“Our attachment styles develop early in life, based on our relationships with our caregivers,” Amanda Rose, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, tells Thrive. “They affect our friendships and romantic relationships as adults.” Attachment styles, based on the “attachment theory” in social psychology, refer to the various ways human beings engage in relationships and relate to one another. Rose explains that there are three main attachment styles that determine how you cope with stress: secure, resistant, and avoidant.
By identifying your attachment style and your partner’s, you can learn to better handle stressors that affect your relationship — and how to better respond to your partner in high-stress situations as well. Here’s how to navigate those situations best, based on all three personality types:
If you have a “secure” personality:
People with secure personalities — sometimes known as “engagers” — typically expect that their partner will be a support system for them, and feel confident in leaning on their partner during a difficult time, Rose says. “People with secure styles are generally positive relationship partners,” Rose explains. “They can give and receive emotional support when needed, and rarely feel threatened.” She notes that this personality type is also associated with feeling optimistic in times of stress, so if your partner is less secure, it can be helpful to offer them advice, and act as a calming presence in tense situations.
If you have a “resistant” personality:
Resistors tend to be more insecure, and Rose says that these insecurities can amplify during high-stress events. “People with a resistant style worry that others will not be there for them when they need them,” she says. “If your style is resistant, it may be important to actively try to trust more in a partner’s positive feelings toward you.” And because of the insecure nature of this personality type, Rose says it’s crucial to be self-aware, and to identify if your partner is a resistor. “You can become more understanding of behavior that seems needy if you understand where it’s coming from,” she adds. “It’s important to know if this is your partner’s attachment style, so you can understand how they cope.”
If you have an “avoidant” personality:
Avoiders often have a difficult time dealing with stress because they’re inclined to focus on the happy parts of a relationship, and be dismissive of the harder parts, Rose says. “Avoidant styles are often fun companions, but are unlikely to seek emotional support, or admit to needing emotional support,” she explains. “They can sometimes be dismissive when other partners need support, rather than truly engaging in the interaction.” Rose suggests being upfront about your expectations in a relationship, and being conscious of when you’re withdrawing. And if it bothers you that your avoidant partner is dismissive in stressful situations, see if it’s something they’re willing to acknowledge and work on, she advises.