It’s February, and you know what that means. It’s the month of chocolates, flowers, and romance. We begin thinking about Valentine’s Day and that special someone in our life. But not everyone easily connects with others, or feels comfortable in their romantic relationships. Even married couples often disagree in terms of intimacy and emotional expression.
Are you anxious when you meet new people? Careful not to share too many intimate details? Are you a little afraid to open up, perhaps out of fear of being rejected?
Are you very independent? In fact, you really hate to ask for help! You really don’t care for too much emotional stuff, and you do better when you are not tangled up in a close relationship.
Or, are you quite the opposite? You easily fall in love, easily share personal details with others. In fact, you find that often other people disappoint you. They never seem to need as much friendship, contact, or intimacy as you.
These differences are based in our very different styles of attachment, also called “love styles.” People have very different ways of relating to others emotionally, especially when it comes to our very personal, intimate relationships. The four (most common) styles are: secure, preoccupied, fearful, and dismissing.
Securely attached people tend to be trusting and open, and easily form healthy, strong relationships. They do not fear being rejected. Preoccupied people are uneasy and anxious in their relationships, and are often needy and demanding. They want close relationships, but are very worried about rejection. A very independent and self-reliant individual who tends to be rather uninterested in emotionality reveals a dismissing style, while someone who is uncomfortable with intimacy, shy, and mistrustful of others shows a fearful style.
These differences have roots deep in our past.
Psychologists have discovered that the way we learned to relate as infants and small children has a huge impact on our future love relationships. If the parent or primary caregiver was very responsive to the infant’s needs (picking up the baby when it cried, consistently being warm and loving) then the infant formed a secure attachment. If, however, the parent or caregiver was very inconsistent, anxious, or ambivalent and did not respond to the baby’s needs in a consistent way, the baby might form an insecure, anxious attachment. A caregiver who was neglectful, hostile, or unresponsive to the baby’s cries might cause the child to feel rejected or to give up on having its needs met (causing an avoidant attachment style).
How easily can you accept close attachments? How fearful are you about abandonment? Do you feel confident about being close to others? Or do you constantly feel unworthy?
Those who are securely attached, will find that they not only are comfortable being close to others, but also they are not overly anxious about being rejected. The fearful love style, however, is just the opposite: they are at once anxious, clingy and yet afraid to get close! Preoccupied people fear rejection, while wanting to get close (“I hid under your porch because I love you!”) and dismissing people are the opposite: they don’t really fear rejection; they just don’t need you.
Fortunately, these four love styles are not immutable types. Rather, they tend to be on a continuum, ranging from low (for example, low anxiety) to high. The good news is that more people (60%) are securely attached, with only 25% being avoidant (either fearful or dismissing) and another 10% anxious (or preoccupied).
Furthermore, your love style can be influenced by your ongoing life experiences. If you are generally secure, but are unceremoniously dumped by a jerk boyfriend, your trust in romantic relationships may be shaken, at least temporarily. Similarly, if you are generally dismissive, but are happily married to an affectionate and understanding spouse, you will begin to move toward becoming less dismissive and avoidant.
But the really good news is this: whether you are insecure, fearful, or dismissive, you can change. The transforming power of love and God’s grace can help someone who is insecure or fearful about relationships become trusting, open, and confident. When we allow ourselves to fully experience God’s love for us, and when we experience a committed, open and trusting relationship, we can change our old ways of relating, and begin to experience new ones. Jesus says: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).