Did you know that we all have an attachment style and that it can even give you an idea of your chances of divorce? A 2019 study shows that anxious and avoidant styles have a significant chance of divorce. Sadly, some of the traits from those styles might also be blocking people from re-partnering after separation. So, what can you learn about adult attachment styles and divorce to break the cycle?
What You Need to Know About Your Attachment Style
In simple terms, the theory, developed by psychologists Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, explains how we relate to people. They realized that the bond and responses we developed with our caregivers as children predicts how we hold relationships as adults.
The idea behind the theory is that our emotional response as children to our caregivers teaches us how to relate emotionally with adults later in life. So, if your caregivers ignored your needs or were emotionally distant, after your initial despair, you would become distant and gradually avoidant.
On the flip side, controlling parents or stressful home life can create anxiety that continues into adult relationships. Essentially, your cortisol levels never get the chance to go back to normal so anxiety becomes the norm.
Both anxious and avoidant styles are developed from fear of being abandoned but they show them in different ways. Interestingly, about 23% of people are avoidant and 20% anxiously attached according to this New York Times article.
The Differences after Separation and Divorce
What do adult attachment styles and divorce have in common? Essentially, anxious and avoidant attached people tend to come together but their natural coping habits push each other away. That’s because they developed unhealthy attachment behaviors in childhood.
At first, the anxious types are seduced by the charm and independence of the avoidant. Similarly, the avoidant appreciates the openness of emotions that anxious types often have. With time though, the natural responses to triggers set in and the avoidant becomes distant as the anxious become increasingly clingy.
As you can probably guess, our attachment styles make us respond very differently to separation and divorce. Avoidant people tend to suppress their emotions and try to move on quickly. Interestingly, research has shown that this can make the overall distress last much longer, sometimes even years, after divorce. Basically, the emotions haven’t disappeared but they’re hidden away and so can still impact you.
On the other hand, anxious types can become obsessive about reconnecting with their ex which blocks them from moving on. Other maladaptive approaches include trying to control or cling to their ex and the past. Either way, their reactions could become extreme and even lead to breakdown.
What Can You Do to Help Yourself?
The first step is to understand your own attachment style. Then, it’s about observing your natural tendency to either run away from partners or to run towards them.
1. Change your narrative
We all have stories about who we are and how we portray ourselves. It’s the same for divorce. You can challenge the story you’ve created about the whole situation of your divorce. The best way to change your narrative is to ask yourself questions.
For example, what could you have done differently, what will you do next time? How can you avoid falling into the blame game? How can you put a positive, or less negative, spin on the story you tell yourself?
2. No contact if you’re anxiously attached
As mentioned, anxious types are more likely to cling to their partners for reassurance that they aren’t failures or being abandoned. This is probably one of the hardest things to do but cutting all contact is the best way to get through this phase.
Reach out to friends and family to support you through this challenge though because it will be emotionally tough. You don’t have to be alone though and friends and family will help you release your emotions.
3. Emotional regulation techniques
Emotions play havoc with us after separation. Regardless of your adult attachment styles and divorce approach, we all suffer during this time. Trying to numb ourselves or suppress emotions only makes them come back in full force when you least expect them, sometimes even decades down the line.
Instead, try some of these calming techniques:
- Self-care and nature
- Music unwind time
Finally, you can also work on diverting your attention away from all the negative thoughts and feelings by listing what you’re grateful for at this time. I know it might seem like an exercise that needs superhuman effort, but just start with one thing you’re grateful for. As you move down the list one by one, you’ll be surprised at how it shifts your mood gradually.
Of course, moving forward takes work and patience. It is far from easy. That’s why people often reach out to a coach or therapist. Nevertheless, only by working through your unhealthy habits and attachment style can you hope to change the outcomes of future relationships. So, take time to reflect, get help, and go one day at a time to change your narrative.