Everyone wants lasting love and secure attachments, but sadly many people don’t act in a way that supports such. For instance, singles often engage in a pursue/withdraw dance that appears too eager or too indifferent, whereas couples frequently get caught in patterns of criticism, nagging, and whining followed by withdrawal, resent, and disconnection (or vice versa). Discover if you’re acting anxious or avoidant in your dating and relationships and how you can become secure (individually and as a couple).
It is easy to describe what secure relationships look like but much harder to create them. Secure attachments only occur when both partners choose to be Available, Responsive, and Engaged (A.R.E.) relative to the other’s feelings, needs, and happiness [Johnson, Sue, Ph.D., Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (2008), pp 57-58]. The problem is, a partner’s behaviors can unintentionally push or drive the other (or even themselves) emotionally away from the relationship. For example, a woman who calls, texts, or encourages a date may seem too eager (evidence of anxious attachment) to which her potential date may unconsciously experience more apathy or decreased attraction (evidence of an avoidant response). A husband who feels that he’s unappreciated for all he does to please his wife may become indifferent to her complaints (evidence of avoidant feelings and behaviors) until her nagging (evidence of her anxious feelings and behaviors) can’t be ignored. To this, the wife might respond that it is his indifference and passiveness that drives her insecurities and subsequent nagging. The solution to this pursue/withdraw dance is for both parties to learn how to recognize when they’re acting anxious or avoidant and to choose behaviors that are available, responsive, and emotionally engaged instead. This can be challenging if they don’t understand the 4 Things that Drive Anxious and Avoidant Attachments and how these things are affecting them, their partner, or the singles community (which is full of such issues). It is natural for those who are anxiously attached to see themselves as the innocent victims who are being wronged by their partner’s passive behaviors. But it is important to steer clear of the all-too-common trend of criticizing the avoidant. If a parent died and had two children, one might grieve openly and seek comfort from others while the second might withdraw, act out, or become disengaged from others. Does that mean the second does not love and miss their parent? Those who respond to stress with avoidant emotions and behaviors still have attachments. They may disconnect emotionally, but they rarely know why or how to stop it. They try to go through the motions, do the right thing, and engage, but they just don’t can’t make themselves feel the emotions they think they should feel. This makes them feel like victims too. Those who struggle with anxious or avoidant attachment patterns in dating or relationships need to know there is hope; these patterns can be changed, they just need to know what to do and how to do it. Discover if you (or your partner) have an anxious, avoidant, or secure attachment pattern by taking these self-tests.
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you may feel moderately anxious in the relationships. If you answered yes to four or more, you probably have an anxious (rather than secure) attachment to your partner. This may be due to their behaviors in the relationship or because you have an underlying pattern of feeling and acting this way in many relationships. You may feel a strong attraction and desire for the other person, but this attachment is an insecure one. You may need and depend on the other’s love, validation, and attention to feel okay about yourself. You may be consumed by what the other thinks, how they feel, and what they’re doing or saying. This creates cycling dependence on your partner as a way of managing your anxiety and insecurities. Your partner’s passiveness, undoubtedly, reinforces your fears and insecurities, making it difficult to stop this pattern. Fortunately, you can break the cycle, both independently and as a couple, if you know what to do. Click here to learn more: I'm single, I'm in a relationship).
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you probably have a perfectionist approach to managing your anxious feelings. If you answered yes to four or more, then you may believe acting perfect, making things easy or uncomplicated, and meeting their needs is the best way to secure their commitment and love. Unfortunately, this is not true. It is not your sacrifice, service, and hard work that makes them love you: it is theirs. Being excessively available, accommodating, and quick to please does not make others respect and value you. Instead, it makes you vulnerable to the too-nice, just-friends, good-for-now, and enabling traps that allow others to take you for granted. You can gain the love, respect, and investment of others, but to do this, you’ll need to ask more from them, not less. You can do this in a positive and faith-based way (rather than through nagging or being critical). Click here to learn how: I'm single, I'm in a relationship).
