What Is Secure Attachment?


Secure attachment is one of four relationship styles outlined by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1950s and 1960s. It is the natural way people relate to each other in safe and secure social conditions. The remaining three relationship styles: anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant attachment, are all insecure. That is, they are self-protective relationship styles that emerge in uncertain and challenging situations.

In safe and secure families with attentive and responsive parents, children learn their unique, personal experience is welcomed and valued. Children learn to pay attention to their internal thoughts and emotions, express themselves to be heard and understood, and expect a sensitive, caring response. They feel safe sharing their own needs and perspectives and learn to respect others in return.

Humans are naturally sensitive and caring toward family members and close others. Happily, roughly 50% of people in the US interact securely in their intimate relationships.

How Do Securely Attached People Behave?

When people are securely attached, they value giving and receiving emotional support. When in distress, they naturally reach out to loved ones for comfort. If they become excited or surprised, they reach out to share their positive experiences. They prioritize being there to comfort and celebrate others’ experiences in return.
Securely attached people place a high value on their relationships. They frequently demonstrate their affection and appreciation. Conversely, when there is a threat to feelings of closeness, they react decisively to deal with the threat and restore relationship security.
If you are secure in your marriage or partnership, you may resonate with these statements:
  • If something distresses me, I reach out to my partner.
  • When my partner is disturbed, I’m the one person they most need to be there.  
  • What’s most important is my relationship with my partner.
  • My partner and I are good at listening, understanding, and supporting each other. 
  • I get angry at anything and anyone that threatens our relationship. 
  • I can count on my partner to be there for me when I most need them.
  • It’s not my success or my partner’s success, but our success.
  • As long as my partner and I are close and connected, we can face anything.

Benefits of Secure Attachment

If you relate securely in your close relationships, you were likely born into a family with the safety and resources to attend to your unique emotional needs. Or perhaps you grew up with an insecure style, but you have been lucky to have a securely attached partner as an adult. Possibly, you have attained secure attachment by doing personal work.
No matter how you get there, being secure in your closest relationships brings tremendous benefits. Secure attachment brings soothing energy to the nervous system, benefitting your physical health, mental health, and all areas of your life. You are happier, less likely to get sick, more likely to recover from serious illness, and more likely to succeed in your career. Moreover, when you feel safe and secure, that soothing energy benefits those around you.

Keeping Your Relationship Strong

Secure attachment is on a continuum and is not something we can take for granted. Most people who are secure have a mixture of secure and insecure (anxious, avoidant, or fearful-avoidant) styles of relating. When situations become stressful or threatening enough, all people connect more insecurely.
For this reason, it is essential to nurture your relationship. One way to do this is to form or strengthen rituals between you in the morning, evening, or other times that are special for you.
Here are some quick ideas to consider:
  1. Start the day with a simple kiss or hug.
  2. Make time every day, even if it’s only a few minutes, to debrief and support each other with the highlights and the lowlights.
  3. Make a big deal of your anniversary.
  4. Work together on planning your celebrations, or take turns surprising each other. 
Most importantly, take time to be curious. What don’t you know about how your partner is feeling? How are they doing? Make space to know your partner even more.
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash