It’s time to talk once more about the way in which human beings relate to one another. We often examine the dynamics at work in our interpersonal relationships. This isn’t just something that a woman trying to figure out why her boyfriend won’t commit is curious about either.
In fact, since the 1960s, the men and women of science have been fascinated by the way in which human beings relate to each other. They’ve been so fascinated that they gave those dynamics a name and started researching them.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s attachment theory and attachment styles. You might have learned about it in school, maybe in passing hearing about how children form strong connections with a caretaker who keeps them alive. But attachment theory doesn’t stop after infancy.
Figuring out your own attachment style can help you understand a great deal about what could be holding you back in relationships. Conversely, identifying your partner’s attachment style could help you navigate any bumps in the proverbial road.
Attachment theory is an area of psychology that has always fascinated me. When I started studying psychology in college, I was beyond peeved to know that it would take a couple of years (or at least a couple of classes) before I could dive into examining this kind of scientific model. (Side note: doesn’t the phrase “scientific model” just make you picture some ripped shirtless dude wearing Clark Kent glasses and a lab coat? Maybe that’s just me.)
We’re going to talk about the avoidant attachment style. So let’s get into it.
What does an avoidant attachment style really look like? Expert Stan Tatkin describes a person with an avoidant attachment style as being an “island,” and to my thinking, that’s really the clearest analogy. An “island” sits in the sea, is self-sufficient, and needs nothing from nobody — or, at least, that’s what these “island people” think.
Here are 5 signs you have an avoidant attachment style in relationships:
1. Independence is your priority
While a person with an avoidant personality style can and often does find themselves in a romantic relationship, it just isn’t a priority for them. To a person with this style of attachment, being considered totally sufficient and totally independent is the be-all and end-all.
A person with an avoidant attachment personality believes in the power of the self and craves that more than they will ever crave intimacy. If you avoid closeness, your independence and self-sufficiency are more important to you than intimacy.
2. There’s a limit to the closeness you’ll allow
People with an avoidant attachment style enjoy being close to their partners, but there is always a limit to just how close they will get. People with this attachment style may love their partners a lot, but they just aren’t comfortable sharing their feelings, even with their partners.
At, say, an airport, or before a big trip, a person with an avoidant attachment disorder is much less likely to cry or make any other big display of emotion of being separated from their partner.
3. You don’t want to commit.
Commitment to a person with an avoidant attachment style means giving up their freedom, and that’s basically a nightmare to these folks. When they do commit, it’s not always a great thing because in their attempt to maintain their independence they will work on creating mental space for their partner.
A person with an avoidant attachment style who has made a commitment can often try to create the space they desire by picking apart their partner’s flaws, even tiny, ridiculous stuff, like the way they chew their food.
4. You’re hyper-vigilant about being in control
A person with an avoidant attachment style is constantly looking for signs that their partner might be trying to “control” them or to put a damper on their cherished freedom in any way shape or form they can. This can mean that when they think they spot their partner doing just that, they engage in “distancing” behavior (being dismissive, flirting with others in front of their partner) to make their point.
It’s interesting because while you view your partner as being needy, this doesn’t necessarily push you away. In fact, it can make you feel even MORE self-sufficient by comparison.
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5. You aren’t concerned about the end
People with an avoidant attachment style do not worry constantly about their relationship suddenly coming to an end, not the way that people with an anxious attachment style do, at least. However, when their relationship seems to be under attack or on the verge of ending, they turn into ostriches, burying their heads in the sand and refusing to admit that they might be having any feelings at all.
A person with an avoidant attachment style tends to attract a person with an anxious attachment style, and vice versa. This can often create an unhealthy co-dependent dynamic where the anxious person is constantly seeking closeness, and the avoidant person is constantly keeping them just at arm’s length.
If you think that your partner might have this kind of attachment style, talk to them about how you want to get closer to them and see how they react. If they try to meet your needs actively, they probably don’t. But if they freak out, get weird, or ignore the request, they might have an avoidant attachment style.
Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance writer and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek, with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.