As early as birth, people are driven to form connections with others but the quality of these relationships depends on many learning experiences. The original attachment theory focused on the studies of children and their relationships with their close carers.
These concepts became extremely successful and in the late 1980s, this theory was applied to adult romantic relationships. Researchers observed that the type of interactions children have with their parents or other carers are carried on in the future and share core principles with relationships with romantic partners throughout the rest of their lives.
Adults have four attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.
- Secure adults have a history of warm and responsive interactions with caregivers and have developed similar relationships with their romantic partners or friends. They have a good balance between intimacy and independence in their relationships and tend to have positive views of themselves and their partners.
- People with anxious-preoccupied attachments look for high levels of intimacy and approval from others. Many times, they become overly dependent on their partners. That is colloquially known as ‘clinginess‘. Emotional roller coasters, guilt, excessive worry and impulsiveness often characterise these individuals.
- People with a dismissive-avoidant style tend to hide or repress their feelings, view themselves as self-sufficient and avoid intimacy and closeness in most of their relationships.
- Last but not least, people with a fearful-avoidant attachment have mixed feelings about intimate relationships. They crave the closeness but they also feel uncomfortable with too much of it.
Secure individuals see sex as an essential component of intimacy and are less likely than other attachment groups to get involved in one night stands. On the other hand, avoidant individuals prefer limited involvement and a low level of self-disclosure. Most of the times, they emphasise independence at the expense of intimacy, resulting in multiple casual, uncommitted sexual encounters and a higher chance of using alcohol and drugs before sex.
Anxious individuals desire extreme intimacy and desperately fear rejection. Their deeply ingrained fear of disapproval prevents them from engaging in any discussion that might result in a conflict which makes them less consistent in using condoms or approaching any other safe sex issues with potential partners.
Ruxandra LeMay, PsyD is a licensed psychologist with an interest in couples’ therapy, parenting, addiction, anxiety, and mood disorder issues.