How To Foster A Secure Attachment Style In Your Relationship

Updated April 1, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Did you know that 40% of children in the United States develop an insecure attachment?  Anxious and avoidant attachment styles are highly indicative of adult relationship success. Thus, it should be no surprise the divorce rate is on par, with 40%–50% of US marriages ending in divorce.

Are you or your partner navigating insecure attachment styles? If so, odds are the relationship is getting rocky. That’s why we want to help you understand attachment theory. The attachment style(s) that you form in childhood, while indicative of future adult relationship success, can be unlearned. It is possible to foster a secure attachment style with your parents, caregivers, and romantic partners – before we learn how, let’s explore the fundamentals of attachment theory.

What is an attachment style?

Developmental psychology expert John Bowlby first developed attachment theory in the late 1960s. His colleague, Mary Ainsworth, fleshed it out a few years after studying young children and their bonds with caregivers. Their caregivers are also called attachment figures. Strong, secure attachments with caregivers predicted future success, with these children seeking out more adventures and new experiences than their insecure counterparts.

In adulthood, children who grew up with insecure attachment styles tend to feel more fearful, shy, and reluctant to explore new environments. These children were attached insecurely and also tended to have lower self-confidence. While attachment styles can generally be classified as secure versus insecure, there are several sub-types of insecure attachment styles. Ahead, we’ll breakdown the four most commonly used labels for attachment styles in the psychotherapy community.

Secure attachment styles

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Insecure adult attachments may stem from childhood challenges

In experiments where a caregiver left the room inhabited by the child, the child did not seem to worry if the caregiver would return. They held confidence in their bond with the caregiver that they would eventually return, and indeed, when the caregiver returned, the child or infant was overjoyed.

Securely attached children are comfortable showing affection to others and content with being alone. Secure attachment styles cultivate better resilience to rejection and are more prone to recognizing a toxic partner or relationship. For these reasons, secure attachment styles in childhood tends to predict relationship success for adults

Insecure attachment styles

Insecure attachments are common in children who do not learn to bond with their attachment figure for one reason or another. Insecure attachments come in the form of anxious, avoidant, or disorganized. 

Anxious Attachment: Adults who experience attachment anxiety tend to be considered “clingy.” These are the partners who need constant affirmation and reassurance. They are often fearful of being single but are also uncomfortable discussing their needs with their partner. In many cases, a child with an anxious attachment to their caregiver can grow up to have anxious attachment as an adult.

Avoidant Attachment: Attachment avoidance manifests as an extreme need for independence in adulthood. That’s why you often hear it referred to as a dismissive attachment style. As their names suggest, avoidant attachments in childhood tend to lead to attachment avoidance in adulthood. For example, a child may develop an avoidant attachment. This often occurs in children who learn that they can’t rely on the caregiver for support during times of distress.

Avoidant attachments tend to develop when caregivers neglect their charges. This manifests in the child as avoidant behavior. Even when the child can be around their caregiver, they seem no more likely to prefer that than to alone time. Avoidant partners have negative feelings toward intimacy and prefer to be alone during times of deep distress.

Disorganized Attachment: In these cases, children tend to have mixed emotions about their caregivers. Sometimes, they want to be around the parent, while at other times, they act more like an avoidant child. Disorganized attachment styles may stem from inconsistent caregiver behavior. For example, caregivers who have mood-affecting mental health conditions may foster disorganized attachments in their children.

Researchers believe that anxious-avoidant attachments are relatively rare. That’s because this style combines the features of both anxious and avoidant styles. These are the partners who present confusing behavior. They may want distance sometimes but closeness at other times.

Individuals with anxious-avoidant or disorganized attachment styles tend to have a higher risk of depression. Some psychologists suggest this stems directly from the uncertain nature of disorganized child-caregiver interactions. These insecure child-caregiver interactions tend to turn into adult relationship dysfunction; namely, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, or, in rare cases, disorganized attachment.

Repairing insecure attachment styles

Today, psychologists understand the importance of attachment styles from an evolutionary perspective. Meanwhile, children who form insecure attachments are often unable to cope with perilous situations. They may also live in a chronic state of elevated stress.


