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Published on November 14, 2018

How To Stop Insecure Attachment from Wreaking Havoc on Your Love Life

How To Stop Insecure Attachment from Wreaking Havoc on Your Love Life

We are naturally wired biologically to desire attachment to others. Learning how to attach to others begins from the day we are born. We begin learning from birth about attachment and how relationships work through the interactions and care we receive from our primary caregiver (usually mom or dad).

The attachment of an infant to parent (or caregiver) can have a lasting impact on an individual and their adult relationships. Our relationships in infancy can have a profound affect on our future relationships because of what we learned in our earliest relationships.

When insecure attachment takes place during infancy and childhood, this can wreak havoc on adult relationships. Problems such as abuse, clinging to abusers, low self esteem, control issues, jealousy, emotional dependency, and relationship paranoia can become prevalent when insecure attachment in infancy/childhood affects adult relationships.

Not to fear though; there are many individuals who have experienced insecure attachment in infancy and childhood and have healthy relationships in adulthood. The key is recognizing the behaviors that may stem from insecure attachment and learn how to handle them.

What Causes Insecure Attachment?

As infants, we need a caregiver that is loving, attentive, and affectionate. The relationship between the caregiver (typically a parent) and baby creates a bond or attachment. A healthy and secure attachment occurs when the caregiver meets the babies needs and is loving. When there are problems with the care that is provided, insecure attachment occurs.

Healthy attachment is known as secure attachment. When secure attachment doesn’t occur, then by default an insecure attachment takes place. It is helpful to understand why insecure attachment may have occurred, so you can understand how your adult relationships have potentially been affected by your first relationships in life.

Insecure attachment can happen for a variety of reasons. There are also levels of insecure attachment based on the severity of the situation.

Physical Abuse and Neglect by Caregivers

For example, a baby that has endured physical abuse and neglect by their caregiver will likely be highly insecurely attached. They have a distrust of their caregiver because of the abuse. They will likely also have fear of this caregiver.

The infant desires love and care from the caregiver, but what they are given is harm and lack of care. This will affect their adult relationships, because they intrinsically learn that the one that they are supposed to trust the most harms them.

No Affectionate Interactions

Another way that insecure attachment occurs is when the physical needs for the baby are met, but there is no affectionate interactions. You can see extreme cases of this example in orphanages. The babies are provided with basic essential needs such as a crib to sleep and milk to drink. They are clothed and diapers are changed.

However, these babies do not receive affection and interaction from their caregiver. They are left alone in their crib for most of the hours of the day. They have learned that crying for affection and attention has not brought anyone to meet this need, so they have stopped crying for these emotional needs to be met.

Instead, they have a lack of emotional attachment or an insecure attachment because they do not have an interactive, affectionate relationship with a caregiver. This insecure attachment will likely affect their adult relationships.

A child can also grow up in a “normal home” and not have these emotional needs met. Their primary caregiver may attend to the physical needs, but fail to interact with them. The caregiver does not talk to the baby, play with the baby, or give the baby cuddles, hugs, and kisses. The caregiver, for whatever reason, does not provide the emotional interactions that are needed for the baby to bond and attach. Thus, insecure attachment occurs and adult relationships are affected in the future.

Inconsistency in Meeting the Baby’s Needs

Another example of why insecure attachment occurs is that of inconsistency in meeting the baby’s needs. In this situation, the baby’s needs are sometimes met when they cry and fuss. However, other times the baby is left to cry and cry without their needs being met.

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There is an inconsistency in the care from their primary caregiver. This creates a distrust from the child to parent. The baby learns that they cannot fully count on their caregiver to provide for their needs or comfort them all of the time.

An insecurity within the child will develop because they do not know when they can count on their caregiver to provide for them. There is an uncertainty in having their needs met which creates anxiety as well as distrust.

This can obviously carry into adult intimate relationships and wreak havoc.

10 Signs of Insecure Attachment

There are some behaviors that are caused by insecure attachment. A variety of unhealthy behaviors can present in early childhood because of insecure attachment.

This article will focus on the behaviors that are evident in adulthood because of insecure attachment. Here are some behaviors that can result from insecure attachment in infancy which results in unhealthy and insecurely attached adult relationships:

1. Demand Time

For example, you do not want your spouse or partner to do things without you. Your desire is to spend all of your and their spare time together. You demand their time and attention, to the exclusion of other friendships and relationships.

