Anxious, avoidant and secure: the three relationship styles anyhow to work with our type.
I posed the question last week “why do I always fall for the same sort of man”, or rather, why do I always end up having a familiar experience: chasing after someone who is not interested or running from someone I feel uncertain of but who is interested in me? As I’ve read more of the book I recognise both elements of the avoidant and anxious in my romantic encounters. Secure seems to show up in how I navigate friendships and difficulties within these, unless I get triggered by the other person being unavailable to talk and I go in to anxious.
One answer the book gives to why we go for familiar types is that it enables us to perpetuate a certain view of ourselves and of life.
Avoidant’s tend to date anxious people because it confirms their belief that people are going to be more demanding than they want and that they need to remain strong and hold people away in order to maintain their independence.
Anxious people often feel an excitement on meeting an avoidant as it triggers a feeling they have come to associate with falling in love. An avoidant will give subtle signals right from the start that they are not fully available and this will trigger the heightened worry and flutter of wondering if the other person is going to want them in the anxious person. In contrast meeting a secure person there is none of this avoidance and the secure person is making it clear they are available, like you and want to go further. This can feel so unfamiliar that the lack of feelings of anxiety about being not wanted can be interpreted as there being “no spark’, or that the person is handsome but dull.
Secure people are more likely to enter into and sustain relationships whereas avoidant people are more likely to leave relationships. This means the number of secure people in the dating pool is lower and the likelihood of an anxious person meeting an avoidant is much higher. Avoidant’s tend not to date each other.
The book gives a detailed description for each type and how to bring awareness to their pattern. The following is a brief summary.
What I found most helpful was the author’s clear belief that none of the types have to feel wrong or need to fix themselves. There is a very compassionate attitude of recognising what one’s pattern is, how it serves one and how to recognise when situations are triggering one to act in ways that do not lead to our deepest fulfilment.
Tips for the anxious attachment type
1. Acknowledge and accept your true relationship needs.
This does not mean sending 100 texts a day or trying to move in on the second date! It means recognising that as a person with an anxious attachment style if your needs are not met you cannot be truly happy in the relationship. This means not allowing people to make you feel guilty for being “needy” or “dependant” but instead recognising your need for intimacy, availability and security.
2. Recognise and rule out avoidant prospects early on
Growing out of this recognition of our own needs, rather than chasing after avoidant people and trying to adapt to be attractive to them, the author suggests we learn to spot the signs of an avoidant and then recognise that a relationship with them will very likely consist of us trying to push closer as they try to hold us away.
To help with this recognition the author gives the following ‘smoking guns’ that indicate someone is avoidant:
- Sends mixed messages about commitment and their interest in you
- Longs for an ideal relationship – but gives subtle hints it will not be with you
- Desperately wants to meet “the one” – but finds fault with the person they are with
- Disregards your emotional well-being
- Suggests you are “too needy”, “sensitive or “overreacting” – invalidating your feelings and making you second guess yourself
- Ignores things you say that inconvenience him/her
- Addresses your concerns as in a “court of law” – responding to facts without taking into account your feelings.
- Your messages don’t get across
3. A new way of dating: be your authentic self
Express your needs. In talking of the anxious type the author says it is important to recognise that an anxious person has a need for intimacy and deep connection with their partner. Recognising this means you can show your need for connection early on and do not need to try to adopt a false persona of being aloof and independent in the early stages of dating, pretending that you do not want to reach out and connect in the name of playing it cool! All that will do is give a false message to a potential partner which will then result in you developing a relationship with someone who may not be ready to respond when you eventually show your real desire for greater contact and intimacy.
4. The abundance philosophy
A classic thought of the anxious attachment type is “this is the only one for me” or “I had better accept them as no-one else will want me”. It means shifting from the belief that meeting a suitable partner is unlikely to a belief that there and many potential partners out there. Rather than focusing all of your hope on one person, which will trigger the fear of loosing them and consequently make you act out more on your anxiety the author suggests you recognise there are many people you might potentially meet and to date a number of people at any one time so you do not fixate on one person. If someone then starts to go cool, rather than this triggering your attachment system which will make you want them even if on a logical level you know they are not right for you, if you have other dates at the same time you can more easily let go of the person who is distancing themselves.
5. Give secure people a chance
As mentioned earlier, secure people can seem dull to an anxious type as they do not trigger the feelings that are associated with the early stages of falling in love that come when dating an avoidant. Rather than making an impulsive decision to ditch someone because it feels too flat, give it time, perhaps it is just that you are not getting the usual mixed messages and avoidance behaviour that usually makes you long for someone.
Tips for the Avoidant Attachment Type
In contrast to anxious types who will activate their attachment system when faced with an avoidant to try and get closer, avoidant’s will deactivate their attachment system and keep their partner at arms length.
1. Recognise when you are turning to deactivating strategies
- saying “I’m not ready to commit” but staying together
- focusing on small imperfections in your partner
- pining after an ex (seeing them as the lost love of your life in hindsight, even though when with them you saw all of their faults)
- flirting with others – to introduce uncertainty into the relationship
- Not saying “I love you”
- Pulling away when things are going well
- Forming relationships with an impossible future – ie someone who is married
- “Checking out mentally” when your partner is talking to you.
- Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy – to maintain your sense of independence
- Avoiding physical closeness – not wanting to share the same bed, have sex, walking ahead of your partner.
2. De-emphasise self-reliance and focus on mutual support
Giving your partner a secure base will make them feel more secure and thus leave you free to have the independence you want when they can rest in a sense of trust that you’re there fo them. An example of this was a man who resented his wife texting him at work. He felt too busy to respond. But his lack of response led to her feeling more anxious and sending more texts and then being angry or silent when he got home. They talked about this and recognised their patterns. The husband reassured her he did think of her often, but did not have time for a conversation by text. The agreement they reached was that he would send a standard text each time he thought of her: “thinking of you”. Receiving these reassured her and reduced the need to text him.
3. Find a secure partner
An anxious attachment type will exacerbate the avoidant’s desire to escape. Being with a secure person will reduce the behaviour that would trigger this, resulting in less defensiveness, fighting and anguish.
4. Be aware of your tendency to misinterpret behaviours
Recognise your tendency to assume a negative intention behind your partner’s behaviour and instead learn to trust that they have your best interests at heart. In the texting example, the husband was convinced his wife was trying to undermine his performance at work by stressing him with texts all day, rather than recognising it was her way of asking if he was aware of her because she loved him and wanted to matter to him.
5. Make a relationship gratitude list
Recognise if you are tending to think negatively of your partner on a daily basis. This is not to blame yourself, it is simply how the avoidant style works – to create distance from intimacy through finding fault. To work with this tendency of your mind, start to make time at the end of every day to think back over the day and recognise at least one way your partner contributed to your well-being that day, however small that might be, and reflect on why you’re grateful they’re in your life.
6. Nix the phantom ex
When you find yourself idealising that one special ex-partner stop and acknowledge that you found faults in them as well when you were together.
7. Forget about “the one”
The author distinguishes between the unattainable ideal of “the one” who meets all the criteria on our check list, and of meeting someone in their imperfections but finding that they are a match for us and become special to us.
8. Adopt the distraction strategy
As an avoidant it is easier to get close to your partner if there’s a distraction – taking a hike, going sailing, preparing a meal together etc all allows you to let your guard down and makes it easier to access your loving feelings.
The book contains a lot more detailed information on this and a chapter for secure types – but as they tend to have balanced and easy ways of relating there is lesss to say!
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