Do you and your long-term partner always have the same fights? Do you initiate sex when you really want emotional intimacy? Do you repeat unhealthy relationship patterns no matter who you’re with? Does your sex life suffer as a result of these patterns? Sometimes the answer to your relationship woes is learning more about yourself. Learning about the four attachment styles of love and how they impact how you show up in relationships can help.
When you’re more intimately connected with who you are, how you became that person, and why you have behavior patterns, you can more easily avoid unhealthy behaviors. Learning to cultivate healthy intimate relationships requires self-intimacy because the way you attach to people in adult relationships mirrors how you connected to a caregiver when you were young.
Your attachment style affects how you communicate with your partner, handle emotional intimacy, respond to conflict, and expectations for your partner and the relationship. Each of those affects how you show up in the bedroom. Read on for more about how your attachment style affects your sex life.
What Is the Attachment Theory of Love?
When infants are small, they are dependent on caregivers for survival. This prompts infants to desire closeness with caregivers in times of stress. When babies feel unpleasant, they move closer to their parents. When they struggle with a task, they look to their parents for encouragement and support. As a result, babies are more likely to survive (Simpson & Rholes, 2017).
Your attachment style combines how you sought this close physical and emotional connection as a child and how your caregivers responded. If you looked to your parents to reduce distress and they wouldn’t or couldn’t provide it, your stress level stayed high – if their responsiveness was adequate, the stress system calmed down. How your brain perceives caregiver responsiveness becomes how you innately react to stressful situations in your close relationships. As you age, your interactions with friends and significant others can reinforce or change your attachment style.
Since sex is an emotionally charged act, it activates your stress response (not all stress is bad), activating your attachment style. This can affect your sex life in a variety of ways:
- Your reaction to physical touch.
- Your ability to communicate effectively.
- Your ability to maintain boundaries.
- Your desire to give and receive pleasure.
- Your ability to fully engage at the moment.
The Difference Between Love and Attachment
People often confuse love and attachment styles. Your attachment style is not love. Love is a feeling of adoration directed at a particular person. When you love someone, you want to enhance their well-being and behave in ways that meet their needs. Love says, “I know you. I see who you are. I want to live in a way that demonstrates that love to you.” Love is an action word.
Unlike love, attachment is self-focused. Attachment can affect how you demonstrate and experience love. Attachment is feeling close to someone because they satisfy one or more of your needs – the person is replaceable as long as the needs are met. Attachment says “I can’t let you go because of how you meet my needs. I don’t care what meeting my needs cost you as long as you keep it up. If you stop meeting my needs, I will look elsewhere.”
What Are the 4 Attachment Styles?
The different attachment styles consider how well people deal with emotional intimacy, how comfortable they are depending on people and being depended upon, and anxiety about abandonment or rejection from their partners. There are four main attachment styles, but people can have tendencies that fall into more than one category. Let’s review the four main types of attachment.
Autonomous-Secure Attachment Style
People with this attachment style have low anxiety about the relationship and meeting their needs. They are comfortable with emotional intimacy and physical closeness and don’t spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about the relationship. This is the “I’m a whole person and so are you, let’s hang” type of attachment.
Dismissive- Avoidant Attachment Style
People with an avoidant attachment style are uncomfortable with emotional or physical closeness. They don’t have anxiety about the relationship because they don’t trust others and rely only on themselves. Avoidant people value being independent and self-sufficient and will often push people away. This is the “I don’t need anyone else” type of attachment.
Preoccupied-Anxious Attachment Style
Anxiously attached individuals crave emotional and physical intimacy but worry about the relationship and rejection. They may try to merge their lives with a romantic partner and feel their partner doesn’t want to get “close enough” with them. Their intense need for closeness (and the behaviors that come with it) can scare people away. This is the “I want to share everything, do everything together, and please don’t leave me” type of attachment.
Anxious-Avoidant Attachment Style
Often called fearful-avoidant attachment, these people are uncomfortable with intimacy but worried about their partner’s commitment to them. They may not believe they’re worthy of love. They’re afraid to let their true selves be known by their partners because they fear rejection. This is the “hurt people before hurting you” type of attachment.
Attachment Styles Can Change
Your attachment style is probably a combination of characteristics from each type. Your initial attachment style comes from your childhood. Your brain develops working models for how relationships work from childhood and adult relationships and friendships. These working models can change. This explains why people who’ve experienced infidelity in numerous relationships may decide to stop seeking relationships. They decide they can’t depend on others. IT also explains why people who had a difficult childhood can heal and create long-term healthy relationships with their friends and intimate partners.
Attachment Styles in the Bedroom
Since your attachment style influences your emotional and physical intimacy in relationships, it can affect how you show up in the bedroom. This can be good or bad depending on your attachment styles, your relationship goals, and the sex life you want. Here is a brief description of how each attachment style can affect your sex life.
Secure Attachment Style
Securely attached individuals feel good about themselves and know they’re worthy of love. They seek long-term relationships characterized by commitment, emotional closeness, and satisfying sex. The goal of sex in secure relationships is to demonstrate love for your partner.
Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style
Avoidant individuals may avoid sex because it requires intimacy. They are less likely to fall in love and more likely to prefer casual sexual encounters. Casual sex isn’t inherently wrong, but if you never allow yourself to form deep emotional connections, you’re unlikely to experience genuinely satisfying sex. People with an avoidant attachment style are more likely to substitute pornography or fantasy for partnered sexual encounters.
Insecure-Anxious Attachment Style
People with anxious attachment often have low self-esteem, which causes them to use sex to get their needs for closeness met. They seek to improve their value through sex because they don’t feel valuable and worthy of love as they are.
Anxiously attached individuals may use sex to gain approval and are likely to mistrust their partner. If you’re anxious in relationships, you likely find it difficult to ask for what you want. You’re more likely to fake orgasms and have difficulty accepting pleasure. The result of this is feeling dissatisfied with your sex life.
Anxious-Avoidant Attachment Style
The sex life of someone with disorganized or anxious-avoidant attachment is best described as unstable. They may use sex to feel close to a partner and to feel worthy of love and avoid intimacy and push people away. Being in a relationship with an anxious-avoidant can feel a bit like being the rope in a tug-of-war. Come here and be close to me – now get away from me.
Understanding Your Attachment Style Can Improve Your Sex Life
As you read this blog, you may have thought, “that sounds like me,” or “I’d like to be more like that.” It’s important to remember that your attachment style is not a fixed concept. Instead, it’s a culmination of all your experiences with love and belonging. Human beings crave connection, belonging, and love, so it makes sense that your brain tries to find the best ways to meet those needs. The key to creating the attachment style and sex life you want is to create new experiences for yourself with love, relationships, and belonging.
Working with a sex therapist can help you understand how your past relationships affect your current love life and develop strategies for creating the intimate life you want. You can have scorching hot, makes-you-shake sex within a long-term intimate relationship or even with yourself. The first step is becoming self-aware, understanding your relationship patterns, and making changes to rewire your interactions in relationships.
If you’re ready to begin your Intimacy Recovery Journey, start by downloading our Intimacy Recovery Checklist, which will allow you to start forming healthy connections with yourself and your partner. Then, schedule your FREE Intimacy Recovery Discovery Call. Soribel will ask questions to understand your current sex and relationship issues and help you set goals, and form an action plan to give you the healthy, loving relationship you deserve.
References: Simpson, J. A., & Steven Rholes, W. (2017). Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships. Current opinion in psychology, 13, 19–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006