Dr. Johan Cloete
Psychology & Neurofeedback Practitioner

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073 458 4079 (Bookings)

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Childhood experiences shape your life in many ways. Amongst others, it shapes the way you relate to people close to you.

During childhood, you almost instinctively search for and find (design) ways of relating to strengthen your bond with your parents/caregivers. Some are positive, and others are negative. But all arise from the same fundamental question: Is the attachment figure nearby, accessible, and attentive? In the process, you learn positive and negative ways of relating based on your parent-child experiences.

As time passes, you subconsciously develop an attachment behavioral system wherein you attempt to regulate your emotions and behaviors toward an attachment figure. It then becomes an innate attachment style that determines how you bond with people close to you – including the person you marry.

If you grew up in a home where you experienced secure attachments with your parents, you would probably view attachment figures as available, responsive, and helpful. On the other hand, if you grew up in a home where you experienced insecure attachments, you will likely view attachment figures as inaccessible, untrustworthy, and unreliable. Each has discernable behaviors that accompany them.

Research has shown that this process results in 3 distinct attachment styles (behavioral systems). During your formative years, one of these styles will become your dominant style, and you will carry it into your marriage:

  1. The secure attachment style;
  2. The anxious resistant attachment style and
  3. The avoidant attachment style.

Your dominant attachment style will determine how you bond with or relate to your life partner. If you have an anxious-resistant style, you will be dependent on your partner for emotional and physical support but simultaneously reject their attempts to bond more securely with you. If you have an avoidant attachment style, you will not seek emotional or physical comfort from your partner when experiencing emotional distress.

When you are in love, you will probably be blind to these realities. As you begin to live your day-to-day lives together, you will experience conflict and then start to notice these styles: Your partner is exhaustingly clingy at times and other times too independent. OR: Your partner walks away when you ask for emotional support. When it happens, it is not with evil intent. It is the manifestation of the attachment style they developed in childhood.

Below are some guidelines on how to look at and respond to a partner that has an insecure style (either anxious-resistant or avoidant) style of attachment:

  1. Romantic relationships are attachment bonds that characterize parent-child interactions and share similar attachment behaviors. You can, therefore, look at your partner’s behaviors through their childhood attachment experiences – helping you understand their behavior better. 
  2. Acknowledge that it takes time for interpersonal patterns to emerge within a romantic relationship. A perception bias occurs when you first fall in love – one that naturally heightens your connection to your partner’s strengths and limits your awareness of their weaknesses. However, it is in day-to-day living that you develop more accurate perceptions of patterns that are problematic. Expect it to happen.
  3. If you are a securely attached individual, you play an essential role in your relationship with an insecurely attached partner. Experiencing secure behaviors within romantic relationships can reduce representations of insecure attachment styles. Become more mindful of what occurs internally and externally in your relationship. You can buffer the impact of your partner’s insecure attachment behaviors by increasing your relationship mindfulness. Then, find ways to offer a secure attachment base for your insecurely attached partner.