Everyone wants lasting love and secure attachments, but sadly many people don’t act in a way that supports such. For instance, singles often engage in a pursue/withdraw dance that appears too eager or too indifferent, whereas couples frequently get caught in patterns of criticism, nagging, and whining followed by withdrawal, resent, and disconnection (or vice versa). Discover if you’re acting anxious or avoidant in your dating and relationships and how you can become secure (individually and as a couple).
Do you act anxious, avoidant, or secure in your relationships?
It is easy to describe what secure relationships look like but much harder to create them. Secure attachments only occur when both partners choose to be Available, Responsive, and Engaged (A.R.E.) relative to the other’s feelings, needs, and happiness [Johnson, Sue, Ph.D., Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (2008), pp 57-58].
The problem is, a partner’s behaviors can unintentionally push or drive the other (or even themselves) emotionally away from the relationship. For example, a woman who calls, texts, or encourages a date may seem too eager (evidence of anxious attachment) to which her potential date may unconsciously experience more apathy or decreased attraction (evidence of an avoidant response). A husband who feels that he’s unappreciated for all he does to please his wife may become indifferent to her complaints (evidence of avoidant feelings and behaviors) until her nagging (evidence of her anxious feelings and behaviors) can’t be ignored. To this, the wife might respond that it is his indifference and passiveness that drives her insecurities and subsequent nagging.
The solution to this pursue/withdraw dance is for both parties to learn how to recognize when they’re acting anxious or avoidant and to choose behaviors that are available, responsive, and emotionally engaged instead. This can be challenging if they don’t understand the 4 Things that Drive Anxious and Avoidant Attachments and how these things are affecting them, their partner, or the singles community (which is full of such issues).
It is natural for those who are anxiously attached to see themselves as the innocent victims who are being wronged by their partner’s passive behaviors. But it is important to steer clear of the all-too-common trend of criticizing the avoidant. If a parent died and had two children, one might grieve openly and seek comfort from others while the second might withdraw, act out, or become disengaged from others. Does that mean the second does not love and miss their parent? Those who respond to stress with avoidant emotions and behaviors still have attachments. They may disconnect emotionally, but they rarely know why or how to stop it. They try to go through the motions, do the right thing, and engage, but they just don’t can’t make themselves feel the emotions they think they should feel. This makes them feel like victims too.
Those who struggle with anxious or avoidant attachment patterns in dating or relationships need to know there is hope; these patterns can be changed, they just need to know what to do and how to do it.
Discover if you (or your partner) have an anxious, avoidant, or secure attachment pattern by taking these self-tests.
ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT (self-test)
- Do you tend to worry about whether you can get or keep this relationship? Yes / No
- Do you doubt your date or partner’s interest in you? Yes / No
- Do you frequently analyze what they’re doing, saying, texting, or Facebooking about for hidden messages or meaning? Yes / No
- Do you become anxious and assume the worst when you don’t hear from them immediately? Yes / No
- Do you frequently feel hurt by their behaviors, choices, time with others, and hobbies, or worry you’re not a priority? Yes / No
- Do your moods revolve around what your partner is doing and saying that day? Yes / No
- Do you frequently fear they are losing interest in you, cheating on you, or about to break up with you? Yes / No
- Do you feel a strong attraction and need for the relationship? Yes / No
- Do you feel preoccupied with where the relationship is going or engage in frequent conversations about commitment? Yes / No
- Do you worry your partner is more attractive, desirable, special, or unique than most people, thus, you can’t afford to lose them? Yes / No
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you may feel moderately anxious in the relationships. If you answered yes to four or more, you probably have an anxious (rather than secure) attachment to your partner. This may be due to their behaviors in the relationship or because you have an underlying pattern of feeling and acting this way in many relationships. You may feel a strong attraction and desire for the other person, but this attachment is an insecure one. You may need and depend on the other’s love, validation, and attention to feel okay about yourself. You may be consumed by what the other thinks, how they feel, and what they’re doing or saying. This creates cycling dependence on your partner as a way of managing your anxiety and insecurities. Your partner’s passiveness, undoubtedly, reinforces your fears and insecurities, making it difficult to stop this pattern. Fortunately, you can break the cycle, both independently and as a couple, if you know what to do. Click here to learn more: I’m single, I’m in a relationship).
