Dating someone with anxious attachment often starts well. Anxious attachers are typically thoughtful and affectionate, and they love to spend as much time with you as possible. They may ask if you love them, and you likely say, ‘Of course!’ But, yet, they keep asking and asking. Soon enough, thoughtful and affectionate starts to feel clingy and suffocating. What’s happening? Chances are you might be dating someone with an anxious attachment style.
But what is anxious attachment, and what does it mean for a relationship if someone has it? Whether you are dating someone with anxious attachment or need to know how to date with an anxious attachment style, never fear – this guide will provide you with all the information you need.
We will delve into:
If you don’t yet know your (or your partner’s) attachment style, then you can find out through the free attachment quiz on our website. However, if you’re not sure whether your partner would like to take the quiz, or if the relationship is in its fledgling stages, the following are some signs that you could be dating someone with anxious attachment:
Note: anxious attachment exists on a spectrum, and its severity depends on their life experiences and how much their attachment is currently activated. Therefore, your partner may display all of these signs or only some of them.
People with an anxious attachment style are typically hypersensitive to any inklings of rejection. This could mean they take the things you say more negatively than you intend them to. For example, if your partner asked you if you preferred their hair curly or straight, they might interpret your answer in a way that seems like you don’t just prefer one option but, in fact, hate the other.
Be it what you said, the tone in which you said it, or what you did, a person with anxious attachment will analyze it for any clues that could mean you are planning on leaving the relationship. For example, a delayed response to a text message might result in an angry phonecall from them in their search for reassurance, or rescheduling a date night may cause them to become overwrought with anxiety.
People with anxious attachment often find it difficult to believe their partners and worry that they will lie or cheat on them. This difficulty with trust might manifest as behaviors such as inspecting your phone for messages from other potential partners or checking up on you on nights out without them.
Due to how an anxious attacher’s needs were met inconsistently by their caregivers during their formative years, they often feel like they are not worthy of their partner’s love and affection. They tend to think more highly of other people than they do themselves, so this low self-regard, paired with a fear of abandonment, means that an anxious attacher may discount their needs in a relationship to favor those of their partners. Essentially, they self-sacrifice to keep other people happy. Unfortunately, this trait also means that anxious attachers have a tendency to attract those who might take advantage of them.
Pairing low self-worth with trust difficulties means that a partner with anxious attachment may view outsiders to your relationship as a threat. This may be most obvious if you have a new co-worker or friend, or if you start spending increased time with someone you already knew.
Given that anxious attachers find it difficult to trust and feel like they are not worthy of your attention, they may likely repeatedly ask for reassurance and validation. For example, they might ask you if you love them or what you like about them time and time again to assuage their anxieties.
People with an anxious attachment style tend to think more highly of other people than they do themselves. This low self-regard, paired with the continual worry that their partner will leave them, means they often put their partner’s needs first. Unfortunately, this trait also means that anxious attachers have a tendency to attract those who might take advantage of them.
Attachment Theory states that as very young children (typically between birth and 18 months), we develop a special relationship with the person who looked after us the most – our primary caregiver. This relationship essentially forms the template for all of our future relationships.
If we had a childhood in which our needs were met well, we formed a secure attachment. Later in life, secure attachers typically find it easier to trust the people that they are close to and feel like close relationships are safe and rewarding. However, if our childhood needs were not met or were met inconsistently, this would result in an insecure attachment style – either anxious, avoidant, or disorganized.
Anxious attachment specifically occurs when children are unsure whether their primary caregiver is going to be available to them, especially when they really need them. These children often worry that their caregiver is going to leave them permanently, so they devote a lot of energy to monitoring both their surroundings and their caregiver for any signals of abandonment. To ensure they’ll receive the attention they need, the child may act out – such as by crying or throwing a tantrum.
These fears impact how an anxious attacher predicts their relationships will develop. Hence, someone with this attachment style may be overly sensitive to signs of rejection, have problems with their self-worth, and put their partner’s needs ahead of theirs. Anxious attachers typically require high levels of reassurance, intimacy, and emotional support from their partners to feel loved and safe.
With all of the aforementioned information in mind, you may be wondering how to go about dating someone with anxious attachment – and even whether it’s worth your time. The short answer is yes. People with anxious attachment may have a different way of viewing relationships compared to those with a secure attachment, but with time, patience, and love, you can help your anxious partner move closer toward secure attachment.
