Attachment theory is one of the most insightful theories in the world of adult relationships. Not many people consider how their past affects their present, yet it’s why many people struggle in their love lives.
As someone with an anxious attachment, watching anxiety interfere with my happiness isn’t fun. But for a long time, I thought I had to deal with my struggles on my own. I thought I had to keep it all quiet from my partners.
But the thing about attachment theory is that part of the healing process happens within our relationship. Trying to shield your partner from all the side effects of an anxious attachment will only worsen things.
That’s why, if you’re dating someone with an anxious attachment, it’s essential to support and be there for your partner, to let them know that your relationship is a safe space for them to heal.
But if you feel lost on what to think and how to help, that’s perfectly OK.
I have a few reminders that will help you help your partner so that they can work towards feeling more secure and you both can experience a happier relationship:
Small doses of reassurance go a long way.
For a while, I thought getting reassurance from my boyfriends meant I was only feeding into this anxiety monster that lived inside me. Again, I believed I needed to handle everything on my own and not rely on my partners.
But that’s not how attachment theory works. There’s no amount of convincing myself that my partner loves and won’t leave me if my partner does everything to disprove those beliefs. It’s like trying to make a cake without a baking pan. The foundation isn’t there.
So know that reassurance here and there isn’t a bad thing; it helps us. Because for anxiously attached people, security is earned. It’s not something we can believe without proof.
Simple comments like, “I love you,” “I’m thinking of you,” or “I appreciate you” can go a long way, even more so if your partner is already triggered and struggling.
Don’t talk about ending the relationship unless you mean it.
This one should be a no-brainer for all relationships, but it's especially important since anxiously attached people fear being rejected. Don’t mention breaking up as an option unless you truly intend to follow through.
With that said, don’t be afraid to talk about the severity of how certain things are affecting your relationship. Speak your mind, and don’t hold things back. Just don’t use the relationship as ammo to get your way or convey to your partner how serious something is.
All that will do is trigger your partner, and, at that point, it will be hard to get any message across to them.
Notice when your partner is triggered and how they act.
When someone who is anxiously attached is triggered, they engage in what’s known as protest behaviors. These are meant to re-establish connection with you, even if they’re actions that seem to be doing the complete opposite.
Protest behaviors could look like excessive texting or calling you. It could be your partner withdrawing or shutting down. Or perhaps it’s just that they become scared and start to overthink everything.
By noticing when your partner is triggered, you can either reassure them or give them the space they need to regulate. At the very least, seeing this can be helpful for you not wasting time reason with someone who isn’t in the state to do so.
They don’t like how they act either.
As frustrating and irrational as things may seem to you, know that anxiously attached people don’t like how they act either. We wish we could feel safe and think about relationships with a level-head.
Anyone who struggles with anxiety or anxious thoughts isn’t happy with them. Those thoughts feel intrusive. They ruin perfectly great days. It’s hard to feel safe in our own life. And even if we can see how irrational some of our thoughts are, that doesn’t make the feelings that accompany them go away.
So don’t think we’re perfectly content with how we act; that’s far from the case. We don’t necessarily think we’re the only issue in the relationship, but we can at least admit that we don’t make things easier.
Don’t invalidate their feelings.
Whatever you do, don’t invalidate your partner’s feelings. By this I mean, don’t say they don’t feel sad. Don’t act like they shouldn’t be mad. And don’t ever say things like they’re acting “crazy” because that’s plain rude.
Your partner feels what they feel. You can’t say their feelings are wrong or aren’t real. Feelings are quite objective since people’s experiences are their own.
Just because a situation doesn’t upset you doesn’t mean it won’t upset your partner. Validating their experience and trying to understand why they’re feeling the way they are will foster a deeper connection between you both. Invalidating them will only create distance.
Consistency and keeping promises are crucial.
Circling back to my statement that “security is earned,” it’s vital that you keep showing up for the relationship and only make promises you can come through on. Chances are your partner dated someone who didn’t do those things.
So when you break a promise or flake out on them, all you’re doing is confirming all their greatest fears.
Instead, make promises that you know you can keep. Be there for them when you say you will be. Invest as much into them as they do into you. You know, basic healthy relationship kind of things.
Just asking how you can support them means a lot.
In the moments where you’re not sure what to do or say, you can ask. And just the act of you caring enough to ask and figure out how you can help your partner will mean the world to them.
Your partner doesn’t expect you to naturally know how to help them, just like I’m sure they’re still learning how to be there for you. Sure, their anxiety might make things even more complicated, but the fact you want to support them is probably a lot more than they’ve experienced in the past.
So don’t ever worry if you feel lost when it comes to supporting them. Communicate that and allow your partner to explain how you can best help them when they’re struggling most.
In no way, shape or form is it your sole duty to make your partner secure. It’s up to them to put in the work, express their needs, and draw boundaries that make them feel safe. But, as their partner, you can support them and help that journey.
Plus, the ways you can help support them are the foundations for a healthy relationship. So it’s a double-win, either way.
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