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you tend to engage in pursuit behaviors as a way of managing your anxious feelings. If you answered yes to four or more, you probably struggle to control your anxiety when you’re not with them, and you feel getting upset is the best way to motivate them to take action. You probably fear they aren’t fully committed or invested in the relationship, and you tend to rationalize, minimize, excuse, or ignore their problems (even though you periodically nag them about their behaviors). Because you care and invest the most in the relationship, you often feel vulnerable and powerless. Nagging or criticizing may make you feel powerful, but it usually includes empty threats you're not ready to act on. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, if they lack Empathy, Self-control, and Personal responsibility (E.S.P.), your efforts will not make them love you or cause them to engage fully in the relationship. Until you learn to step back, so they can step forward, you'll continue to be the over-responsible one who inadvertently supports their irresponsibility. It is only through being warm, clear, and direct that you'll discover how emotionally mature, responsible, and invested they really are. This can not be changed through criticism or nagging. Faith, patience, and boundaries are far more powerful than these (but only if your partner has E.S.P. and values you and the relationship enough to invest). If not, you need to know they are not your only chance for happiness. You can have a secure relationship with someone who will match your efforts. Click here to learn more about how you can do this: I'm single, I'm in a relationship).
It’s important to not judge yourself or others for the following feelings or issues. Most people who struggle with avoidant attachment do not want the thoughts and feelings they’re having. If they thought they could change these feelings they would. Either they think these feelings are normal and beyond their control or they don’t know how to change them. Nevertheless, they really do want a secure attachment with others. Faith in them, not criticism, is the answer.
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you probably feel shame to admit these feelings but relieved to know you’re not the only one. If you answered yes to five or more, you may have convinced yourself that the problem isn’t you, it’s the relationship or the other person. You might believe that you wouldn’t feel this way if they were more attractive, compatible, smart, educated, fun, healthy, active, religious, social, outgoing, happy, confident, positive, etc. These assumptions result from your best guesses about why you aren’t feeling the connection you think you should be feeling. You’re not aware of the thinking errors and situational triggers that are actually driving your disconnection, but you know you fear settling or getting trapped in the wrong relationship. This makes you anxious about working on a relationship when you can’t shake the feeling that if it were right, it would be natural, organic, and easy. The idea of having to force yourself to date or be in a relationship makes it feel wrong. You long to feel a strong and powerful desire for a relationship (like you’ve felt when anxiously attached in the past), but even when initially excited, the feelings often fade within weeks or months (leaving you once again with doubts about your interest, attraction, or compatibility with your partner). Although many singles and couples feel the emotions they desire are beyond their control, the good news is this is not true. You can unlock your feelings, engage fully, and gain the confidence and passion you desire. Click here to learn how: I'm single, I'm in a relationship).
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you probably have a perfectionist approach to managing anxiety that is actually driving you to shut down and disconnect emotionally (often before you realize it). If you answered yes to five or more, your underlying anxiety may be severe enough to get you caught in obsessional thinking that locks in on either attraction or a flaw in your partner or the relationship. Because you shut down emotionally you may be convinced you do not have a connection to your partner. You may go through the motions, treat them respectfully, and do your part, but they don’t realize how disconnected you are (or you may feel a compulsive need to talk about your lack of feelings frequently). After breaking up, you usually feel relief, but weeks or weeks or months later you often find yourself missing them and reconsidering the relationship. The problem isn’t your connection; it’s your underlying anxiety. Perfectionism inadvertently feeds anxiety rather than resolving it. It also interferes with you identifying what you truly value and want. You need to learn how to address the anxiety, set boundaries, express your feelings, and become more vulnerable. Only then will you be able to truly let them in. Click here to learn more about the Amazing and Still Single pattern and how you and your partner can break it.
