The desire to experience secure relationships is universal.
Most likely, we have all experienced a relationship where something didn’t feel quite right.
At times, it can be hard to pinpoint, but our behaviors can be traced back to the way we were raised and the way we experienced attachment to our caregivers. Ideally, we experienced a secure attachment that gave us a healthy foundation for our lives.
So what does a secure attachment relationship look like?
What Is Attachment?
Let’s start with the definition of attachment on its own. Essentially, attachment is the bond that forms between caregiver and child, and it begins at a young age. Your caregivers—whether they were parents or otherwise—and the way they took care of you set the trajectory for your relational destiny.
Most caregivers and parents do the best they can to take care of their kids with the tools they have at the time. Sometimes, parents can get so distracted, busy, or emotionally challenged that they aren’t meeting all the child’s needs. This can apply to physical, emotional, psychological, and relational needs—the child may feel neglected in some way, and this situation can create what is called an insecure attachment.
The opposite is also true: when the parent or caregiver makes the child feel physically and emotionally safe, loved, and comforted, a secure attachment is formed. In my view, there are four basic elements of a secure attachment that make it easy to remember (these are modified slightly from attachment science and the work of Dr. Dan Siegel).
The Four Ss of Secure Attachment
In every adult relationship, each partner has needs that they hope to have met in order to create a secure attachment, and most of them fall under the umbrella of these four main needs.
Safe: you feel emotionally safe in the relationship
Seen: you feel seen by your partner
Soothed: you feel soothed when you’re upset
Supported/challenged: you feel like your partner believes in you, has your back, sets boundaries for you, and challenges you. They urge you toward things that are beneficial for you.
In parent-child relationships, it’s the parent’s job to meet these four needs. They are one way. It’s never a child’s job to meet a parent’s needs. Of course, no parent or caregiver is perfect—and even in a secure attachment situation, there will be arguments, disconnections, stress, or tantrums. But the difference in a secure attachment is that the parents work to repair the issue and lead the child to reconnection and resolution in the relationship.
Attachment in Adult Relationships
So, when you bring your attachment style into your adult relationships, it works in largely the same way as in parent-child relationships. But rather than it being more of a one-way street, the relationship is more equitable, partner to partner.
When you’re in a relationship where you experience secure attachment, you and your partner meet each other’s needs. You help each other feel safe, seen, soothed, and supported. Then, when you have a disagreement or disconnection, you both return and reconnect in such a way that rebuilds the relationship from the rift. Working to repair the issue on both sides allows you to relax, let down, and feel free to be yourselves and open up to your partner again.
On top of that, you feel comfortable knowing your partner believes in you and supports you—and challenges you to be your best self. Knowing that your partner is there for you helps you face issues and support them in theirs.
Here’s a video on secure attachment:
Secure Attachment in a Relationship Begins Within You
Being in a securely attached relationship starts with one key element within each person: self-reflection. Research shows that the biggest predictor of secure attachment is a person’s ability to take a look at their relational history—the challenges, traumas, experiences—and learn from them, grow, and make meaning from them. These are vital to fostering a secure attachment.
If we don’t take the time or energy to self-reflect, we won’t feel like we’re able to let our guard down—thus, the attachment won’t be secure on either side. The critical component of self-reflection increases your capacity for security and allows both partners to feel safe and secure, perpetuating a healthy and fulfilling two-way relationship.
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