26 minutes | Oct 9th 2019

Avoidant Attachment in Marriage

When we look at some of the areas that people with an avoidant attachment style struggle in, it’s easy to focus on extremes or exaggerate the way they interact with you. But your spouse can be avoidantly attached to you and still be a faithful, committed, reliable person in the marriage.  In this article, we’re going to look at the challenges that having an avoidant attachment presents in marriage. The section towards the end is especially important because it examines how an avoidant attachment style develops in childhood. Someone with this attachment style may behave in ways that seem like they are intentionally doing things to hurt you, and it is easy to take personally. But in most cases, there is no intent to harm or be difficult in the marriage. We really encourage you to listen to them with compassion and understanding.  Avoidant Attachment and Needing Others The default posture of an avoidantly attached person is to not depend on others. There are a number of reasons they may have this fear. It may be because they are distrustful of close relationships or are afraid of relying on anyone else. It may also be because they don’t want to experience the pain of rejection. They may feel pressured to give the other person the level of support they receive. They may avoid being close enough to receive support from another because they don’t want to offer support in return and have their efforts rejected. This may be because there have been times when they have depended on someone else and it has led to disappointment. A person with an avoidant attachment style places a lot of value on independence and being self-sufficient.[1] They may consider that to need someone else is to show weakness, so they sometimes develop alone wolf mentality. They may also seem to be very much in their head and working through problems rationally. Attachment In the Brain To fully understand the avoidant attachment style, we need to look at how attachment in general develops in childhood. When a child is with their parent and they experience a moment of threat or uncertainty or distress, their attachment system is activated. What this means is the part of the brain that is responsible for tracking and monitoring the safety and availability of their primary caregiver is turned on. The moment of fear prompts the child to re-establish if their parent is safe and available and can meet their needs. When the parent affirms this, the child’s brain turns the activation off. A child whose caregiver is not available learns to prevent their attachment system from activating. They don’t let themselves get upset or distressed or needy towards a loving significant other. Therefore, they develop an avoidant attachment style: first towards their caregiver, and later on towards their spouse. An avoidant attachment can have a significant impact on a marriage. An avoidant spouse may do the following things: Averting their gaze from what they consider to be an unpleasant emotion in an attempt to prevent intimacy or connection.Tuning out a conversation related to commitment topics[2]Accusing their spouse of wanting too much from them when the spouse is asking for deeper emotional connection (Catlett, 2015)Turning towards busy work in the home or at work when conflict with their spouse threatens their sense of safety in the relationship, or using sulking or hinting or complaining to seek support from their spouse during a conflict or when in crisis. All of these responses are geared towards keeping that attachment system deactivated. They’ll deny or minimize their vulnerability and repress their emotions as a way to manage emotions that have been aroused. They Operate Independently Because of the “not needing” others attitude and fiercely independent coping style that comes with keeping their attachment system deactivated, people with an avoidant attachment style are often very self-reliant. This desire for
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