1. Perfectionist pattern
- Do you suffer in silence rather than expressing your feelings and needs? Yes / No
- Do you read books, talk with others, and analyze your behaviors, texts, or conversations for clues to what you did wrong or how to handle situations more perfectly? Yes / No
- Do you excuse their misdeeds, selfishness, or neglect rather than speak up? Yes / No
- Do you minimize your feelings and needs or have difficulty expressing opinions and saying no for fear of what might happen? Yes / No
- Do you act excessively available and accommodating, make everything easy, apologize quickly, or jump in to help or fix their problems? Yes / No
- Do you worry about looking need, appearing desperate, or being high maintenance (even though you rarely make requests or get upset)? Yes / No
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you probably have a perfectionist approach to managing your anxious feelings. If you answered yes to four or more, then you may believe acting perfect, making things easy or uncomplicated, and meeting their needs is the best way to secure their commitment and love. Unfortunately, this is not true. It is not your sacrifice, service, and hard work that makes them love you: it is theirs. Being excessively available, accommodating, and quick to please does not make others respect and value you. Instead, it makes you vulnerable to the too-nice, just-friends, good-for-now, and enabling traps that allow others to take you for granted. You can gain the love, respect, and investment of others, but to do this, you’ll need to ask more from them, not less. You can do this in a positive and faith-based way (rather than through nagging or being critical). Click here to learn how: I’m single, I’m in a relationship).
2. Pursue pattern
- Do you feel that your partner is too passive, thus, if you don’t take action nothing will get done? Yes / No
- Do you call and text frequently, ask when you’re going to see them next, drop in unexpectedly, or try to spend all of your time with them? Yes / No
- Do you get upset and express frustration when they don’t respond quickly to calls and texts or make time for you? Yes / No
- Do you have difficulty relaxing or calming down until you have expressed your frustration through text, phone, or in person? Yes / No
- Do others accuse you of complaining, criticizing, or nagging over small acts of thoughtlessness? Yes / No
- When you aren’t feeling connected, do you rely on kissing and affection as a way to help you feel better Yes / No
- Have you done or said things you regret later in the heat of the moment? Yes / No
- Have you threatened to break up in anger and frustration or in an attempt to get them to engage more? Yes / No
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you tend to engage in pursuit behaviors as a way of managing your anxious feelings. If you answered yes to four or more, you probably struggle to control your anxiety when you’re not with them, and you feel getting upset is the best way to motivate them to take action. You probably fear they aren’t fully committed or invested in the relationship, and you tend to rationalize, minimize, excuse, or ignore their problems (even though you periodically nag them about their behaviors). Because you care and invest the most in the relationship, you often feel vulnerable and powerless. Nagging or criticizing may make you feel powerful, but it usually includes empty threats you’re not ready to act on. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, if they lack Empathy, Self-control, and Personal responsibility (E.S.P.), your efforts will not make them love you or cause them to engage fully in the relationship. Until you learn to step back, so they can step forward, you’ll continue to be the over-responsible one who inadvertently supports their irresponsibility. It is only through being warm, clear, and direct that you’ll discover how emotionally mature, responsible, and invested they really are. This can not be changed through criticism or nagging. Faith, patience, and boundaries are far more powerful than these (but only if your partner has E.S.P. and values you and the relationship enough to invest). If not, you need to know they are not your only chance for happiness. You can have a secure relationship with someone who will match your efforts. Click here to learn more about how you can do this: I’m single, I’m in a relationship).
AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT (self-test)
It’s important to not judge yourself or others for the following feelings or issues. Most people who struggle with avoidant attachment do not want the thoughts and feelings they’re having. If they thought they could change these feelings they would. Either they think these feelings are normal and beyond their control or they don’t know how to change them. Nevertheless, they really do want a secure attachment with others. Faith in them, not criticism, is the answer.
