Relationships 101

Ambivalent attachment style – how does it harm your relationship?

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“I hate you like I love you” might sound like a complex relationship equation, but is a reality of ambivalent attachment style. Ambivalent, that is, mixed attachment of love brings a sense of ‘push and pull’ in a couple’s relationship. This means when the partner is away, ambivalently attached individuals get highly anxious and upset; and when the partner is with them, they are irritable and cranky. Due to their ambivalent frame of mind, they are neither fully committed to their partner, nor able to develop an everlasting bond with them. Due to these reasons, they are never able to live the moment with the partner peacefully. For ‘normal’ partners, such individuals could bring a toxic influence, eroding the quality and future of a romantic relationship. But why does it affect some couples and hamper their quality of life with relationship fatigue? How can adults actually trace out the origins of ambivalent attachment style and its toxic harm to their relationship? To answer all these questions, we have to first understand the origins of attachment theory.

What is ambivalent attachment style?

Strange as it may sound, an ambivalent attachment style in adults starts showing its symptoms right from the human infancy stage. If a baby feels extremely upset and disturbed when the mother leaves him/her away and is not easily consoled by her return, then this is the root cause of an ambivalently attached personality. In other words, a child’s connection with the primary caregiver determines the way he/she behaves in adult relationships.

The concept was given by a British psychologist, John Bowlby, who believed that a warm, close relationship with the mother makes a baby secure. He equated this maternal bond with basic baby needs like regular feeding and oxygen. According to him, this emotional security is the key to how a baby would respond in a social setup. So, secure babies are happy and contented, even when the primary caretaker leaves them for household chores or employment. Ambivalently attached babies, on the other hand, may feel ignored in the parent/s absence and as a result, become cranky and aggressive with unbalanced emotions. Such infants grow up to be insecure teenagers who cannot trust their parents/caregivers in situations of fear and danger. They fail to open up to their parents and struggle with their teenage challenges, like bullying, all alone. The pattern continues when an ambivalent youngster tends to channel this blocked rage through unwanted tantrums and inconsistent bouts of anger. They lack boundaries in close relationships and grow up to be adults who are closely guarded in a romantic relationship.

Ambivalent adults are 24×7 anxious about their relationship and have issues with closeness and intimacy. They suffer from trust issues and might reflect extreme behaviour of self-importance in a marriage. Either they stay aloof from the partner or become over-dependent on them. After understanding the concept, you must be agreeing that being in an ambivalent couple relationship is an uphill task that drains a lot of energy and takes a lot of effort. It may take months or years to actually identify whether your partner follows ambivalent attachment or not. But if you notice, there are certain signs that hint at it, as below.

Signs your partner is ambivalently attached

Mysterious, brooding, charming, untameable or indifferent – ambivalently attached partners display a spectrum of human emotions in their daily conduct. Such variations make it difficult for the partners to identify their ‘real self’. Still, there are certain signs of an ambivalent attachment style personality that can be observed and understood for better understanding.

1.Show off their “I don’t care” attitude

The person with an ambivalent attachment style inherits this key expression from his/her parents. According to them, since s/he didn’t get the proper attention in the childhood; they prefer to keep themselves guarded to avoid any rejection. Also, they refrain from investing a lot of themselves in any relationship, be it a friendship or a romantic affair. All they care about in this world is ‘I, Me, and Myself.’ They carry a mystery around them by being ‘solo’ and that’s what makes them charming and attractive to the opposite sex.

2.They like their ‘own’ company

They prefer to be ‘alone’ than being in company. Their partners might confuse them as ‘introverts’, but hey! That’s not the case. Introvert partners actually open up and bond with their dates greatly. An individual with ambivalent attachment style, in contrast, avoids spending time even with their date and keeps their ‘me-time’ guarded. In other words, they are loners who don’t have any desire to communicate or share their experiences, with friends or partner.

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3.Charm the partner with small talk, but lack depth

Individuals with ambivalent attachment style are charming conversers. They are the masters of short conversations and know how to break the ice easily. But after a certain time, they may sound shallow and superficial. But this is their way to guard their inner emotional self and avoid in-depth conversations.

4.Clingy and insecure as partners

Their romantic relationships suffer from imbalance, confusions and insecurities. Though they are themselves not 100% into the relationship, they expect constant reassurance of your 100% commitment. They may keep a close eye on you via phone calls or instant text messages. They may even get nervous when you don’t respond instantly. So, possessiveness as a partner is a sure sign of an anxiously attached individual.

5.Deny to offer and take help

Tackling childhood’s challenges has prepared them to take on worldly challenges ‘alone’. So, neither they expect any help from their partners, nor commit to it. If their partners expect some help, then this goes truly against what they believe and might irritate them completely.

