There are very few parents who haven’t thought at some time over their parenting journey that some of their responses or parenting decisions may negatively impact their child’s life forever! Thankfully, a significant permanent effect on our children doesn’t really happen anywhere near as often as we fear it will. However, it is important to be clear: what we do as parents does lay the groundwork for our children’s patterns and behaviours as adults.
Does the kind of attachment style your child has developed influence their intimate relationships later in life? Or—if we think about it another way—as adults, how are our own intimate relationships affected by how we attached to our parents? All these questions really have a common theme: better understanding how attachment influences intimate relationships.
It is true that attachment styles and emotional development are closely linked. Attachment, as the bond between a child and their primary caregiver, is the first significant relationship that a completely dependent human baby has. It forms the basis of the relationship that usually lasts throughout a child’s formative years, when most of their learning and exploring and developing occurs.
It is a child’s first experience of trust in another human being, and is where we first start learning our social skills and communication skills. It also helps children to develop their own sense of self-worth. Through the attachment relationship, a child experiences what happens when they need comfort, attention, support or security. How their parent consistently responds will craft that child’s basic understanding and expectation of how relationships work.
Secure attachment relationships teach us that we can rely on other people, and that we are important and safe in this world. Through secure attachment, we grow up being able to recognise and manage our own emotions.
As older children heading off to school, then young adults moving out into the world, or young couples forming friendships and intimate relationships with people beyond our family, how we attached to our primary carer when we were a baby and toddler will have an effect on these relationships.
So, what could an insecure attachment style look like in adult relationships?
If we had trouble with attachment as children, we might have the following difficulties with intimate relationships when we are older:
- Difficulty empathising with others or being able to see their point of view
- Inability to trust other people and open up to the possibility of a committed relationship
- We may have trouble with anger management, depression and other ways of dealing with our emotions. We may be quick to lash out at others
- We may have difficulty managing our emotions and learned that behaviours such as drinking, drugs, gambling and our relationship with food can help to temporarily soothe our distress
- We may avoid and not deal with stress or conflict very well
- We may recreate the kinds of parent-child and intimate relationships that we saw our parents have. This could continue cycles of domestic violence, infidelity or emotional unavailability to our partner
- We may have negative critical thoughts about our self, making it difficult to reach our full potential and enjoy life.
Don’t let this information scare you – knowing how attachment influences intimate relationships, and that attachment has an ongoing effect can help you be a better parent. It can also help you work out why you might have difficulty in your own adult relationships. We know attachment issues can be worked out in adult life. This means there is always something that can be done. For more information, get in contact with me.