relationships difficulties kove

Attachment style describes the way we connect with other people in relationships

This page will explain the principles of attachment theory and adult attachment styles, and outline how professionals can help you.

What is attachment theory?

The theory explains that the way we approach adult relationships is fundamentally shaped in our early childhoods, through the relationship style we live out with our parents or primary caregivers. If a child is raised in a warm and nurturing environment, and able to consistently and confidently rely on their parents to fulfil their needs, they tend to form a secure attachment style. The child learns that people, in general, can be trusted, so they see relationships as a safe space where they can express their emotions freely. However, if a child has a strained bond with their parents, they learn they may not be able to rely on others for their comfort and basic needs. This can lead to the development of an insecure attachment style. 

Adult attachment styles

Attachment theory has been applied to adult relationships, resulting in four main attachment styles. Unless challenged, our attachment style tends to stay with us and remain relatively unchanged for the rest of our lives.

Secure attachment

Someone with a secure attachment style tends to have both a positive self-image and a positive image of other people, so they connect, trust and get close to others with relative ease. They are comfortable with intimacy and independence in relationships, able to communicate effectively, and they manage conflict well. 

About 50% of adults are thought to have a secure attachment.

Anxious-preoccupied attachment

This is an insecure attachment style, characterised by low self-esteem and a strong fear of rejection or abandonment. It’s estimated that about 20% of adults have anxious-preoccupied attachment.

Someone with an anxious attachment will experience, feel or display some or all of the following: 

Insecure and anxious

Need constant reassurance

Highly emotional 

Dependent on others

Often jealous and suspicious in relationships

Appear desperate and clingy

Afraid of being alone

Highly sensitive to any kind of criticism

Seek approval and validation from others

Dismissive-avoidant attachment

This is an insecure attachment style. Around 25% of adults are thought to have dismissive-avoidant attachment. 

Someone with an avoidant attachment may appear confident, strong, independent and together, but struggle to build meaningful relationships.

They may also experience, feel or display some or all of the following:

Feel suffocated in a relationship

Uncomfortable expressing their feelings

Avoid emotional intimacy

Find it hard to trust 

Accused of being secretive or having commitment issues

Preciously guard their ‘me time’

Fearful-avoidant attachment

Also known as disorganised or disoriented attachment, this is an insecure attachment style that combines anxious-preoccupied and dismissive-avoidant attachment. It is relatively rare, with just 5% of adults falling into this type. 

Someone with fearful-avoidant attachment desperately craves affection but is reluctant to have close or intimate relationships. They often have a high number of casual sexual partners to fulfil their desire for affection without commitment or intimacy.

They may also:

Have difficulty regulating their emotions

Be insecure and anxious

Display contradictory, disruptive, often violent behaviour


Book a Consultation

If you struggle with relationships and believe you may have an attachment disorder, a therapist will be able to help you identify exactly what your attachment style is and provide you with tools to support and guide you towards change. Contact us or book an appointment to start the process towards a secure attachment style.

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The British Psychological Society