What is a disorganized attachment style? How does it start? What can you and your partner or spouse do in your marriage or love relationship to heal and create a more satisfying relationship so that neither of you feel that you have to “walk on eggshells” around each other?
First, we need to be compassionate with the journey you’re undertaking in your relationship, which is likely both challenging and brave. Having a disorganized attachment style can make it hard to form and keep healthy relationships, but you don’t have to follow the same habits forever. In this blog, I’ll define what a disorganized attachment style is, how it might have started, and what you or your partner can do to create healthier attachment patterns in your marriage or love relationship using schema therapy for couples.
Attachment Theory: the Basics
What is attachment theory? Based on John Bowlby’s work, and later expanded significantly through Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory is a psychological model that describes the nature of a child’s emotional bond with their caregiver(s) and how that bond influences the child’s emotional state, behaviors, and development.
Attachment theory says that children are born with an innate desire for close, secure relationships with their caregivers. Children develop a sense of security, trust, and confidence in themselves and others when these needs are met. However, if these needs are not met, children may develop an insecure attachment style, which can have long-term effects on their relationships unless addressed through appropriate interventions. Attachment styles are not personality traits, as they can change with effective interventions and exposure to more secure relationship dynamics over time.
A child’s attachment style develops through interactions with their primary caregiver(s). An attachment style can be secure or insecure, and there are three types of insecure attachment styles: anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.
The disorganized attachment style differs from the others in that it is a secondary style that is activated when a partner or spouse is confronted with a traumatic memory or association. A partner may have a secure attachment style as their primary way of relating in relationships until they are exposed to an area of unintegrated trauma from their past. When confronted with past trauma, they shift from their secure to a disorganized style.
Disorganized Attachment Style
When a partner has a lack of a clear strategy for coping with attachment-related stressors, they have a disorganized attachment style that results in erratic behavior in relationships. Disorganized can appear fragmented and lack a predictable pattern, as opposed to the first three attachment styles, which have a strategic and consistent way of coping with attachment situations.
A child with a disorganized attachment style may act contradictory toward their caregiver(s). For example, a child may approach their caregiver for comfort and then abruptly withdraw or display signs of fear or aggression toward them. The child most likely perceives their caregiver(s) as both a source of comfort and a source of fear, most likely because they perceive their caregiver(s) as both necessary and at the same time dangerous to their survival.
The disorganized attachment style is thought to develop from a combination of frightening and unpredictable caregiver behavior. Abuse, neglect, or inconsistent caregiving are some examples. When a child is exposed to a dangerous environment, they may become disoriented and confused about their own feelings and behaviors toward their caregiver(s).
As a result, a child with a disorganized attachment style may grow up to be an adult who struggles with intimacy, trust, and emotional regulation in their marriage or love relationship. They may also struggle to recognize their own needs and emotions, as well as communicate effectively in relationships.
The Influence on Marriages and Love Relationships
Disorganized attachment styles can have a significant impact on marriages and love relationships. Because of their difficulty with intimacy, trust, and emotional regulation, partners with disorganized attachment styles may struggle to maintain close, healthy relationships.
Partners with a disorganized attachment style may find it challenging to express their emotions and communicate effectively with their spouse or partner in a marriage or love relationship. They may also find it difficult to feel secure in the relationship dynamic and may engage in behaviors that push their spouse or partner away.
A partner with a disorganized attachment style, for example, may be prone to self-sabotage their relationships. In schema therapy, sabotaging behaviors are part of overcompensation coping modes, which can include cheating, lying, or withdrawing from their spouse as a way of coping with their own emotional distress.
Partners with a disorganized attachment style may struggle to regulate their emotions, especially during stressful or conflicting times in a marriage or love relationship. They may become easily overwhelmed by their emotions and react in hurtful ways to their spouse, such as lashing out or withdrawing. These actions can erode trust and intimacy in a marriage or love relationship over time, leading to more conflict and relationship dissatisfaction. The spouse of a partner with a disorganized attachment style may be frustrated, hurt, and confused by their partner’s erratic behavior and may be unsure how to support them.
Managing a Disorganized Attachment Style
If you or your partner has a disorganized attachment style, seek professional assistance from a licensed expert at Loving at Your Best to address your issues together. One of our marriage therapists can assist you in investigating the underlying causes of the attachment style and developing strategies to assist you and your partner in improving your relationship.
If you have symptoms of a disorganized attachment style, some of the following strategies may help you and your relationship:
1. Increase self-awareness: partners with disorganized attachment styles may have difficulty recognizing their own emotions and needs. Self-awareness can help you better understand your own emotional experiences and develop healthier coping strategies for stress and conflict in your relationships.
2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you manage emotional reactivity and regulate your emotions. Mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help you stay present in the moment while also reducing stress and anxiety.
3. Create a supportive network: For a partner with a disorganized attachment style, creating a supportive network of friends, family, and professionals can be beneficial. Having a reliable support system can provide a sense of security and comfort during stressful or emotional times.
4. Practice healthy communication: Partners with a disorganized attachment style may have difficulty communicating effectively in their relationships. Learning healthy communication skills, such as active listening and clearly and respectfully expressing emotions, can help improve communication and build trust in your marriage.
5. Seek couples therapy: Couples Therapy in New York can be beneficial for couples who have an unorganized attachment style. A trained therapist at Loving at Your Best can help you and your partner explore the underlying causes of your attachment issues and develop strategies for improving communication, trust, and relationship strength.
What if You are a Partner or Spouse of the Mate with a Disorganized Attachment?
As a partner, your first task may be to get a clear understanding of what a disorganized attachment style is. You can see it as a lack of a clear strategy for coping with attachment-related stressors, resulting in erratic and disorganized behavior in marriages and love relationships. As previously stated, partners with a disorganized attachment style may struggle with intimacy, trust, and emotional regulation, as well as engage in self-destructive behaviors that can harm the relationship over time.
Early childhood experiences cause a disorganized attachment style. A partner’s disorganized attachment style may be perplexing and unpredictable, but it does not reflect their love or commitment to your marriage or love relationship.
Ways You Can Help Your Partner
There are several ways you can support your partner who may have a disorganized attachment style to help strengthen your marriage or love relationship. Some ideas may include the following:
1. Educate yourself: Learning about the disorganized attachment style can help you understand your partner’s actions and emotions better. You will be able to recognize when their actions are related to their attachment style rather than a reflection of their feelings for you. Loving at Your Best’s expert therapists can also provide you with resources and information to help you understand and support your partner.
2. Be patient: partners with a disorganized attachment style may have difficulty regulating their emotions and behavior in relationships, making it difficult for them to express their emotions, communicate effectively, or trust their partner. Practice patience and compassion with your partner as you learn more about their needs and how you can better support them when they face difficulties.
3. Validate their feelings: Disorganized attachment partners may struggle to recognize and express their own emotions. Validating your partner’s feelings and providing a safe space for them to express themselves can help your relationship develop trust and intimacy.
4. Communicate clearly and respectfully: Healthy communication is key in any relationship, but it’s especially important when one partner has a disorganized attachment style. Communicate clearly and directly, and avoid making assumptions or judgments about your partner’s behavior or motives. Compassionate communication can help develop trust and improve the overall health of your relationship.
5. Practice empathic listening: Empathic listening entails paying attention to what your partner is saying and responding in a way that demonstrates that you can imagine or even understand what they are feeling, as well as sharing how much you care for them.
6. Encourage professional help: If your partner is suffering from a disorganized attachment style, encourage them to seek professional assistance. At Loving at Your Best, we can collaborate to develop a personalized therapy plan that may include both individual and couples sessions – an approach that can be far more effective than individual therapy alone in helping your partner improve their emotional regulation, communication, and overall relationship satisfaction.
When a partner with a disorganized attachment style enters a marriage or love relationship, their mate may struggle to understand their partner’s behaviors and emotions. When feeling overwhelmed, a person with a disorganized attachment style may struggle to express their emotions or may become distant and aloof. They may also be overly reliant on you, which can lead to codependency issues (the enmeshment schema).
Schema therapy for couples is a type of therapy that addresses the underlying patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior that contribute to relationship problems. By exploring the origins of these patterns and developing new, more adaptive patterns that help partners meet their core needs, schema therapy for couples aims to identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior. Schema therapy for couples can be especially beneficial when one partner has a disorganized attachment style.
How Schema Therapy for Couples Helps
The schema therapist first assesses each partner’s attachment style and how it affects their relationship. The schema therapist then assists the couple in comprehending the impact of their disorganized attachment style on their relationship, as well as how it may lead to conflict and communication breakdowns.
Next, the schema therapist works with the couple to identify the schemas, or negative thought patterns, that are contributing to the relationship problems. A partner with a disorganized attachment style, for example, may have a schema of mistrust, leading them to believe that their partner is untrustworthy. The schema therapist will work with the couple to identify such schemas and replace them with more positive and adaptive schemas.
Emotional regulation is another important aspect of schema therapy for couples. Partners who have a disorganized attachment style may struggle with emotional regulation, resulting in outbursts of unhealthy modes or states of being such as intense anger, anxiety, or depression. The couple will work with the schema therapist to develop healthy emotional regulation skills such as mindfulness, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques.
Compassionate communication is also crucial in schema therapy for couples. A partner with a disorganized attachment style may struggle to express their emotions or may become overwhelmed by them, resulting in breakdowns in communication and more conflict. The schema therapist will help the couple to learn effective communication skills such as empathic listening, emotional validation, and greater understanding before putting situations into perspective and developing conflict resolution strategies.
There are several ways that the partner of a mate with a disorganized attachment style can support their partner in their marriage or love relationship, in addition to schema therapy for couples. Remember that your partner’s disorganized attachment style is not a personal attack on you,but instead comes from their childhood experiences (surrendering to the same schemas, or counterattacking from what they experienced when the trauma occurred). Disorganized attachment can be overcome through individual and couples schema therapy.
Second, be patient and empathic with your partner. Disorganized attachment style spouses may struggle to express their emotions or may become distant, which can be frustrating for you as their partner. Consider their behavior to be a protective coping mechanism that has now backfired. You can develop more empathy if you can see and understand your partner’s vulnerability, including the pain associated with their past trauma.
Third, help your partner to create a safe and secure environment in your relationship. Partners with the disorganized attachment style may have experienced trauma or abuse as children, leaving them with a lack of trust and safety in adulthood. Working together to create a safe and secure environment can help them feel more at ease and safe enough to open up to you as their partner or spouse.
Finally, make your self-care and personal boundaries priorities. Being in a relationship with a partner who has a disorganized attachment style can be emotionally draining, and you need to also take care of yourself by setting personal boundaries and engaging in exercise, mindfulness, and schema therapy.
A disorganized attachment style can cause problems in a marriage or love relationship, but with the help of schema therapy for couples, these problems can be overcome and a healthy and fulfilling marriage or love relationship can develop. Schema therapy for couples can help you and your partner overcome the challenges of a disorganized attachment style and build a stronger, more resilient marriage or love relationship. Working together with your couples therapist at Loving at Your Best using schema therapy for couples, you can create a safe and secure environment that shifts the disorganized attachment style to an “earned secure” style consistent with healthy and satisfying marriages and love relationships.