Contrary to original beliefs, psychologists now support the notion that insecure attachment styles can be changed. How so? Performing couples’ activities and communicating can boost positive feelings, promote intimacy, and encourage trust in avoidant partners. There are various techniques that therapists and online counselors can use to help adults integrate the parts of themselves that experienced trauma, uncertainty, or neglect as children. 

Mending avoidant attachments

A long-term study of 67 heterosexual couples studied partner interactions during times of stress. It concluded that positive responses from a partner increase positive feelings and decrease negative emotions in a relationship. Surprisingly, these results were most robust in avoidant style participants.

Another study looked at the benefits of merely reflecting on positive memories of the relationship. This practice also helped reduce negative feelings toward partners. This was especially true for participants with attachment avoidance.

What does this mean for your relationship? It might be wise to practice partner yoga or some other couples’ activity once per week. Strive to communicate more often and more deeply, as this can prompt you to turn toward one another, instead of against or away from (which we often see in avoidant attachment behavior). Reflect on positive memories about you and your partner through journaling or meditation.

If you’re the partner of a person with an avoidant attachment, try your best to cultivate a positive environment. Listen to your partner and make them feel loved. You’ll be amazed at how little effort it takes to make such a massive difference in your relationship.

Transforming anxious attachments

Anxiously attached partners do tend to fare better in relationships, especially compared to their avoidant counterparts. For this reason, researchers have focused much less on healing anxious attachments. Still, this 2013 study did find the benefits of increasing trust through conversation. It also found positive benefits of partner goal validations.

Additionally, a 2015 study showed that anxiously attached women, in particular, may find relief with couples talk therapy. That’s why our top tip for anxious styles is to learn how to communicate your needs better. Receiving clear, direct communication from a partner may reduce a tendency to make up stories or meanings in times where things are ambiguous or inconsistent.

Healing disorganized attachments

In a 2013 study, researchers looked at the benefits of trust and goal validating on romantic partners attached insecurely. They found that increasing trust reduced attachment anxiety in the short-term. At the same time, trust reduced attachment avoidance over time—meanwhile, goal validating lessened attachment avoidance immediately and attachment anxiety in the long-term.

These results are promising for individuals who experience mixed anxious-avoidant tendencies. So, if your partner has an anxious-avoidant style, try goal validating or increasing trust. In the study, the researchers considered goal validating when a partner encouraged the other’s personal goals and motivations. Meanwhile, increasing trust was measured by whether a partner perceived the other as available and dependable.

Insecure adult attachments may stem from childhood challenges

Therapy for insecure attachments

If any of the descriptions regarding anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment resonate with you, and you have made some connections between events that occurred (or didn’t occur) in childhood and patterns showing up in your intimate relationship today, know that you are not alone. The important thing to consider is what to do now that you are armed with this information.

Many people seek the support of compassionate online therapists to help them in resolving insecure attachment from childhood. Whether they were abandoned, abused, or otherwise betrayed by a caregiver, people of all backgrounds have experienced positive outcomes from seeking therapy. If you suspect that you or someone you love is experiencing or has experienced abuse, you can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline to get help or call 800-799-7233.

Regain’s accredited therapists can help you and your partner improve your relationship with attachment theory principles. One recent study involving 18 people diagnosed with neurotic, stress-related, and somatoform disorders or depressive episodes used an online attachment-based therapy intervention to evaluate its impact on symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, and insecure attachment patterns. Results were promising in that online psychotherapy resulted in increased self-esteem and reductions in feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and avoidance.

Another reason to try online therapy is its convenience. Users can schedule appointments at times that are compatible with their schedules, and you don’t need to travel to an in-person therapist’s office to get support. As long as you have a secure internet connection, you can meet virtually with your licensed Regain therapist.


While doing the work to resolve insecure attachments from childhood can be difficult, the feeling of being able to maintain healthy, secure relationships is absolutely worth the effort. You may find that the journey teaches you valuable communication skills, ways of self-soothing, and strategies for being a better parent, should you decide to have children. When you’re ready to begin, you can reach out to a Regain therapist for support.

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