2. Suspicion or Jealousy

For example, you are suspicious of your partner or spouse’s behavior and the people they work with. You question their work relationships and who they interact with in the workplace.

You are suspicious of anyone that you feel they are getting to close to, as you fear they may leave you for another individual.

3. Lack of Emotional Intimacy

For example, your spouse or partner feels that they emotionally can’t get close to you. They describe you as someone who “puts up walls” or that you are generally hard to get close to emotionally.

4. Emotional Dependency

For instance, you depend on your spouse or partner for your emotional well-being. Your expectation is that your happiness comes from your relationship.

If you aren’t happy, it’s because you feel you aren’t being fulfilled by your partner or spouse.

5. Fearful

For example, you desire closeness in your intimate relationships. However, your experience has been that if you get too close to your loved one, they will hurt you. This causes you to be a mix of emotions.

You draw your loved one near and then you push him or her away. Your fear of getting too close because you don’t want to get hurt causes relationship dysfunction.

6. Lack of Trust

You don’t trust your spouse or partner to do right by you. You fear they may cheat on you or you fear that they will leave you. You cannot seem to bring yourself to fully trusting him or her.

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7. Emotionally Shut off

In heated arguments you shut down and turn off emotionally. You close yourself off emotionally because you don’t want to get hurt any further.

8. Fear of Abandonment

You fear that your spouse or partner will one day leave you. You don’t have any justified reason for having this belief. Instead, it is a fear you harbor deep inside and it prevents you for getting too close to him or her because deep down you believe they are someday going to leave you anyway.

This fear may stem from being left by your caregiver. Even if they came back to get you, the fear can still remain if you have an insecure attachment.

9. Controlling

You dominate your intimate relationship and try to control your partner or spouse. Your underlying fear of rejection or of having the relationship not meet your needs drives your controlling behavior.

You may dictate how things are run in your household and how your spouse/partner is to act. You feel that if you have control over their behavior and the functioning of your household, then you have control over the potential for being hurt in the relationship.

Fear drives the controlling behaviors.

10. Affection Issues

You are not comfortable with hugs and other forms of public displays of affection that seem normal to others. You may not have any issues being intimate in private because you are having a need met, but your physical affection in public suffers.

Your discomfort may stem from not being held and provided with attention as an infant or child. Your relationship with your caregiver was cold in comparison to a securely attachment caregiver and child relationship.

Because of this lack of affection, you have not learned how to give and receive physical affection comfortably.

A Rocky Relationship

Typically what you can expect in an insecurely attached adult relationship is one of two directions: rocky with lots of ups and downs or ambivalence.

The rocky relationships develop because the individual has mixed feelings. They want a close relationship, but they have been harmed by the one who was supposed to care the most for them (their caregiver in infancy).

They draw near and then push away when things get tough. This causes them to also create defense mechanisms to protect themselves when problems arise in the relationship. Defense mechanisms can be unhealthy and cause more turmoil.

The ambivalence can stem from not having needs met as an infant, so they have learned to not care. They develop a wall because they cannot count on others to meet their needs (or so they think because of their past experience).

They will prevent themselves from getting too emotionally involved and attached to others because they have a distrust of others to meet their emotional and/or physical needs.

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The Solution to Your Attachment Problem

The solution to your attachment problem is first recognizing that there is a problem. Next you must figure out which behaviors in your current relationship are unhealthy and stem from this problem, so that you can then work to correct the behaviors.

1. Recognizing the Problematic Behavior

You cannot fix something unless you recognize that it is broken. The first step to healing a relationship and resolving insecure attachment is identifying that there is a problem.

The problem manifests itself in our behaviors. The examples provided above are just some of the behaviors that can result from insecure attachment. There are many others.

The key is recognizing if there is something wrong in your intimate relationships which is revealed in a pattern of behavior that potentially stems from insecure attachment.

No parent or caregiver is perfect, because there are no perfect people. We are all flawed beings, so don’t be quick to blame your parents for your current relationships. They may not have done everything perfect, but you are responsible for your own actions as an adult.

You can learn to have securely attached adult relationships, even if you had the most broken and insecurely attached relationships in infancy and childhood.

2. Develop Relationships with Those who can Securely Attach

A relationship between two individuals who suffer from insecure attachment will never result in a securely attached relationship without help. It is hard enough to have a relationship between two healthy individuals who experienced securely attached relationships in childhood.