- Do you question whether or not you want to date or be in your relationship? Yes / No
- Do you feel numb, stuck, frozen or indifferent when on dates or with your partner? Yes / No
- Do you feel you are going through the motions in dating or your relationship but not feeling the emotions that you think you should feel for a date or partner? Yes / No
- Do you tend to react to others or passively fall into relationships rather than actively participating? Yes / No
- Do you struggle to feel attraction for most singles or your partner? Yes / No
- Do you fear settling, missing out on something better, or getting trapped in the wrong relationship? Yes / No
- Do you find yourself thinking about your ex or comparing your dates or partner to others? Yes / No
- Do you struggle to enjoy the moment and just relax because the other person might assume you’re more into them than you are or they may expect more commitment afterward? Yes / No
- Is it hard to consistently feel excited about the relationship (sometimes you think they’re amazing and other times you only see their flaws) making it difficult for you to trust your feelings? Yes / No
- Do you feel a strong need for alone time and/or feel indifferent about when you’ll see them again? Yes / No
- Do you often engage in the relationship out of duty, obligation, or fear? Yes / No
- Do you say yes when you want to say no, hold grudges (that others don’t know about), hint to but deny your anger, or use sarcasm to express how you really feel? Yes / No
- Do others have to pressure you before you’ll open up, be vulnerable, or share your feelings and needs? Yes / No
- Do you tend to be passive about planning dates, seeking time with them, doing things for them, or having difficult conversations? Yes / No
- Does the idea of not dating or breaking up seem like a relief? Yes / No
- Do you struggle with a strong desire to flee or end the relationship (even though you know your date or the relationship is foundationally good)? Yes / No
- Do you feel more excited and attracted to those you can’t date or keep relationships with while feeling indifferent about the ones you can? Yes / No
- Do you feel preoccupied with the need to feel excited and passionate about someone (because you feel only then you’ll really want to work at a relationship)? Yes / No
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you probably feel shame to admit these feelings but relieved to know you’re not the only one. If you answered yes to five or more, you may have convinced yourself that the problem isn’t you, it’s the relationship or the other person. You might believe that you wouldn’t feel this way if they were more attractive, compatible, smart, educated, fun, healthy, active, religious, social, outgoing, happy, confident, positive, etc. These assumptions result from your best guesses about why you aren’t feeling the connection you think you should be feeling. You’re not aware of the thinking errors and situational triggers that are actually driving your disconnection, but you know you fear settling or getting trapped in the wrong relationship. This makes you anxious about working on a relationship when you can’t shake the feeling that if it were right, it would be natural, organic, and easy. The idea of having to force yourself to date or be in a relationship makes it feel wrong. You long to feel a strong and powerful desire for a relationship (like you’ve felt when anxiously attached in the past), but even when initially excited, the feelings often fade within weeks or months (leaving you once again with doubts about your interest, attraction, or compatibility with your partner). Although many singles and couples feel the emotions they desire are beyond their control, the good news is this is not true. You can unlock your feelings, engage fully, and gain the confidence and passion you desire. Click here to learn how: I’m single, I’m in a relationship).
1. Perfectionist pattern
- Do you worry about doing the right thing? Yes / No
- Do you consider other’s feelings before you take action, even to the point that you often struggle to take action? Yes / No
- Do you labor over making decisions, worry about the ramifications of small choices, and feel dependent on other’s validation? Yes / No
- In your past, did you struggle with one or more episodes of severe anxiety, concerns over germs, contamination, religious worthiness, unwanted or distressing thoughts, etc.? Yes / No
- Do you feel shame and regret about past actions or how you might have hurt others unintentionally, to the point that you often struggle to move on or forgive yourself? Yes / No
- Are you conscientious about being a good citizen, son, daughter, friend, employee, student, boss, parent, church member, etc.? Yes / No
- Do you struggle to communicate your feelings, express your doubts, make commitments, end relationships, or say no? Yes / No
- Do you feel a compulsive need to confess your lack of feelings, concerns over attraction, or worries about incompatibility? Yes / No
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you probably have a perfectionist approach to managing anxiety that is actually driving you to shut down and disconnect emotionally (often before you realize it). If you answered yes to five or more, your underlying anxiety may be severe enough to get you caught in obsessional thinking that locks in on either attraction or a flaw in your partner or the relationship. Because you shut down emotionally you may be convinced you do not have a connection to your partner. You may go through the motions, treat them respectfully, and do your part, but they don’t realize how disconnected you are (or you may feel a compulsive need to talk about your lack of feelings frequently). After breaking up, you usually feel relief, but weeks or weeks or months later you often find yourself missing them and reconsidering the relationship. The problem isn’t your connection; it’s your underlying anxiety. Perfectionism inadvertently feeds anxiety rather than resolving it. It also interferes with you identifying what you truly value and want. You need to learn how to address the anxiety, set boundaries, express your feelings, and become more vulnerable. Only then will you be able to truly let them in. Click here to learn more about the Amazing and Still Single pattern and how you and your partner can break it.
