- You call your date/partner and after the first ring, you're transferred to voice mail.
Do you barely notice or do you assume s/he is purposely ignoring you?
- You're sitting in an experiment room and suddenly you notice smoke seeping out of the computer?
Do you assume everything's under control or do you immediately alert those around you to the imminent danger?
- Your spouse buys you your favorite brand of coffee on the way home from work.
Do you feel gratitude or are you more likely to take this gesture for granted?
What all these scenarios have in common is that your response is likely to vary depending on your attachment style.
Attachment styles were first discovered by Mary Ainsworth in the context of the infant-parent bond. She devised an experiment by which she observed children playing in a room with their mothers. The infant's response to a series of separations/reunions from their mother determined their attachment style.
Infants with a secure attachment style were able to use their mother as a secure base from which to explore the environment and derive comfort in times of stress. Anxious infants were too preoccupied with the mother's whereabouts to be easily soothed and Avoidant infants were too seemingly indifferent toward her to use her as a secure base.
A couple of decades later, researchers Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver, both then from the University of Denver, set out to discover whether these three styles of relating in infancy continued into adulthood. Their groundbreaking study confirmed that adults too fall into three attachment styles that influence the way they interact with their romantic partners:
- Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving
- Anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner's ability to love them back
- Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
Every person, whether he or she just started dating or has been married 40 years, falls into one of these categories (or more rarely into a combination of the latter two). Just over 50% are estimated to be secure, around 25% are avoidant and 20% are anxious. The remaining 3-5% fall into the mixed anxious-avoidant category.
During the past two decades since Hazan & Shaver's seminal paper, hundreds of scientific studies in a wide range of countries have carefully delineated the ways in which adult behave in romantic ties. Understanding these styles is an easy and reliable way to understand and predict people's behaviour in romantic situations.
One of the most fascinating aspects of attachment research is the discovery that people with different attachment styles perceive situations in different and often opposing manners: They pay attention to different aspects of situations, they interpret them differently; even their brain activity is often remarkably different.
Gaining insight into adult attachment styles is akin to a having a road map to romantic behavior, not only others' but also your own.
And in case you were wondering:
If you interpret the transfer to voicemail as a rejection, you may well be anxious
If you alert others to the smoke hazard, it's likely you're anxious or avoidant but not secure
If you're unimpressed by your partner's coffee gift, it's more likely you're avoidant.
[Of course, in reality, no one criterion determines your attachment style but rather a combination of factors. To discover your attachment style, go to: http://www.attachedthebook.com/compatibility-quiz/
Rachel Heller, M.A and Amir Levine, M.D are authors of 'Attached: Identify your attachment style and find your perfect match' (Published by Rodale). Visit www.attachedthebook.com