When one individual has attachment issues, there will be problems in the relationship because their behavior will manifest the problem. If both individuals have attachment issues, it is more likely that the relationship will have a great deal of problems, drama, and extreme behaviors.

The goal is to have a healthy relationship between two individuals who can have healthy and secure attachments in their adult relationships. If one or both recognize that there are behaviors that stem from insecure attachment, then help should be sought.

If you are wondering whether you are able to securely attach in a relationship, there is a free test that you can take here: Attachment Styles and Close Relationships. This test can help you better understand the way you think, behave, and your subsequent ability to securely attach in a relationship.

3. Therapy

Therapy is the best way to overcome behaviors that stem from insecure attachment.

When seeking out a therapist or counselor in helping you overcome your insecure attachment, ask the right questions. Ask if they have helped others with this problem. Then ask if their client was able to overcome the insecure attachment and in turn able to develop a healthy attached relationship.

If you are currently in a relationship, also ask if they will work with both you and your spouse/partner if necessary. In some cases, couple’s therapy is helpful as it can help the other person better understand your problems, so you can work together on the solutions.

4. Deal with your Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms develop as a way for us to protect ourselves. When we have anxieties and fears that we don’t know how to handle with good coping skills, we then develop defense mechanisms.

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For example, we may have fear of abandonment issues because of real abandonment that happened in childhood. We carry that issue into our intimate relationships in adulthood because we haven’t learn to deal with this fear properly.

In turn, we displace (the defense mechanism) the fear from childhood onto our current partner and act out of this fear. We question their motives and then act clingy when we fear the relationship is rocky. This is obviously not a healthy way to act in a relationship.

Understanding defense mechanisms and recognizing the ones you may be using to squelch your fears and anxieties can help you. Read up on defense mechanisms and look at yourself introspectively to determine if you utilize any unhealthy defense mechanisms.

If you do, then knowing is half the battle. Find new, healthy ways of handling your fears and anxieties. Counseling can help with this as well. Here is a helpful article on the subject: How Not to Let Your Defense Mechanisms Control You

5. Work on Change

The way to change is to recognize the problematic behavior and work to correct it. Once you know that the problem causing the behavior is your insecure attachment from earlier in life, then you can work to change.

For example, you have always avoided talk about marriage and a future together with your significant other. You have a fear of abandonment, so you don’t want to even broach the topic of marriage, because if you got married and they left you it would hurt even more. Your fears are over-riding your decision making.

Once you realize where the fear is coming from, then you can make the decision to take your fears head on by having the discussion about a future and potentially marriage.

If you feel that you can’t do it, then seek out a counselor for help. They can help you work through your fears. Some fears and anxieties are so deeply imbedded that we need help drawing them out and taking them on.

Another example of making change is trusting your spouse/partner. Recognizing that they haven’t had any reason to deserve your distrust is the first step.

Next, work on changing the behaviors that stem from your lack of trust. Perhaps you secretly check their phone daily. Stop doing it.

Make yourself change the behaviors that stem from your past insecure attachments. If you are unable to stop the behavior on your own, then seek a therapist to help you.

Final Thoughts: Don’t Give Up!

Don’t give up on having healthy relationships. Chalking up your behavior to “that’s just who I am”, will not help you have healthy, securely attached relationships.

Identify that you do have a problem, then work to correct the behaviors and you will be on your way to healthier and happier intimate relationships.

You do not have to remain stuck in an insecure relationship status. You have the ability to work to change yourself, starting today.

Featured photo credit: Pablo Merchán Montes via unsplash.com

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Last Updated on October 17, 2019

How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

You see your partner every single day. They are the first person you talk to in the morning and the last person you kiss goodnight.

But does seeing each other day in and day out equal a healthy relationship? Not necessarily.

Spending quality time with your partner is the best way to ensure your relationship stays healthy and strong. This means going above and beyond sitting together while you watch Netflix or going out for the occasional dinner. You deserve more from your relationship – and so does your spouse!

What does quality time mean? It means spending time with your spouse without interruption. It’s a chance for you to come together and talk. Communication will build emotional intimacy and trust.

Quality time is also about expressing love in a physical way. Not sex, necessarily (but that’s great, too!) but through hand-holding, cuddling, caressing, and tickling. Studies show that these displays of affection will boost partner satisfaction.[1]

So how do you spend quality time with your partner? Here are 13 relationship tips on making the most out of your time with your partner.

