How Do I Know If I Have A Secure Attachment In My Relationship?

When we are in a relationship comprising a secure attachment we feel safe, secure, cared for, and that we can rely on “our person”. In a secure attachment with someone (a best friend, a romantic mate, or a child) we feel valued, heard and emotionally connected to one another. We feel that our needs matter.

Our attachments begin with our parents or guardian, and evolve to our closest friends and eventually to a romantic relationship with a partner. The more attached we are to our “person” the more vulnerable we feel with them. When one partner pulls away the other partner most often will feel emotionally abandoned, disconnected and insecure of the bond, especially if this often occurs.

Attachment Begins in Infancy

How we learn to be in a relationship begins with our experience as an infant and later, a child. For the sake of this article I will refer to “parents” but it translates to the primary caretakers of the child. If we felt heard, valued and cared for on a consistent basis by our parents we feel more secure in relationships later in life. If not, we feel insecure in relationships and worry we could be abandoned by our partner.

Remember, we don’t learn these concepts and skills in school. Therefore, it is most unlikely we would know how to understand these tendencies in relationships. We would just bump into them one way or another. If we were lucky enough to have a secure attachment with our parents in growing up, we would have close friends and would begin dating with fairly good experiences in early adulthood. If not, friendships and dating later in life could be very challenging, and filled with worry that we won’t be “good enough” to keep a friend or mate. We would “expect” or prepare ourselves for the inevitable loss and hurt.

What is a Secure Attachment?

  • John Bowlby, PhD was the first attachment theorist. His definition is: a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
  • According to Dr. Bowlby a secure attachment is about responsiveness, nurturance, and dependability that all create a sense of emotional security.
  • It begins with the caregiver during infancy. Click HERE for more detail.   

How Does Attachment Affect Our Self-Esteem?

  • A secure attachment helps us to feel good about ourselves and valued.
  • It allows us to emotionally and psychologically grow and go out into the world to further develop who we are.
  • It later enables us to have a secure, loving, and fulfilling romantic relationship.

What Does a Secure Attachment Look Like?

  • A secure parent/child attachment allows the child to explore the world on his/her own in small ways.
  • A child who feels secure will be seen running ahead of the parents and then turning back to run and be with his parents again. We’ve all seen parents walking down the street with a child wrapped tightly around the parent’s leg. This is a sign of an insecure attachment if it happens often. (Sometimes a child does this for fun, not related to an insecure attachment.)
  • Later, in relationships we would see a couple that reach for one another. Whether it is coming home from work, or after an argument, or “just because”.
  • The couple can talk their way through a disagreement without one or both parties feeling insecure about the bond.
  • Each partner feels their needs are important to the other person. This doesn’t mean we get our way all the time, however. It is more about feeling heard and understood.

Sue Johnson, PhD Describes an Insecure Attachment Involving 5 Parts:

  • We reach, inviting connection with another person.
  • If we don’t get a response we will push back, trying to get the response. Or we turn away.
  • If we don’t get a response, we begin to emotionally shut down to protect ourselves.
  • Finally, if no response, we go into meltdown. This may be outwardly shown, or an internal process.

Sue Johnson, PhD Describes a Secure Attachment:    

  • In a secure relationship and bond we look for a way to reconnect.  
  • Johnson states that when we love, we look for whatever way we can to get a response from our loved one. In a healthy relationship it is about reconnecting and reaching out for the other person. Not in a manipulative way, but a sincere and direct attempt to reconnect. More detail HERE.  

Amazing and Famous Experiment on Video

In this video you will see the mother purposefully disconnect and stop responding to the infant in an experiment re: attachment theory. And then you see her reconnect and the infant is able to reconnect with her as well. In other words, in a secure attachment the baby easily recovers from a disconnect. See the video HERE.

How Divorce Affects Attachment in the Children

I can’t tell you how often I hear of the situation where one of the parents moved out of the house and it changed the relationship between the missing parent and the child. A child does not know the difference between divorce and a parent moving out, and abandonment. That is how easily a child can feel unimportant to the parent. And that feeling can alter a child’s Self-Esteem for life if one does not seek professional help and guidance. The same is true when a parent often travels and is away from the child but does not know how to stay emotionally connected.

Final Thoughts:

Every couple has disconnects in their romantic relationship. The more important element is if they try to reach for the other person and reconnect. Even if neither partner grew up with a secure attachment the couple can still learn how to reconnect.

If you find your dating experiences or relationships have left you feeling insecure, devalued, or emotionally drained and unhappy, you can seek professional help with a psychotherapist, either for individual or couples therapy. It is never too late to learn the skills for a nourishing relationship if someone is open to learning.

Action Items:

  1. Without blaming your parents (because it is a generational process) do you remember feeling loved by your parents? If so, what did they do that made you feel loved and secure?
  2. If not, why not? Did a parent leave after your parents divorced? Did the parent stay connected?
  3. Do you struggle in feeling secure and valued in your relationships?
  4. What are the signs for you that you are feeling insecure?
  5. What do you do if you feel disconnected from your mate?
  6. Do you reach out to your mate without conflict? If not, why not?
  7. Have you tried talking with your mate about seeking professional help?

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch, LMFT is an experienced licensed marriage, individual and family psychotherapist; a life and relationship coach; and a public speaker on these topics. She practices psychotherapy in-person in Long Beach and online anywhere in California. She coaches online in the USA and will travel for speaking engagements.

Comments are closed.