Anxious Attachment
in Relationships


Anxious attachment in relationships can be difficult to understand and manage. However, awareness of how this attachment style develops and plays out in relationships can help anxious attachers and their partners reach more healthy and secure relationships.

Anxious Attachment
in Relationships


Anxious attachment in relationships can be difficult to understand and manage. However, awareness of how this attachment style develops and plays out in relationships can help anxious attachers and their partners reach more healthy and secure relationships.

An anxious attachment style in relationships can be challenging to manage. Whereas anxious attachers are sensitive and attuned to their partners’ needs, they also typically require constant reassurance and affection to feel safe as part of a romantic couple. If validation isn’t provided in the way an anxious attacher requires, they may feel worried and stressed about their relationships.

People with the anxious attachment style often internalize what they perceive to be a lack of affection and intimacy as not being “worthy of love,” and they intensely fear rejection as a result. In an attempt to avoid abandonment, an anxious attacher may become clingy, hypervigilant, and jealous in a relationship. They are often overwhelmed by the fear of being alone, so they do whatever they can within their power to hold on to their relationship. Someone with an anxious attachment style sees their partner as the remedy to their strong emotional needs.

For these reasons, the following will discuss:

  • how the anxious attachment style forms
  • what anxious attachment style relationships may look like
  • how to have a healthy relationship with anxious attachment, and
  • how to love someone with anxious attachment.

What Causes an Anxious Attachment Style?

Attachment Theory posits that the bond that a child forms with their caregiver(s) in their early years of life (approximately the first eighteen months) influences how they will later approach social interactions and relationships.

A child develops a secure attachment style in response to caregivers that are attuned and responsive to their needs. These children understand that their caregivers can be relied upon and they develop a strong emotional connection with them and a sense of safety within their world. In turn, they are indirectly taught that their needs are important and that people, in general, can be trusted.

However, if a child interprets their caregivers’ responses to their needs as inconsistent, they may develop an anxious attachment style. The caregivers of an anxious child may act supportive and attentive to their child’s needs on occasion, but other times are misattuned and don’t connect with what their child wants. The child ultimately ends up confused regarding their relationship with their caregivers – these mixed signals make it very difficult for them to make sense of caregivers’ actions.

Anxiously attached children end up highly confused regarding their caregivers’ inconsistent actions – they don’t understand why they change their behaviors from one extreme to the other. Consequently, these conflicting actions result in the child struggling to trust their caregivers. As a result of this inconsistency, the child may exhibit: separation anxiety, poor emotional regulation, become highly emotionally reactive and seek constant proximity with their caregiver.

The child grows up believing that their needs are only important to others when it’s convenient.

Thus, as adults, they may find themselves in relationships that mirror their childhood dynamics – where love and affection are only given conditionally – as these behaviors were normalized at a young age.

What Is Anxious Attachment in Relationships?

Even though romantic connections are something that someone with an anxious attachment style typically craves, they may still find relationships stressful and anxiety-inducing.

Anxious attachers are highly attuned to their partners’ needs and are usually happy to cater to them. However, due to their insecurities and doubts about their self-worth, they often project their uncertainty about themselves onto their partners’ behaviors. If the anxious attacher’s partner fails to respond to their needs in the way they require them to, then the anxious attacher perceives this as confirmation of the fact that they are not worthy of love.

In many ways, relationships are both the poison and the cure for someone with an anxious attachment style. From the poison perspective, the anxious attacher partner deeply fears being rejected or abandoned. This fear leads them to act hypervigilant towards any potential threat to the relationship and constantly require validation and confirmation that their partner loves them. On the other hand, being in the company of their loved one makes someone with an anxious attachment style feel comforted and soothed – the cure.

Signs of Anxious Attachment – How to Tell if Someone Has Anxious Attachment in Relationships?

If you’re wondering whether you (or your partner) have an anxious attachment style, the signs of anxious attachment in relationships include:

  • Being attuned and sensitive to your partner’s needs
  • Prioritizing the needs of a partner over your own
  • Seeking validation and assurance that you are loved, worthy, and “good enough”
  • Hypervigilance towards any threats to the relationship
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment
  • Jealousy and suspicion of your partner’s actions
  • Clinginess and poor sense of boundaries
  • Difficulty expressing or understanding your intense emotions
  • Excessive anxiety or worry

Inevitably, anxious attachment relationship issues can be destructive to one’s love life. The traits of this attachment style can even trigger avoidant strategies in a partner and cause them to withdraw from a relationship.

Why Do Anxious Partners Behave the Way They Do?

Deep down, someone with an anxious attachment style believes that as soon as their partners get to know the “real them,” they’ll lose interest and reject them. Ultimately, the anxious attacher’s low self-esteem causes them to think that they’re not good enough to retain a partner’s interest in the long run.

Remember – the reason why someone with an anxious attachment style thinks and acts the way they do is rooted in their childhood. The way their desire for affection and intimacy was met in their formative years taught them that both themselves and their needs were unimportant. Therefore, they expect this pattern to continue in their romantic relationships – so they do everything in their power to prevent it.

Forming Healthy Relationships With an
Anxious Attachment Style

Because the patterns of attachment anxiety are so ingrained, it can be challenging to know how to manage the anxious attachment style in relationships. However, with understanding and consistent effort, it is possible to move past the deep-rooted fears and insecurities of this attachment style and feel more fulfilled and secure within romantic partnerships.

Understanding the events or actions that trigger attachment insecurity can help an anxious attacher figure out how their thoughts and actions are affected and aid them when putting strategies in place to prevent their typical negative responses.