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1. Recognize the Signs

If you want a healthy relationship, you have to learn how to recognize the signs that you need to spend more quality time together.

Some telltale signs include:

  • You’re always on your phones.
  • You value friendships or hobbies over quality time with your spouse.
  • You aren’t together during important events.
  • You are arguing more often or lack connection.
  • You don’t make plans or date nights.
  • You’re not happy.

If you are experiencing any of these relationship symptoms, know that quality time together can reverse the negative effects of the signs above.

2. Try New Things Together

Have you ever wanted to learn how to play an instrument or speak another language? How about skydive or ballroom dance?

Instead of viewing these as solo hobbies and interests, why not involve your partner?

Trying new activities together builds healthy relationships because it encourages spouses to rely on one another for emotional and physical support.

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Shared hobbies also promote marital friendship, and the Journal of Happiness Studies found that marital satisfaction was twice as high for couples who viewed each other as best friends.[2]

3. Schedule in Tech-Free Time

Your phone is a great way to listen to music, watch videos, and keep up-to-date with friends and family. But is your phone good for your relationship?

Many couples phone snub, or ‘phub’, one another. Studies show that phubbing can lower relationship satisfaction and increase one’s chances of depression.[3]

Reduce those chances by removing distractions when spending quality time together and showing your partner they have your full attention.

4. Hit the Gym as a Couple

One way you can spend more time together as a couple is by becoming workout partners. Studies show that couples are more likely to stay with their exercise routine if they work out together.[4] Couples also work out harder than they would solo. One study found that 95 percent of couples who work out together maintained weight loss compares to the 66 percent of singles who did.[5]

Join a gym, do at-home couples’ workouts, try couples yoga, hit the hiking trails, or get your bikes out. No matter which way you choose to exercise, these healthy activities can promote a healthy relationship.

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5. Cook Meals Together

Pop open a bottle of wine or put some romantic music on while you get busy – in the kitchen, of course!

One of the best relationship tips for spending quality time together when you both have busy schedules is to cook meals together.[6]

Spice things up and try and prepare a four-course meal or a fancy French dish together. Not only is this a fun way to spend your time together, but it also promotes teamwork.

If all goes well, you’ll have a romantic date night meal at home that you prepared with your four hands. And if the food didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, you are guaranteed to have a laugh and create new memories together.

6. Have a Regular Date Night

Couples experience a greater sense of happiness and less stress when they are spending quality time together.[7] One of the biggest relationship tips for a healthy partnership is to include a date night in your weekly routine.

The National Marriage Project found that having a weekly date night can make your relationship seem more exciting and helps prevent relationship boredom.[8] It also lowers the probability of divorce, improves your sex life, and increases healthy communication.

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Some great ideas for what to do on your date night include:

  • Have a movie marathon – Gather up your favorite flicks and cuddle up on the couch.
  • Play games together – Cards, board games, video games, and other creative outlets are a fun way to spend quality time together.
  • Recreate your first date – Go back to that restaurant and order the same meal you did when you first got together. You can spice up your evening by pretending you’re strangers meeting for the first time and see how sexy the night gets.
  • Plan a weekend getaway – There’s nothing better than traveling with the one you love.
  • Dinner and a movie – A classic!
  • Try a new restaurant – Make it your mission to rate and try all of the Mexican restaurants/Irish pubs/Italian trattorias in your area.
  • Have a long sex session – Intimacy promotes the release of the oxytocin hormone which is responsible for a myriad of great feelings.[9]

Here’re even more date night ideas for your reference: 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples

Final Thoughts

The benefits of spending quality time together are endless. Here are just some of the ways it can contribute to a healthy relationship:

  • Improves emotional and physical intimacy
  • Lowers divorce rates
  • Improves communication
  • Reduces marital boredom
  • Bonds couples closer
  • Improves friendship
  • Boosts health
  • Reduces stress

These are all excellent reasons to start making date night a regular part of your week.

It’s easy to have a healthy relationship when you set aside dedicated time to share with your spouse. Try new things together, make your spouse your workout buddy, and look for innovative ways to be close and connected.

These relationship tips will bring great benefits to your marriage.

Featured photo credit: Allen Taylor via unsplash.com

Reference

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