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How Knowing Your Attachment Style Can Help You in Dating


Terms like attachment styles have recently made their way into the common lexicon. The theory of attachment was originally developed by John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst who was curious to explore the intense distress experienced by infants who had been separated from their caregivers. Bowlby observed that separated infants would go to desperate lengths (e.g., crying, clinging, frantically searching) to prevent separation from their caregivers or to reestablish closeness to a caregiver who had left. From a biological standpoint, such behaviours are adaptive responses because infants cannot feed or protect themselves.


The research found that children who had responsive caregivers coped with the separation better — this was coined as having a secure attachment style. Children whose primary caregivers only met their needs some of the time (perhaps they had trouble reading their babies’ cues, or were preoccupied with other tasks) were coined anxious attachers. They reacted negatively to being left, clinging to their guardians and using “protest behaviours.” Another group was labelled avoidant, a product of a detached caregiver; this group learned to fend for themselves and project high self-confidence, acting uncaring if their caretaker comes or goes. A rare fourth style, disorganized attachment, was later identified; a result of children having had no reasonable way to meet their needs, often due to abuse or neglect.


But how does this relate to dating and relationships? Attachment theory proposes that these early relational blueprints stay with us into adulthood, and we are prone to repeat relational experiences. In other words, the way you tend to show up in dating and relationships makes sense given your history. This does not mean that you are broken or destined to feel stuck or unhappy forever. Attachment styles are not static. If you relate most to a style other than secure, you have the power to shift to a more secure way of relating. This is where knowledge and self-awareness can be your best friend. Attachment styles exist on a spectrum and you may have different patterns of attachment with different people. The following are some symptoms of the different styles in the dating and relationship arena.



  • Communication feels easy

  • Vulnerability feels safe

  • Developing trust feels easy

  • Feels natural to balance the relationship with other aspects of life

  • Safe to express feelings

  • Disagreements are safe

  • Boundaries are respected


  • Preoccupied with thoughts of the other person

  • Avoidance of conflict

  • Minimizing your own needs

  • Fear of them being mad at you or breaking up with you

  • Jealousy and controlling behaviour

  • Desire to text or speak to them constantly

  • Difficulty feeling soothed after an argument



  • Excessive independence

  • Avoidance of intimacy

  • Dismissive of feelings (of self and others)

  • Surface-level relationships

  • Difficulty trusting others

  • Reluctance to settle down due to a perpetual belief that there is someone else better



  • Both want to be close and avoid connection

  • Intense fear of abandonment or rejection

  • Erratic behaviour

  • Confusing responses


Are you ready to break free of the cycle? There are a number of healthy practices that will help you on your journey to secure attachment. First, pay attention. Notice your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Notice what is happening around you to make you feel the way you do. Journalling can be a great way to facilitate this process. You may also want to seek more education on this topic. There are a wealth of good books, podcasts and other resources. Friends and family can be another great resource. Ask them what they notice about the people you date, and about the way you respond to others. This could shed light on your unconscious patterns.


With awareness, we can begin the process of change. Hold yourself accountable. As you date, notice red flags and practice responding to them in new ways. For example, maybe the person you’re seeing is super kind and funny, but they also get really mean when they’re drunk. We all have flaws, but know your deal breakers and pay attention if you find yourself excusing major red flags. Are you fearful they’ll leave if you stand up for yourself? Ask yourself what makes you want to keep this person around.


The ability to self-soothe, lean into vulnerability, trust, and communicate openly are equally important in the process of building secure attachment. A therapist can be a great resource to walk with you in this journey.




Beverly Reed, MACP, is trained in many areas such as anxiety and trauma, plus many more. For more information on Beverly and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.