In therapy: understand your relationship style

Our resident columnist, psychotherapist Jess Henley PGDip., MA, has top insights on how to be a better partner - a great help if you're co-habiting during COVID-19!

So, what is it?

Your relationship ‘style’ is a term used to describe patterns of behaviour in romantic attachments. One of the keys to finding a relationship that works is to get to know yourself and be honest about what you want, then take this authenticity into your dating life. You’ll probably get a few knock-backs, but it’s the only way to find a deep connection. 

Step 1: find your attachment style

According to psychologist John Bowlby, our relationship – or attachment – style develops in childhood. If parents are reliable, kind and consistent, then a child will most likely develop a secure attachment style. But if they’re erratic, then a child might shut down and become indifferent (avoidant), or they could try anything to get their parents’ attention (anxious).

Secure: a secure attacher is comfortable in relationships. They are secure in themselves, so aren’t constantly looking out for signs that things might go wrong. As a result, they’re happy to reassure their partner and plan a realistic future. Generally, they’re kind and compassionate.

Avoidant: this type will do anything to keep their partner at arm’s length. They may seem to want a relationship, but they won’t quite commit, despite saying otherwise. They will always find a reason for someone or a situation not being quite right. They come across as hot and cold.

Anxious: anxious attachers worry and second-guess how their partner feels about them, so they try to remain as close to them as possible to alleviate their own anxiety. They need lots of reassurance and look for signals the relationship is floundering, so may misread a partner’s cues.

Step 2: notice your patterns

Once you’ve identified your style and that of the typical person you date, note how it plays out in your relationships. If you’re the anxious type, own the feeling and try not to project it onto your partner. If your partner is anxious, recognise that their need for reassurance isn’t about you, and try to be understanding and help them relax into the relationship. Avoidant type? Understand it’s your fear of getting hurt that makes you keep your distance, and try to feel the fear and do it anyway. If you’re dating an avoidant, they may struggle to fully commit unless they’re willing to work on changing. So, recognise the signals and decide if it’s a journey you want to embark on. Secure attachers, just sit tight and enjoy your healthy relationship!

Step 3: take responsibility

It’s possible for everyone to become a secure attacher, but to do this, you must take responsibility for your part in your relationship history and reflect on what you could have done differently. This can be hard for you to acknowledge, but it’s also empowering, because once you own your patterns, you can change them. And this is the key to a successful relationship.

If your thoughts are spiralling out of control and you feel excessively anxious or depressed, see your GP. Or call SANEline, a mental health helpline, on 0300 304 7000 (open from 4.30pm to 10.30pm every day).