Guide to Attachment Styles in Adults

A marriage is more than about two individuals coming together. The relationship is based on foundations that pre-date the individuals involved. The foundation starts within the attachment bonds from the family of origin. Attachment is the foundation of all relationships. Without secure attachments, the relationships may become problematic. There are many demands placed on the family. Attachment bonds are constantly under attack and stress.

Attachment theory was formulated by John Bowlby then later refined by Mary Ainsworth (Ward, Hudson, and Marshall, 1996). Within the attachment theory, individual’s attachment styles are described as secure, avoidant, resistant and disorganized.

Secure attachment is a relationship of trust and confidence; during infancy, a relationship that provides enough comfort and reassurance to enable independent exploration of the environment (Berger, 2003). The baby may or may not cry when the mother leaves the room but when she returns the baby wants to be with her and if the baby is crying, the baby will stop (Kail and Cavanaugh, 2004).

Avoidant attachment refers to a pattern of attachment in which one person tries to avoid any connection with another, as an infant who is uninterested in the caregiver’s presence or departure and ignores the caregiver on reunion (Berger, 2003). The baby is not upset when the mother leaves and when she returns, may ignore her by looking or turning away (Kail and Cavanaugh, 2004).

Resistant attachment refers to a pattern of attachment in which anxiety and uncertainty keeps one person clinging to another, as an infant who resist active exploration, is very upset at separation, and both resist and seeks contact on reunion (Berger, 2003). The baby is upset when the mother leaves and remains upset when the mother returns and is difficult to console (Kail and Cavanaugh, 2004).

Disorganized attachment is a category of attachment that is neither secure nor insecure but is marked by the child and caregiver’s inconsistent behavior toward each other (Berger, 2003). The baby seems confused when the mother leaves and when she returns, as if not understanding what’s happening (Kail and Cavanaugh, 2004).

Attachment is an ongoing process that develops over time and requires energy. Its implication affects an individual’s lifespan. The relationship between baby and caregiver is re-enforcing and circular. These early attachment bonds become the template and used to relate to the rest of the world. When people are attached to each other, they try to be near each other and find ways of interacting (Berger, 2003).

Our template for attachment quality is a result of the attachment formed in our early parent-child relationships. The relationship between a child and parent is life-long. Even adult children have episodes of interacting with their parents that mirror earlier relationship bonds (Berger, 2003).

Families as well as individuals have a general attachment style and way of relating to each other. Each family has an attachment style that is past on to its offspring. As previously stated, attachment styles continue throughout adulthood. A family’s attachment style is a powerful force that lurks in the shadows and backgrounds of every relationship. This force is responsible for shaping of subsequent relationships and marriages. Once the connections and attachment bonds are understood, the interaction become clear and predictable.

Berger, K. S. (2003). The Developing Person Through childhood and Adolescence (6th ed.). New York: Worth Publishing.
Kail, R. V. & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2004). Human development a life-span view (3rd ed.). California: Wadsworth.
Ward, T., Hudson, S. M., & Marshall, W. L. (1996). Attachment style in sex offenders: A preliminary study. The Journal of Sex Research, 33(1), 17-26.