A Brief Guide to New Relationships for the Anxious Attachment Style
I want to acknowledge that even though I speak a lot to navigating established relationships with long-term partners, I see MANY people in my practice who are not currently partnered. Their goals are often to work through their old patterns so they can show up in new relationships in a grounded, clear, and confident way. So this week, I want to share more about that experience (as it can be nerve-wracking and overwhelming for folks—because dating is HARD!) and provide some support, specifically for people with the anxious attachment style.
Tip #1: Slow down!
In my therapy practice, what I see happen most often with folks who are looking for a new relationship and have a primarily anxious attachment style is that they RUSH (“they" includes me, so I speak to this topic from experience!). I used to rush into new relationships like my nervous system depended on it—because it did. I clearly remember being so activated when I started dating a new person that I had a hard time focusing, sleeping, and even eating regularly. For me, the goal was to lock down the relationship as quickly as possible because the unknown, in-between stages (are we “dating”? Is this serious? Do they want a committed relationship with me? What do they think of me? etc.) were absolutely excruciating. For people with the anxious attachment adaptation, the limbo stages of a relationship can be REALLY challenging.
Rushing pulls us out of our grounded, rooted place and is disorienting for many reasons. I think it’s important to notice any sense of pressure you have in the early stages of a relationship. Where is the pressure coming from? What thoughts or feelings are showing up internally that lead you to believe that you must rush through this stage of the relationship? Do you feel a need to know what the relationship is, what to call it, or where it’s headed? Do you want a solid commitment from the person you are dating right away? From there, consider what happens when you rush. What do you miss when you rush? Understanding this piece is critical for dating because I have found that when we rush, we miss important cues about our new partner that inform whether this relationship is actually working. Missing these cues can land us in a relationship where we aren’t happy because the fit isn’t good—and that is something we can prevent by slowing down, paying attention to cues, and noticing the more subtle internal experience of dating (aka what’s happening underneath the activation of our nervous systems).
Tip #2: Know your values and what you like.
Knowing what you like in a partner is important. Create a list of non-negotiable qualities you would like in a partner. One of the things that can happen when a person with the anxious style starts dating is that they self-abandon—they lose themselves in the newness and excitement of the relationship and their sense of self and their values get lost in the mix. They may be very clear on the front end that they want a partner who is kind and generous, but when they start to realize that this new person isn’t those things, the anxious person justifies the behavior and lets it go (“it’s not really a big deal that they were so rude to that server at the restaurant, it’s only happened two/five/twenty times”). Later in the relationship, these characteristics of their partner don’t go away and the person with the anxious style starts working to change these things and feels unsatisfied in the relationship. The challenge here is that the qualities were actually apparent all along, but they were justified instead of seen and acted on clearly.
When you’re writing this list, we aren’t talking pie in the sky goals necessarily, but the aspects of a partner that you absolutely know you must have in order to be happy in a relationship. Basically, what are your standards for a partner (you get to have standards! YAY!). Choosing five or so qualities can help guide you in the right direction. I encourage you to put this list somewhere visible so you can keep checking in as you’re getting to know the person you’re dating. For example, your list may look something like this (it can look totally different, this is just to give you a place to start):
Willing and open to doing the work in our relationship. When things get difficult, they are willing and able to gain insight into their personal experiences and my experiences and do what we need to reconnect.
Interested in having a family at some point.
Compassionate, kind, and caring and they demonstrate this in the activities they are involved in and in their interactions with others that I can clearly observe.
Tip #3: Know what it feels like to be in a secure place.
Having a felt sense in your body of security (and knowing the strategies that are effective for you for landing there) can help you a) know when you are out of security and b) support you in moving back to that place quickly if you are emotionally triggered. Practice landing in security as often as you are able. There are lots of ways to do this—here’s a meditation you can try and a playlist you can listen to—and as long as you are feeling more grounded and calmer, you are doing it right!
Tip #4: Have a support system that will be honest with you and keep you in check.
Maybe you have experienced being in a new relationship and wanting to spend all of your time with that person (because you are attaching!). This step in a relationship is important AND I think it’s an opportunity for folks with the anxious adaptation to learn about pacing (spacing dates out over time), slowing down, and maintaining balance in their lives instead of letting go of their commitments to other people and activities. Having a support system that is willing to tell you when you’ve fallen off the face of the earth can be really helpful and can support you in slowing down. Continue to make plans with your other people and stick to them, even when you’re in the glorious new relationship phase.
Tip #5: Practice trusting yourself.
If you start dating someone and you feel crappy a lot or they say things that are mean or you get a clear sense on the front end that they aren’t interested in the same kind of relationship commitment that you are, please trust your feelings. Believe yourself and believe what they are saying to you. Pushing through your intuitive wisdom to obtain a commitment from someone who isn’t the right fit for you isn’t going to give you what you’re looking for. I am dipping into a deep well of experience as I share this tip with you and I'm saying it with a lot of love. If the person you start dating doesn’t want commitment and you do, please save both of you the trouble and end it. Even if you feel rude getting up and leaving a date that totally sucks, it’s going to be okay. Respecting yourself, your time, and your needs is a revolutionary act. When you find a person who you really connect with, you will be SO grateful you didn't spend more time with someone who didn’t appreciate you for the amazing human you are.
What do you think? Are these tips practical for you? I’d love to hear your feedback and how you plan to implement these strategies! Leave me a comment or send me an email and let’s chat!