Typical anxious attachment relationship triggers include situations where a partner:

  • Acts distant or aloof
  • Forgets important events such as an anniversary
  • Acts too friendly/flirty with someone else
  • Comes home late or fails to respond to messages/calls
  • Fails to compliment something different, such as new clothes, or hairstyle
  • Cancels a date or meet-up

People with an anxious attachment style don’t act clingy or needy towards their partners all the time.

However, any of the above triggers could potentially cause the anxious attacher to feel overwhelmed by worry or fear of rejection. As a result, their attachment system may be triggered, and they may respond to the potential threat to their relationship by trying to reestablish as much closeness with their partner as possible, worrying excessively, and feeling depleted. These behaviors can cause a significant strain on a relationship and potentially even a break-up.

Discover more about how to date someone with anxious attachment, read the complete guide now!

However, once someone with this attachment style starts to recognize their triggers and how they react to them, they can regulate their responses in healthier ways.

The following steps may help you overcome your anxious attachment style in romantic relationships:

I. Educate yourself on the four attachment styles

Knowledge of how the different attachment styles are developed, triggered, and can affect thoughts and actions can help someone with an anxious attachment style better understand their own patterns of behavior, as well as those of their partner. Doing so can help reduce unpredictability in the relationship, as well as figure out the best strategies for coping with the anxious attachment style

II. Try to choose a partner with a secure attachment style

Choosing a partner with a secure attachment style may be easier said than done – especially if you are already in a relationship.

That being said, a partner with a secure attachment style can help an anxious attacher to regulate their emotions more effectively and help them feel more secure in the relationship and in general. There are a number of tell-tale traits of the secure attachment style when dating someone new.

III. Communicate

Someone with an anxious attachment style may attempt to manage their negative emotions through bursts of anger or jealousy towards their partner or by trying to reestablish closeness by clinging to them.

Effective communication involves taking a breather between an emotion and an action and expressing why you’re feeling frustration or worry. Creating internal scripts such as:

I understand that you may not understand why I’m upset, but here’s why I feel anxious_________,” or

“I know that you didn’t intentionally mean to ignore my call, but it made me feel really worried.”

…May help your partner understand your anxious attachment perspective without pushing them away.

Moreover, you should also attempt to communicate your needs to your partner, as you may be used to prioritizing the needs of others over your own.

IV. Try to identify emotions and needs

Anxious attachers often struggle to identify their emotions. Keeping a thought diary or journal may help you unpick your feelings and can help you recognize specific patterns in your thoughts and actions.

Also, body mapping or body scan meditation may help you determine where you hold your emotions in your body.

V. Therapy

Not everyone will be able to manage the traits of their anxious attachment style by themselves. After all, their patterns of thinking and acting were ingrained before they were able to verbalize their feelings.

Effective therapy can help you resolve issues from your early childhood and current relationships, as well as form a new blueprint for how healthy relationships should function.

How to Love Someone With Anxious Attachment

Someone with an anxious attachment style has an intense fear of rejection and abandonment. Because an anxious attacher feels unworthy of love, they may focus on what they perceive to be a threat to their relationship in an attempt to prevent what they see as the inevitable from occurring – their partner leaving them.

Anxious attachers may even engage in protest behaviors such as bursts of anger towards their partner, or they may internalize their negative feelings and become self-critical, further reducing their levels of self-esteem.

Understandably, the traits of the anxious attachment style can make it difficult to know how to deal with an anxious attachment partner in a way that helps them to feel loved and secure.

The following tips may help satisfy both your and your anxiously attached partner’s requirements within a romantic relationship:

I. Help your anxious partner establish healthy boundaries

Have an open and clear discussion with your partner about how you can help them feel secure in the relationship while still maintaining appropriate boundaries. Once you have done so, aim to reinforce these boundaries consistently.

II. Encourage them to try therapy

If your anxious partner struggles to manage their intense emotions by themselves, you could encourage them to seek professional help. A skilled therapist can help them process their childhood experiences and equip them with the tools to manage their thoughts and feelings, as well as to communicate their needs in the relationship.

You could even try couples therapy to work together to resolve any attachment-related problems within the relationship.

III. Be consistent

Inconsistent behavior is a major trigger for someone with an anxious attachment style and could possibly activate anxious attachment jealousy. Regularly letting your anxiously attached partner know how important they are to you, and that you’re there for them, may help them feel more secure and supported within the relationship.

IV. Listen to their concerns

Allowing your partner to voice their anxieties can help them understand the flaws in their way of thinking. Validate their emotions, but also challenge the narrative that led them to feel anxious and insecure. Gently point out inaccuracies in their thought patterns, or else provide them with evidence to the contrary – such as how you’ve always been there consistently for them, so there’s no reason to think otherwise.

Final Thoughts on Anxious Attachment in Relationships

It may often feel like attachment styles are permanent. Yet, with knowledge, understanding, and the right skill-set, forming healthy relationships with an anxious attachment style is entirely possible.

Anxious attachers can develop “learned” secure attachment by identifying their irrational thoughts about themselves and relationships, and change their attachment-related behaviors as a result.

For some people, the best way of forging learned security is through a therapist. Others may feel more equipped to handle their issues with their partner, a trusted friend, or through a workbook. However, regardless of how they choose to do so, if someone with an anxious attachment style wants to achieve change, consistency and effort are key.

Don’t forget to take a look at our attachment diaries and personalized & group intensive retreats.

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Ainsworth, MD, Bell, SM.(1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development, 41(1), 49-67.
Bowlby, J.(1982). Attachment and Loss: Volume 1 Attachment. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books.
Chopik, W. J., Edelstein, R. S., & Grimm, K. J. (2019). Longitudinal changes in attachment orientation over a 59-year period. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(4), 598–611.
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P.R. (2007). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Guilford Press.

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