2. Withdraw and run pattern
- Do you struggle to feel interest beyond one or two dates? Yes / No
- Are you the one who usually breaks up, stops calling, or disappears? Yes / No
- Do you avoid involving dates or partners in your life (or becoming involved in theirs), such as introducing each other to family, friends, co-workers, church members, etc.? Yes / No
- Do you break up or walk away when issues come up, the relationship becomes somewhat complicated, they express their feelings or needs, or they want more commitment? Yes / No
- Do you struggle to tell them you’re upset, hurt, or angry (instead you walk away, don’t call, use sarcasm, or make personal attacks)? Yes / No
- Do you lose interest or flee after sexual contact? Yes / No
- Do you resist getting advice from friends and family about dating or relationships? Yes / No
- Do you break up over small issues? Yes / No
- Do others consider you to be a player, user, or someone who has commitment issues? Yes / No
- Do you like the chase but not the catch? Yes / No
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then you probably tend to withdraw or run when relationships get uncomfortable. If you answered yes to five or more, you may be inadvertently controlling the relationship by being the person who cares the least controls about the relationship. By caring the least others can’t hurt you, you aren’t vulnerable or dependent on them, and you can walk away before things get hard or messy. However, you also have none of the benefits of loving relationships. Of the anxious, avoidant, and secure, the avoidant person has the most control. However, power through passiveness, withdrawal, silence, resentment, and unexpressed feelings or needs means no one ever wins, including you. When secure relationships are the goal, everyone wins, and lasting love becomes possible for you both. In some cases you may have felt trapped in a relationship that took you weeks and months (or years) to end because you were so into them, feared hurting them, or felt it was your duty to stay. To prevent getting trapped again, you may avoid dating, showing interest, involving others, or making commitments until you’re absolutely sure you’re interested (which rarely happens). Unfortunately, this cautious approach keeps you passive, which also makes you feel passionless. An avoidance approach will never make you or your partner truly happy. When you actively engage (share, take risks, sacrifice, and stay connected when things are hard) you feel strong emotions. You know this is true because on occasion you’ve felt excited about someone and have been willing to risk it all. Often these people were not good for you or to you because they lack Empathy, Self-control, and Personal responsibility (E.S.P.); however, if you choose to engage and stay engaged (with people who have E.S.P.) it will be worth it. Your emotions will bend to your choices, because in many ways love really is a choice. Click here to learn how you can feel the passion you long for: I’m single, I’m in a relationship).
SECURE ATTACHMENT (self-test)
A.R.E. you individually secure?
- Do you feel an interest in dating or being with your partner but when you’re not with them you can focus and think about other things? Yes / No
- Do you engage fully in multiple areas of your life (work, school, friends, family, hobbies, spirituality, exercise, etc.) while still making time for dating or your relationship? Yes / No
- Do you feel an interest in your partner and a desire to spend time with them, but you know that if they don’t engage fully or they lose interest, you’ll be ok (i.e., you’d feel sad, but it wouldn’t change how you feel about yourself or your future)? Yes / No
- Do you believe that if one person (friend, family member, date, etc.) doesn’t respond someone else will (i.e., others value you and will be there for you, including other attractive dates or partners)? Yes / No
- When rejected, do you see your value and the bigger circumstances rather than taking it too personally (i.e., you feel sadness and grief but not worthlessness or hopeless)? Yes / No
- When others cancel plans, say no, or don’t call and text every day (or right away), are you still able to feel confident in them, the relationship, or yourself (i.e., you’re able to self-soothe and feel secure overall)? Yes / No
- Do you believe in the general goodness of most people and that your partner’s intentions are sincere and respectful (thus, their actions are not intentionally hurtful)? Yes / No
- Do you trust that if you expressed your feelings and needs others would want to meet them (and if they can’t, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about you)? Yes / No
