Key points

  • Insecure attachment is a common cause of chronic relationship issues.
  • When people perceive themselves as flawed, they can experience relationship problems based in their anxious attachment.
  • When people expect significant others to be emotionally unavailable, they may experience relationship problems related to avoidant attachment.
Yuris Alhumaydy/Unsplash
Source: Yuris Alhumaydy/Unsplash

You’d like a real-life happily-ever-after, but your relationships fall far short of that. You know that you feel insecure and fear rejection or failure, but you don’t know what you are doing wrong. While no single solution can fix your problem, there is a way of thinking about what’s going wrong—and what you can do differently—that can point the way toward a happier relationship future.

The root of chronic relationship insecurity and failures

As I explain in my book Bouncing Back from Rejection, the way people approach relationships is fundamentally related to what they expect from themselves and from significant others. Together, these expectations are the basis of a person’s attachment style. People who are securely attached generally feel positive about themselves and have fulfilling relationships. Those who are insecurely attached are often unable to maintain fulfilling relationships and may also feel flawed within themselves. Trust issues are common (for more, see this video.) So, if you have had more than your share of relationship flops—or haven’t even been able to get a relationship off the ground—then you might want to learn more about your attachment style.

1. Consider how you experience yourself.

The template for how people experience themselves is developed in infancy and throughout childhood. It is strongly influenced by those who take care of them, especially when they are distressed. When a child’s parents (or other caregivers) generally respond to them in a lovingly soothing way, they tend to develop a model of self as worthy of love. They feel secure and calm in their daily lives, even as they mature into adulthood.

By contrast, when parents are not well attuned to their child’s distress or do not respond in a soothing way, the child may develop an anxious attachment style in which they experience themselves as flawed, inadequate, or unlovable. As an adult, they might feel desperate for love, and yet their negative self-perceptions interfere with being able to comfortably accept love from a caring partner—because as much as they want to be loved, they don’t feel that they truly deserve it.

There are many signs that your relationship issues might be related to anxious attachment. For instance, you might be so invested in being emotionally close with your partner that other relationships or activities in your life suffer significantly. You might also ruminate on your fear that your partner doesn’t care as much about you as you care about them, and so you keep expecting to be rejected.

However, not everyone who was deprived of feeling comforted in childhood relates to themselves negatively and lives in fear of rejection. Instead of looking to others for comfort, many people focus on achievement. Outward success enables them to feel positively about themselves—so long as they remain focused on accomplishments—and to avoid being vulnerable to personal rejection.

2. Reflect on what you expect from significant others

As with the model of self, people develop a model of others beginning with how their parents or caregivers respond to their emotions. When parents are in tune with their children’s emotions and respond to their distress in a soothing way, their children tend to learn that their parents are emotionally there for them. So, when they feel upset, they turn to their parents for comfort—and similarly, later in life, they turn to other significant people in their lives for comfort and emotional support.

However, when parents respond to a child’s distress with anger or indifference, the child learns that no one is there to soothe them and that they are on their own. They often develop an avoidant attachment style in which they become highly self-sufficient, a trait that often follows them into adult relationships. With an expectation that their emotional needs will go unmet or even attacked, they avoid closeness even when their partner is making sincere efforts to be caring and supportive in response to their distress.

To figure out whether your relationship problems are related to having avoidant attachment, you might reflect on whether you keep people at an emotional distance. For example, ask yourself: Does closeness make me feel uncomfortable and too vulnerable?

Turn insights into action

By gaining clarity on your attachment style, you can begin to understand patterns that underlie your relationship problems. This increased awareness is the beginning of working to make healthier choices in your relationships. With such growth, you can grow to nurture happier, more stable relationships.


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