6.Your need to be near them is irritating

‘No strings attached’ relationships make real sense to a person with an ambivalent attachment style. They value their needs and are totally oblivious to their partner’s needs or wants in a relationship. In fact, they find it annoying and needless if their partner seeks their company regularly. If he/she reacts emotionally to it, they remain indifferent to it. So emotionally, ambivalently attached partners are not only unavailable, but also block empathy in their intimate relationships.

7.Constantly tag you as an ’emotional’ soul

If you are constantly ridiculed for your emotions by your partner, then it is likely that s/he is an ambivalent attachment style personality. S/he has mastered control over emotions and believes that there is no need to be overly emotional in life. S/he may even tag ‘being emotional’ as an attention-seeking tactic.

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8.Have strange parental relationship

Ambivalently attachment personalities share a strained relationship with their parents, due to intense anxiety in their childhood. As adults, they act reclusive to their parents. With two opposite energies pitted against each other, their interactions are naturally awkward and tense. But this strained relationship could be a key sign to identify if you are dating an ambivalent attached individual.

9.Share unequal relationship dynamics

As they value their own needs first, they often come across as needy and clingy in the intimate relationships. On the other hand, they devalue your emotional needs. So, this unequal relationship dynamics are a prerequisite for ambivalently attached companionship.

How does being ambivalent harm a relationship?

Characterised by negativities and anxiety, an ambivalent love attachment is a complete recipe for disaster. Instead of real love, emotional hunger and desperation is the driving force for such an unequal relationship. S/he may think that romance is the only way with which they can be rescued from toxic influences of life. They see their partners as saviours who complete their existence in life and bring security, safety and stability to their life. But in this process, they forget that romantic relationships are based on mutual trust, not narcissism. Ignoring the needs of a partner may lead to a lot of dissent in him/her and can lead to painful breakups.

Coping tips after being in an ambivalent attachment style

Ambivalent attachment relationships are draining and toxic in every way. If you recognise yourself to be in a relationship with an ambivalent attached individual, then the following coping tips can help you overcome the negativities and safeguard your interests.

1.Don’t try to change them

An ambivalent attached personality is continuously grappling with their anxieties and insecurities that go back to his/her childhood. Since that time, they are running away from situations and finding an escape route from their misery. Their emotional instability and challenges make a romantic relationship really difficult. If you force them to change their psychological patterns, then this might disrupt their functioning further and bring them a sense of guilt and shame. So, if you really love them, give them time to come to terms with their relationship attachment anxieties and support them in this journey of healing and recovery.

2.Communicate how this ‘one-sided’ relationship is affecting you

Individuals with ambivalent attachment lifestyles bring a lot of relationship baggage to their romantic partners. So, as a person dating a sufferer, you must inform him/her about how their behaviours and emotional needs are affecting you on the whole. How it has depleted you from within and made you feel unloved and ignored. Try this out to see if this can end your relationship woes. It is a tough call, but if possible, try a professional consultation and support them in their emotional healing. Before you begin, here is a piece of advice – this is a tough phase to be in. If you are feeling depleted from within due to toxic anxious influences and s/he is not ready to change or undergo any psychological consultations, then don’t get into any unwanted complications. After all, you also have a right to be in an equal and healthy relationship.

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3.Keep their defence mechanisms in mind

Ambivalent attached personalities have grown up with their so-called ‘comfort zone’. So, getting them to accept their personality flaw is a mammoth challenge. They might take it as your excuse to point out their character flaws and leave them ‘alone’. To avoid such a misunderstanding, try and approach the topic with grace and tact. Begin a frank conversation with him/her, inform them about your observations and concerns in a tactful manner. Don’t get opinionated and trigger unwanted reactions from him/her. Try to be neutral and emotionally balanced while talking ‘openly’ about your relationship flaw and think over the next steps mutually.

4.If you feel trapped, don’t hesitate to break-up

You have struggled a lot in identifying this toxic anxiety driven relationship pattern. Now, it is time to take a call on it. Instead of being captive and suffering psychological and emotional abuse on a daily basis, here is your call to break a pattern of relationship miseries and difficulties. If you feel bruised from within, then talk to your friends and support system. Go for a holiday detox, take your own time for healing.

5.Accept the truth – there is nothing to ‘save’ in your ambivalent attachment

If you were in a marriage with an ambivalently attached partner and tried all the coping mechanisms in your control, accept that some relationships are meant to end. Else, they may become more toxic and lethal in the long run.

We all have a right to live in peace and dignity in our relationships, which is possible only when we have mutual satisfaction in our life. Understanding, identifying and coping with toxic relationship patterns like ambivalent attachment style may not bring back the lost years, but can definitely save you from torment in the future. According to our Bonobology relationship counsellors, mutual satisfaction is the key to happy couples. And if you don’t experience a rich quality of life, then you can definitely approach our panel of experts with your detailed problem and get a resolution from a neutral perspective.

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