This is part 1 of a 3 part series on attachment in relationships. Part 1 focuses on what attachment is and why it’s essential to romantic relationships.
“Attachment theory” is a way of understanding how we form attachments to people in long-term relationships, including our friends, family, and romantic partners.
Attachment theory first focused on children, but it can tell us a lot about adult relationships too. Adults also have a strong need to be attached to someone who shows them affection, attention, emotional responsiveness, and interest.
Attachment and dependence are often given a bad name, but they aren’t as scary as they might sound – in fact, they’re essential for fulfilling romantic relationships!
There are 8 main principles of attachment theory
This post describes the first 3 principles of attachment theory, which explain the importance of attachment and how it can help you and your relationship thrive. Be sure to check out the rest of the series for the other principles.
1. Attachment is a basic human instinct
Wanting attachment doesn’t mean you’re “needy”. Humans are social creatures and most of us fear being alone. We’re all driven to seek out attachment to other people – it’s a healthy and inbuilt feature of human beings. We need close relationships for our emotional and physical wellbeing, and those relationships develop by making attachments to others. As children, we tend to have one main “attachment figure”, usually a parent or caregiver. As adults, we tend to look for romantic partners to fill the role of our primary attachment figure. The search for attachment is one of the most powerful motivators we have!
2. Attachment creates comfort and security
For both children and adults, not having access to an attachment figure is a distressing and lonely experience. Life feels a lot less scary when you’re attached to a partner who’s by your side. Attachments create a “safe haven” in the world. People who have attachment figures close by usually feel more secure and supported, and are better able to deal with stress and conflict. When people fulfil their need for attachment, their relationships with their partners and the other people in their lives are likely to be much more satisfying. Another great benefit becoming “attached” to your partner is that the feeling of comfort and security make it much easier to repair your relationship with your partner when things get difficult.
3. Autonomy requires being dependent
Sometimes people think that being dependent on their partner means losing their own autonomy. In truth, none of us are totally independent and self-sufficient. Close relationships and having people we can depend on are necessary for our survival. We all have some level of dependence on others, and when it’s balanced in a healthy way it allows people to develop self-confidence and flourish as separate individuals.
Healthy and balanced dependency means feeling interdependent with someone else; you’re firmly attached to someone who is also attached to you, and you can depend on them. It feels like a safe and stable relationship. People who are interdependent with their partners have a solid grounding and feel more comfortable taking risks and exploring the world with confidence. They have a more positive and well-defined sense of self and self-image. Dependence is often labelled as “bad”, but it’s an important part of healthy attachment and something that we all strive for (even if we’re not aware of it). People with interdependent relationships find it easier to be autonomous and self-confident than those who keep themselves distant and separate from others.
As the first three principles show, attachment is important to thriving as a couple and as an individual. Stay tuned for the rest of the principles in the next two posts. Part 2 will explain how attachments form, and part 3 will focus on what happens when attachments fall apart.
The team at Paul the Counsellor offers supportive, non-judgemental, confidential counselling for individuals and couples in the Melbourne CBD.
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