If you answered yes to three or less of these questions, then you are very normal. Many people think that others feel secure and are not affected by rejection like they are, but this is rarely the case. Most people struggle with feeling confident, are set back by rejection, and take other’s actions personally. Feeling and reacting in a secure way is often a choice: a choice to believe in yourself, your future, the goodness of others, and God’s investment in you and your happiness. Those who choose to believe, discover that fear and doubt are easier to manage and they have more courage to act with confidence in the face of opposition. In many ways, believing becomes seeing (rather than the other way around). You do not need to believe wholeheartedly in these things; acting as if they are true is enough to help discover how true they are. When it comes to faith, faking it until you make it really does work. If you answer yes to four or more of these questions, you probably feel fairly secure within yourself. However, if you answered yes to four or more, but you’re not actively trying to date or engage fully in your relationships, your seemingly secure feelings may be masking avoidance. By not engaging fully in dating or relationships you’re not facing your fears; therefore, your secure feelings are a result of your reliance on yourself rather than your confidence in others and your future. If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, and you are in a relationship, your partner is probably contributing to the security you feel. It is always easier to become secure when both parties are actively choosing to be Available, Responsive, and Engaged (A.R.E.) with each other. Click here to learn how you can become more secure: I’m single, I’m in a relationship).
A.R.E. you secure as a couple?
- Do you and your partner make yourself available for dates and time together every week? Yes / No
- Do you both respond to texts by the end of each day or sooner? Yes / No
- Do you both call back when the other calls (versus just texting)? Yes / No
- Do you both fulfill requests within a reasonable timeframe? Yes / No
- Do you both do what you say you’re going to do or say no when needed (i.e., your words and actions match)? Yes / No
- Do you both see the other’s feelings and needs as valid and important and try to meet them? Yes / No
- Do you both succeed in influencing the other, negotiating change, and finding win/win solutions? Yes / No
- Do you both stay emotionally engaged during stress, frustration, misunderstanding, or conflict? Yes / No
- Do you both make each other a priority? Yes / No
- When in doubt, confused, or hurt, do you both speak up and ask clarifying questions (rather than trying to analyze the situation all on your own)? Yes / No
- When either of you need to talk, do you trust that the other will respond and engage as soon as they can? Yes / No
- Do you turn your body language toward each other when the other is talking, lean in, touch, show that you’re listening, etc.? Yes / No
- Do you both give and receive repair attempts (like humor, kindness, touch, forgiveness, apologies, etc.) when either of you is upset or during times of conflict? Yes / No
No one is perfect, neither are relationships. Life is messy. However, problems aren’t the problem: it’s how you both handle them that will make or break the relationship. If you have a pattern of being Available, Responsive, and emotionally Engaged (A.R.E.) with each other you’ll feel secure in the relationship no matter what challenges you face. If you answered yes to three or less of these questions, then you probably don’t feel very secure in the relationship yet. Some of this may be due to how new your relationship is. It takes time and consistency to feel secure. Perfection isn’t required. Both of you will make mistakes, but if your efforts are consistent, predictable, and reliable, the other will feel secure. If one or the other is attempting to do these things, but their partner stops responding, the relationship will destabilize and become either anxious or avoidant. One person cannot create or maintain a secure attachment. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That being said, when you start to feel anxious or avoidant, ask yourself, how would I act if I felt secure. Then do that! You will feel more confident, secure, and healthy when you chose to act secure; and you never know, the faith underlying your actions might reach them in ways your fear or withdrawal never could. If you answered yes to six or MORE, congratulations! You are well on your way to a secure relationship. To develop more skills for creating a secure relationship click here: I’m single, I’m in a relationship).
Please note, the advice provided here does not relate to relationships in which significant mental health issues, abuse, or drug, alcohol, pornography, and sexual addictions are present. Such issues often result from (or cause a decrease in) a partner’s ability to have empathy, self-control, or personal responsibility within a relationship. In such cases, please seek competent mental health counseling. The information provided on this website is for educational purposes only.
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Alisa Goodwin Snell is a dating and relationship coach who spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist. She’s written seven books for singles, created numerous audios, videos, and articles, is a popular public speaker, and has been on over 100 TV and radio programs nationwide. Learn more.
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