mental security and insecurity, which motivate adults to act in certain ways during relationships.

Types of Adult Attachment

What kind of attachment can an adult have with his or her significant other? Here are four types of adult attachment you must know:

  • Secure attachment

Secure attachment means you have a positive view on yourself and other people. You feel warmth and other positive feelings when having good relationships with others. However, you can also handle alone time well, without being clingy, fearful, or extremely jealous all the time.

Secure attachment roots from warm, fulfilling relations between a child and caregiver. In this case, the caregiver provides proper attention and acceptance to the child’s needs, but still within boundaries.

  • Anxious-preoccupied attachment

This type of insecure attachment makes you develop a positive view toward others, but negative view toward yourself. You want a warm relationship but feel that you don’t deserve one, even when you got a good partner. You become clingy, dependent, and jealous.

This insecure attachment type happens if you experienced neglect by a caregiver. The lack of response could make you feel that there’s something wrong with you.

  • Dismissive-avoidant attachment

This type of attachment makes people feel that they are mentally independent. They view a relationship as something unnecessary, and even negative. They have a strong feeling of self-sufficiency, and refuse to consider having a long-term partner. The extreme version of this feeling can grow from various reasons, from abuse to neglect.

While having independence is good, avoiding potential relation with others can lead to isolation. It can also cause a fear of commitment, even if a potential partner has good qualities. Dismissive-avoidant attachment may also cause you to cover up your feeling and emotion.

  • Fearful-avoidant attachment

This is the most extreme form of insecure attachment, often resulting in severe abuse that happens repeatedly. Fearful avoidance causes someone to feel confused and unsure about any potential relationships. People with this kind of insecure attachment often develop negative views toward themselves and others.

These attachment forms are widely used as the standard model to explain adult relationships. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists may solve relationship problems by focusing on attachment styles.

How Attachment Affects Your Relationship

Attachment, either secure or insecure, affects several aspects in your relationship, such as:

  • Spousal satisfaction

Spousal satisfaction relates strongly to attachment. If you and your partner have a secure attachment, you are more likely to develop a satisfying relationship. Secure attachment often leads to better communication style and emotional expression, which contribute to satisfaction.

  • Emotional support

Secure partnership shows a healthy pattern of emotional support. You and your partner seek supports from each other when you need them, and it happens equally. Insecure attachments cause lack of support or clingy behavior.

  • Intimacy level

Intimacy means a level of closeness where you feel comfortable enough to share emotions, feelings, and personal stories. While intimacy level can be influenced by personality, attachment also plays an important part. Secure attachment makes it easier for two people to be intimate with each other, especially when they seek assurance, support, or bliss.

Attachment type also determines the way you respond toward separation. For example, secure individuals often have a healthier coping mechanism when their partner leaves temporarily or passes away. They are also more likely to seek supports. Meanwhile, people with insecure attachment often fall into deep despair, fear, withdrawal, or emotional lash-out.

Does Attachment Affect Relationship Duration?

You probably think that healthy adult attachment leads to a longer relationship duration. This is not always the case.

Attachment is not the only determining factor in relationship duration. A couple may separate because of inevitable circumstances, despite their efforts to keep the relationship intact. People with anxious-preoccupied attachment also tend to keep long but unsatisfactory (and even abusive) relationship, because they are afraid of being left.


Adult attachment theory explains how childhood attachment affects how we view relationship as adults. Secure attachment roots on healthy interactions, so you should emulate them as adults to experience stimulating relationship. Secure attachment also involves two adults that understand and support each other to make things work.

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