Your Couple Type Is Determined By Your Attachment Style

Do you find that you automatically assume a certain role in each relationship you enter? The reality is that the majority of us, whether we realize it or not, take on defined roles in our relationships. While we would prefer to believe that each relationship is unique, researchers have discovered six distinct “couple types” into which we all fall.

This is governed by our childhood experiences, and a recent piece I read noted,

“So frequently, when we enter a new relationship, we view it as a blank sheet and tell ourselves, I’m going to do it my way. However, as youngsters, we absorb information like sponges — we can’t help but take in how our parents behaved and what happened in our own family”.

According to the article, we frequently emulate the couple type our parents exhibited and actively seek mates who can replicate it, resulting in marital discord when this is not the case. According to experts, if couples can identify their personality type and appreciate the differences, a great deal more relationships could be salvaged. Here are the six “types”:

Cat and Dog: We’ve all seen couples who make us wonder, “Why are they together?” It appears to be effective in some way but no-one knows how. They appreciate the excitement of a good fight and a good make-up, and their relationship endures as a result of the passion (and sex) that is involved. If there are problems, however, the partnership becomes known as “the relationship from hell,” as the underlying fears that define this sort of relationship come to the surface, making the process of ending the relationship arduous and exceedingly messy.

Pursuer-Distancer: This personality type is characterised by the continual desire for affection from a partner who appears to be uninterested in the pursuit. The cycle can turn the other way if a lack of interest is noted by the distancer. Both are frightened of being perceived as “needy” by the other, but they often end up completely reliant on the other. The classic codependent relationship.

Parent-Child: Often seen in couples with children where the other partner also becomes “a child” due to lack of self-esteem or is at a vulnerable stage in life, for example, a busy executive on a sabbatical or a workaholic who loses his job. Driven by the need to nurture and be nurtured, it can go wrong when the “parent” starts to control and the “child” partner feels stifled.

You are the Greatest!: This type is all about adulation. One partner idolizes the other who they see as never wrong and so gives up all of their own ambitions, the classic idol-fan relationship. However, this is frequently done solely to reinforce the “idol’s” self-esteem, which the “fan” seeks to bolster. This works well until the fan requires attention as well, which is why these relationships are frequently brief as the “idol” seeks out fan after fan to bolster their ego.

The Very Best of Friends: This couple appears to have everything in common — from their ideas to their hobbies to their clothing. These are two persons who see significant similarities in one another and take comfort in that. Due to the insecurity brought about by negative experiences or a lack of self-esteem, this couple projects a powerful image, making it difficult for others to intervene. They find stability in one another and “often lack the distinct spark that ignites desire.” This might result in monotony and a lack of excitement in the relationship, as well as an underwhelming sex life. Classically enmeshed.

The Adults: Discuss everything and do everything together with mature dignity. Arguments are resolved without emotion or consequence. This sounds ideal, yet often passion is lacking, and very little is accomplished spontaneously. This connection is defined by routine and predictability.

Regardless of how we evaluate relationships, there are numerous elements that contribute to a couple remaining together or breaking up. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can attest to how the connection evolves through time. There is the initial “falling in love” period, which is characterized by increased sex, attention, and romanticism. Individuals involved, like peacocks, display their colors and are on their best behavior to attract the other. This is followed by the “falling in love” stage, during which the true nature of the person emerges, warts and all, and the relationship becomes a matter of cooperating to guarantee a stable foundation is built. This stage is strenuous, and many relationships fizzle out once the initial exhilaration subsides. Some relationships never progress to this stage. Why this occurs is due to a variety of reasons, which frequently become apparent throughout therapy.

Couples seek therapy for a number of reasons, but one that frequently stands out is poor communication and conflicting expectations about how a relationship should work. A slew of emotions, ranging from rage to resentment, with a splash of pride added in, obscure the issue. This is in stark contrast to the early stages of a relationship outlined above, when everything is fine in our world. We are at our most alert, concentrated, and communicative during this period as we attempt to attract the other.

We can examine the past deeply for clues as to why adult relationships frequently fail or set a certain pattern. Our early ties (or lack thereof) to our primary caregivers set the stage for adult behavior and conditioning. These bonds, whether strong or insecure, date all the way back to our infancy. The ways in which children and parents react to “abnormal events” and separation are determining factors.

When a youngster is separated from its parent, the infant experiences three distinct emotional stages. The first stage is protest, in which the infant weeps and refuses to be consoled. The second stage is despair, during which the infant is depressed and passive. Thirdly, there is detachment, which occurs when the infant actively disregards and avoids the parent when the parent returns (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The way a parent handles this is crucial to how attachment with the infant develops and subsequently how the child feels about itself. The fundamental assumption in attachment research on human infants is that sensitive responding by the parent to the infant’s needs results in an infant who demonstrates secure attachment, while lack of such sensitive responding results in insecure attachment (Lamb, Thompson, Gardner, Charnov, & Estes, 1984).

Theorists have postulated several varieties of insecure attachment. Ainsworth originally proposed two: avoidant, and resistant (also called ambivalent; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). This triarchic taxonomy of secure, avoidant, and resistant attachment was developed as a way of classifying infant behavior in a “strange situation.” It states: Secure infants either seek proximity or contact or else greet the parent at a distance with a smile or wave. Avoidant infants avoid the parenting resistant or ambivalent infants either passively or actively show hostility towards the parent.

Attachment theory provides not only a framework for understanding emotional reactions in infants, but also a framework for understanding love, loneliness, and grief in adults. Attachment styles in adults are thought to stem directly from the working models (or mental models) of oneself and others that were developed during infancy and childhood. Ainsworth’s three-fold taxonomy of attachment styles has been translated into terms of adult romantic relationships as follows: (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

Secure adults find it relatively easy to get close to others and are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them. Secure adults do not often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to them.

Avoidant adults are somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; they find it difficult to trust others completely, difficult to allow themselves to depend on others. Avoidant adults are nervous when anyone gets too close, and especially love partners who want them to be more intimate than they feel comfortable being.

Anxious/ambivalent adults find that others are reluctant to get as close as they would like. These adults often worry that their partner does not really love them or will not want to stay with them. Anxious/ambivalent adults want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away.

As a therapist doing frequent couples therapy, one can see that attachment theory holds many clues to the solutions that couples can find. Understanding how we bonded to our primary caregivers can help us see where relationships go wrong.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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