Incompatible attachment styles could hinder your relationships, according to a therapist

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Incompatible attachment styles could hinder your relationships, according to a therapist
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  • Attachment styles describe the way people relate to each other and form relationships.
  • There are four styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.
  • Couples with incompatible attachment styles have to communicate to resolve their differences, therapist Alex Greenwald said.

You may have seen the term "attachment style" floating around your social media feed, perhaps in a passing post from your favorite wellness influencer.

According to therapist Alex Greenwald of Empower Your Mind Therapy, attachment styles are the way people communicate and relate to each other. The styles can influence how much time you like to spend with other people, how you show love, and what makes you feel secure.

"Every relationship - especially romantic ones - are impacted by attachment styles," Greenwald told Insider.

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Attachment styles can affect how an individual approaches commitment, jealousy, trust, emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy, according to Greenwald.

Sometimes attachment styles can be compatible, and other times, the types can clash, leading to conflict. Greenwald says it's important to understand our own attachment styles, as well as our partners, to reduce tension.

"Once we understand who we are from that perspective, we can also look out for our partner's style. If we understand where they might be coming from, it's easier to come to a resolution," Greenwald told Insider.

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People can identify with one or more of these four attachment styles

According to Greenwald, there are four basic categories of attachment styles, which can be broken down into:

  • Secure types have high emotional intelligence, have a generally positive view on relationships, and feel confident in a relationship or being independent.
  • Anxious-preoccupied types feel insecure about most relationships, tend to feel jealous, seek constant validation to feel loved, and have a history of difficult relationships.
  • Dismissive-avoidant types feel self-sufficient, prefer to avoid commitment or to be alone, aren't very interested in serious romantic relationships, and avoid intimacy.
  • Fearful-avoidant types avoid relationships with people because they have a traumatic past with intimacy, have few close relationships, and have a hard time trusting others out of fear.

If you can't identify which category best fits your relational style, you can take a number of therapist-approved quizzes to help give you a general idea.

For example, Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, authors of "Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find - and Keep - Love," put together a quiz to determine what kind of attachment style you have.

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Other quizzes, created by therapists, include this one by R. Chris Farly and this one by Dr. Diane Poole Heller.

A person's relationship style won't necessarily fit neatly into one of the above categories, but everyone embodies qualities from one or more of the attachment types in their relationships, according to Greenwald.

When the attachment style of you and your partner are incompatible, it can lead to miscommunication and distress in the relationship, if left unaddressed.

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"For instance, those with secure attachment styles might be ready to jump into an exclusive relationship and begin discussing moving in together or getting married, while someone who is avoidant may feel uncomfortable and skeptical discussing such big, long term plans with another person," Greenwald told Insider.

How to navigate conflict caused by incompatible attachment styles

Attachment style is important, but you don't have to end a relationship because your partner has a secure attachment and you have a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, for example.

Greenwald says couples can identify what each of their attachment styles are by speaking with a therapist. After that, they can discuss strategies on how to resolve those differences.

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"Knowing that your partner is fearful-avoidant, it may be easier to sit down and explain your thoughts and emotions about a situation, while expressing your love and support for them," Greenwald said.

It's important to know people with a fearful-avoidant attachment may shut down quickly, so checking in throughout the conversation is crucial. Sometimes, writing out your emotions and reading them to each other might be better if someone with fearful-avoidant attachment gets easily overwhelmed by serious conversations.

Discussing what your love languages are, or how you like to show love and receive it, could be the next step in your journey to support one another.

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Ultimately, it's important to try to let go of past trauma and remember each relationship is unique.

"Try to let down your walls and insecurities to build trust and communication. Many times, they are built up due to previous experiences and have nothing to do with your current relationship," Greenwald said.

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