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you probably tend to withdraw or run when relationships get uncomfortable. If you answered yes to five or more, you may be inadvertently controlling the relationship by being the person who cares the least controls about the relationship. By caring the least others can’t hurt you, you aren’t vulnerable or dependent on them, and you can walk away before things get hard or messy. However, you also have none of the benefits of loving relationships. Of the anxious, avoidant, and secure, the avoidant person has the most control. However, power through passiveness, withdrawal, silence, resentment, and unexpressed feelings or needs means no one ever wins, including you. When secure relationships are the goal, everyone wins, and lasting love becomes possible for you both. In some cases you may have felt trapped in a relationship that took you weeks and months (or years) to end because you were so into them, feared hurting them, or felt it was your duty to stay. To prevent getting trapped again, you may avoid dating, showing interest, involving others, or making commitments until you’re absolutely sure you’re interested (which rarely happens). Unfortunately, this cautious approach keeps you passive, which also makes you feel passionless. An avoidance approach will never make you or your partner truly happy. When you actively engage (share, take risks, sacrifice, and stay connected when things are hard) you feel strong emotions. You know this is true because on occasion you’ve felt excited about someone and have been willing to risk it all. Often these people were not good for you or to you because they lack Empathy, Self-control, and Personal responsibility (E.S.P.); however, if you choose to engage and stay engaged (with people who have E.S.P.) it will be worth it. Your emotions will bend to your choices, because in many ways love really is a choice. Click here to learn how you can feel the passion you long for: I'm single, I'm in a relationship).
If you answered yes to three or less of these questions, then you are very normal. Many people think that others feel secure and are not affected by rejection like they are, but this is rarely the case. Most people struggle with feeling confident, are set back by rejection, and take other’s actions personally. Feeling and reacting in a secure way is often a choice: a choice to believe in yourself, your future, the goodness of others, and God’s investment in you and your happiness. Those who choose to believe, discover that fear and doubt are easier to manage and they have more courage to act with confidence in the face of opposition. In many ways, believing becomes seeing (rather than the other way around). You do not need to believe wholeheartedly in these things; acting as if they are true is enough to help discover how true they are. When it comes to faith, faking it until you make it really does work. If you answer yes to four or more of these questions, you probably feel fairly secure within yourself. However, if you answered yes to four or more, but you’re not actively trying to date or engage fully in your relationships, your seemingly secure feelings may be masking avoidance. By not engaging fully in dating or relationships you’re not facing your fears; therefore, your secure feelings are a result of your reliance on yourself rather than your confidence in others and your future. If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, and you are in a relationship, your partner is probably contributing to the security you feel. It is always easier to become secure when both parties are actively choosing to be Available, Responsive, and Engaged (A.R.E.) with each other. Click here to learn how you can become more secure: I'm single, I'm in a relationship).
No one is perfect, neither are relationships. Life is messy. However, problems aren’t the problem: it’s how you both handle them that will make or break the relationship. If you have a pattern of being Available, Responsive, and emotionally Engaged (A.R.E.) with each other you’ll feel secure in the relationship no matter what challenges you face. If you answered yes to three or less of these questions, then you probably don’t feel very secure in the relationship yet. Some of this may be due to how new your relationship is. It takes time and consistency to feel secure. Perfection isn’t required. Both of you will make mistakes, but if your efforts are consistent, predictable, and reliable, the other will feel secure. If one or the other is attempting to do these things, but their partner stops responding, the relationship will destabilize and become either anxious or avoidant. One person cannot create or maintain a secure attachment. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That being said, when you start to feel anxious or avoidant, ask yourself, how would I act if I felt secure. Then do that! You will feel more confident, secure, and healthy when you chose to act secure; and you never know, the faith underlying your actions might reach them in ways your fear or withdrawal never could. If you answered yes to six or MORE, congratulations! You are well on your way to a secure relationship. To develop more skills for creating a secure relationship click here: I'm single, I'm in a relationship).
Please note, the advice provided here does not relate to relationships in which significant mental health issues, abuse, or drug, alcohol, pornography, and sexual addictions are present. Such issues often result from (or cause a decrease in) a partner's ability to have empathy, self-control, or personal responsibility within a relationship. In such cases, please seek competent mental health counseling. The information provided on this website is for educational purposes only.
Alisa Goodwin Snell is a dating and relationship coach who spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist. She's written seven books for singles, created numerous audios, videos, and articles, is a popular public speaker, and has been on over 100 TV and radio programs nationwide. Learn more