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What's Your Relationship Style?

Our relationship styles and attachment patterns help us understand ourselves as individuals, as well as in the context of our relationships. Who are we drawn to? What patterns are likely to show up in our relationships? What are our strengths and potential vulnerabilities in relationships?


More often than not, these styles and attachment patterns are established in early childhood. We may have established them in our early relationships with caregivers, or witnessed them as the template modeled by our parents.



Relationship Styles


Dependent relationships are defined by one person being excessively dependent on their partner. At it's core, it represents a fundamental belief that you can't be okay or complete without the other person.


Co-dependent relationships tend to have one partner that puts excessive time and energy into helping their partner be okay. The fundamental belief is "I'm not okay if you're not okay." This relationship tends to be common when an addiction is present. For example, you'll typically see an addict with the co-dependent partner who tries to rescue or change the addict.


Independent relationships are characterized by two autonomous individuals. Many times, this relationship style lends itself to more distant, less connected couples. Couples who lead "parallel lives" with minimal conflict (but also minimal intimacy) would fit this mold.


Interdependent relationships strike a healthier balance, where the individuals are both capable of functioning independently, yet make concerted efforts to stay connected and supportive as a couple.


Attachment Styles


Anxious Attachment tends to look needy, clingy, dependent, insecure, and somewhat desperate for love and affection. Similar to a dependent relationship style, they may look to their partner to "complete" them. Anxious attached individuals often fall fast and hard, they have a hard time being single, they have an excessive need for reassurance, and are often afraid of being abandoned.


Avoidance Attachment style leans more emotionally distant and avoidant of intimacy. They pull away from people, and keep walls up in relationships. Similar to an independent relationship style, they aren't convinced that they need emotional intimacy. They avoid opening up and sharing private thoughts/feelings. Many clients I see who fit this bill have been hurt previously, and have consequently developed a core belief that they can't rely on or trust others.


Disorganized Attachment alternates between being anxious and avoidant. They push people away, but fear abandonment. Their mixed messages can be extremely confusing to partners.


Secure Attachment is the healthy ideal for relationship satisfaction. They view their attachment as a secure base, from which they can explore the world and be themselves. Similar to interdependent relationship styles, they are able to function individually, but choose to stay intimately connected. There is a sense of safety, security, trust, and loyalty in secure attachments. They believe and trust that their needs will be met, and know that they can turn to their partner for comfort and support when needed.


What relationship styles and attachment patterns sounded familiar to you?


If you're not where you'd like to be in the context of your relationship, change is possible! The first step towards making change is identifying where you are and where you'd like to be.


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Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.



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