Relationship Attachment Styles

On Episode 5 of Guess Who’s Coming, I sat down with the brilliant and humble Dr. Ashley Townes for a one-on-one conversation about relationship attachment styles and how our interactions change throughout our lifetime. Dr. Townes and I met a few weeks prior to the National Sex Educators Conference in Newark, NJ, a conference where Dr. Townes provided an incredibly insightful workshop on sexuality and African American women (complete with data!). I reached out to Dr. Townes via Instagram to arrange an interview and we found out that we live around an hour from each other, so as our worlds collided, it was kismet for us to “break bread”.

Episode 5 is now available on Spotify!


Let me start with this: I sucked at relationships for most of my life; I just suck considerably less now (actually, I’m pretty alright) since I came to that understanding and started to dig into WHY. Our first experiences with attachment come in the form of our caregivers, and we learn to model our interactions with others based on those impressionable and formative years. The hope is that we will all develop into confident, mature, secure folx who will treat our partners, friends, and associates with utmost respect, kindness, and love. The reality is that at any time, around half of us has these types of relationship skills, but we are not damned to dysfunction! Relationship attachment styles change throughout our lives, based on experiences which continue to shape and mold us, whether positively or negatively.

How Your Childhood Affects Your Love Styles (Courtesy of Psych2Go).

I want to make sure to mention that as persons of color, specifically Black, we may find ourselves at a disadvantage regarding relationship styles because of how we are culturally raised to perceive “normalcy”. It is hard to admit (personal or cultural) weakness, sensitivity, or insecurity when you are expected to be strong and resilient, just like it is difficult to introduce concepts such as boundaries and consent (which may be inherently seen as “white people” things). Cultural collectivism is a strength, and even admitting our individual downfalls should be seen as strengths because it deepens the relationship with the collective.

Without diving into too much personal detail, I had to observe the shortcomings of my parents’ relationship attachment styles and see how I was mirroring those in my own relationships. From there, I reevaluated the last seven years of my romantic relationships to see how those shortcomings affected said relationships, and how those dysfunctional romantic relationships affected following relationships. Needless to say, it was a tangled web speckled with fuckbois with mommy issues, guys with a “fetish” for Black women, hyper-alphas/power bottoms, men with an Amazonian fixation, and what I have come to believe was a closeted nationalist.

… but I digress…

The Four Attachment Styles of Love (Courtesy of Psych2Go).

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The Four Attachment Styles of Love

There are four main attachment styles of love: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Other attachment styles sometimes include dependent and codependent.

The Four Attachment Styles of Love (Ni, 2015).
Infographics created by Hunter for Guess Who’s Coming.

Dr. Firestone (2013) explains that our attachment style affects who we choose to date, the pace of the relationship, and even how our relationships end. My attachment style at the beginning of the seven-year trek, dismissive-avoidant, impacted how I interacted with that partner but also how they perceived my value (or lack thereof). A lot of things changed for me around three years ago, and again a year ago, and it really made me view myself in a new, less rose-tinted light. With a lot of time, self-care, love, and even intentional celibacy, I managed to climb my way up to fearful-avoidant and secure (because yes, you can have more than one relationship style at any time).

Attachment styles can even change during the course of a relationship and it is my understanding that communication will make or break things. One way of creating a healthy, safer space for communication with any partner is to start with the real questions from early on! I treat my first dates like an interview, and sometimes I will ask questions about boundaries and their understanding of consent. Based on their answers, you can start to decide whether or not you actually want a second date (or if you may be better off as friends, acquaintances, etc.). Don’t worry, I’ll be creating a script of questions you can ask just in case you don’t know exactly how to ask.

Something fun that I like to do with a partner is take time out for “communication activities”, or little projects where you and a partner can sit down (or lie down, or walk, whatever) and talk about your needs, wants, boundaries, curiosities, etc. I’ll be working through a boundaries list on an upcoming date, so I will share a template for others to use soon, too. I’d like to also mention that it’s a great sign if your partner is receptive to participating in these types of activities… just a little FYI.

Have you ever thought about what your love style(s) may be? Take the test!

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Dr. Helen Fisher’s Four Love Types

Dr. Helen Fisher created a list of four different love types, which she bases on hormonal dominance: dopamine (explorer), serotonin (builder), testosterone (director), and estrogen (negotiator). I would not personally divide folx love types based on hormones, but I do like how this personality dichotomy has laid it out. Here’s a video presented by Psych2Go for further entertainment!

Dr. Helen Fisher’s Four Love Types (Huang, 2017).
Infographics created by Hunter for Guess Who’s Coming.

I think I have been able to succeed and mature within the context of my more recent relationships (both internal and interpersonal) because I recognize the importance of self-reflection and transparency. I wrote an article for Purpled Palm Press about the lessons I’ve learned from the last seven years of dating (aka, breakups) and it was actually quite cathartic for me. I was at the end of a long roller coaster of uncertainty and manipulation brought on by an ex, and I was struggling to figure out what the fuck to write about. As it usually happens for me, my writer’s block was blasted through with the last bomb of truth delivered by my ex and I used that experience as the frame to tell my story.

I will be releasing a recorded reading and script of my article, titled “Beach Boys, Sage Bundles, and an Absence of Genitalia”, on my blog after the article has been published, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, happy fucking!

If you want to learn about your own relationship styles, here are a few links:

Psychology Today’s Relationship Attachment Style Test

Dr. R. Chris Fraley’s Attachment Style Test

ReLuv’s Relationship Attachment Style Test

Dr. Helen Fisher’s Four Love Types Personality Test

References:

Firestone, L. (2013). How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship.

Huang, C. (2018a). Dr. Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s 5 Love Styles.

Huang, C. (2018b). The 4 Attachment Styles in Love.

Huang, C. (2017). Dr. Helen Fisher’s 4 Love Types.

Ni, P. (2015). What is Your Relationship Attachment Style?

Lancer, D. (2014). How to Change Your Attachment Style.