The following tips may help you understand how to support a partner with an anxious attachment style:
Knowing your partner has an anxious attachment style and educating yourself on what this means already sets you on a path of greater understanding in your relationship. Perhaps read up on attachment theory to help facilitate an even deeper knowledge of why your partner thinks and acts the way they do. You could even find out your own attachment style by taking the quiz on our website, as the traits of certain styles can either mitigate or inflate those of an anxious partner in a romantic relationship. Be mindful, though, that it is not your job to fix your partner, but instead to support them as they deal with their anxious attachment themselves.
Regular communication is an important factor in helping someone with an anxious attachment style move towards more secure attachment. For example, your partner’s needs may include validation, so they might want to check in with you throughout the day. Doing so could help reassure them that you are thinking of them when they are not there and may reinforce the bond in the relationship. While this might seem like a difficult thing to do, in reality, it could be as simple as sending a text message saying “Can’t wait to see you later” or “Work has been so busy today. How are you?”
Who doesn’t like to know when they are doing something right? Compliments and expressions of gratitude can help an anxious attacher feel more loved and safe within your relationship. It may help build their self-worth and give them something positive to focus on when they have doubts about their lovability and your interest in them.
During times of relationship stress, your partner’s anxious attachment will be activated more. Providing reassurance that you are committed to the relationship and will not leave whenever there are problems can help your partner feel that they can trust you. This doesn’t always have to be a grand declaration. It can be as simple as saying, “I’ve got your back” during times of conflict or distress and working together as equal partners to solve any problems that may arise.
As your partner’s anxious attachment style likely arose from feelings of uncertainty around their caregivers’ ability to be there when needed, it is important to be consistent in your attention towards them. For example, ensure that you follow through on any promises you make, even if they seem small or inconsequential to you – to your partner, they may reflect your commitment to them. If you are not able to follow through on a promise, either let them know in advance or apologize and explain why you weren’t able to do so as soon as you can. Furthermore, be consistent with your levels of affection, as your partner may pick up on a change in your attitude and internalize it, even if it’s not directly related to them.
If your partner has an anxious attachment style, it may sometimes feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them. While this can be tiresome, try to remain empathic to their fears and needs. It is important for you to remember that their feelings are valid, even if you disagree with them. Likewise, it can be easy to become defensive if you feel you are not trusted within your relationship. So, try to remember that your loved one isn’t choosing to think and act this way, but rather they were raised in a way that made this manner of thinking important to their survival.
Perhaps you aren’t able to message your partner on certain days, or maybe you feel uncomfortable answering personal phone calls during your work hours. It’s important to remember that your boundaries are just as important as your partners – so be upfront about what you are able and willing to do and explain your reasons why clearly.
As discussed earlier, people with an anxious attachment style tend to suppress their own needs in order to please others, as they often hope that doing so will keep them within the relationship for longer. This tendency means that your partner may attract people who will take advantage of them. It is your responsibility to ensure that you do not use this trait for your own gain – consciously or subconsciously. Also, aim to check in with your partner’s needs and wants from time to time to make sure that the activities you engage in as a couple aligns with their interests as well as your own.
Getting your feelings out is one of the best ways of calming anxiety. Talk to your partner and remind them that they can open up to you or trusted friends about their fears. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved. Another method of externalizing feelings is keeping a journal. You could encourage your partner to use it to work through their thoughts and feelings through writing or art.
Anxiety often stems from the worry of “what might be.” During meditation or mindfulness, you focus your attention on one thing – usually, the breath – and practice letting go of any other errant thoughts and feelings that arise during that time. This practice may help your partner focus on the present, both in and outside of meditation time, and increase their inner well-being. You could encourage your partner to practice meditation by promising to do it together.
We all experience low moods at times, but if your partner is struggling to cope with their high levels of anxiety, low self-worth, and fears of abandonment, then it might be wise to steer them towards the concept of therapy. However, if their anxious attachment is only impacting your relationship, you could try couples counseling together.
Note: be mindful that you might not be able to manage all of these tips in one go. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It takes time and practice to make progress. Remember, we are all just doing our best in the moment; your partner and yourself included.
At times, it may feel frustrating to date someone with an anxious attachment style as it often requires patience and understanding of their fears. However, anxious attachers are notoriously loving and giving within relationships, so your time with them will often be filled with love and fun. Although attachment styles are relatively stable, with time, commitment, and self-development work, your loved one can move closer toward a “learned” secure attachment.
Having said as much, it’s just as important – if not more – to take care of your own mental health. If you are experiencing prolonged distress or upset from catering to someone else’s needs in a relationship, or feeling like you’re not getting your own met – then it’s important to take early steps towards repairing this hurt. Our guide for choosing a mental health practitioner and how to practice emotional hygiene may help.
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