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We Time

Many Women Over 40 Who Seem ‘Lucky’ in Love Actually Know This

Understanding three simple ways psychologists look at connection can help you find a good relationship — or help improve your current one.

If you’re single (or even if you have a significant other), you’ve likely heard at least a little something about attachment styles. The attachment theory, first developed in the 1950s by psychologist and psychiatrist John Bowlby, is the concept that the way we connect with our primary caregivers as very young children directly influences how we interact with others throughout life.

The nature of these early connections is especially important when dating. “Your attachment style affects how you select your partner, how well you progress in a relationship, and even how it ends,” says Joanne Frederick, Ed.D., a licensed professional mental health counselor at JFL & Associates Counseling Services in Washington, D.C., and author of Copeology.

The good news for those of us who are 40-plus is that we have lived and loved. And reflecting on past experiences can help us be self-aware and make choices that bring happiness. By understanding how and why you think and behave the way you do in romantic situations, you can take steps to have healthier and more satisfying relationships.

Attachment styles, explained simply


There are three main attachment styles: secure, anxious and avoidant. Here’s how they form and are thought to play out later in romantic relationships:

Secure


In childhood: Parents were consistently available and provided ample amounts of emotional support.

In relationships: People with this attachment style tend to be warm and loving. “This individual is confident and secure in her own skin, doesn’t need constant companionship and meets her own needs,” Dr. Frederick says. If you’re secure attached, you’re able to communicate your needs and feelings effectively and respond to your partner’s needs and wants. “Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships,” Dr. Frederick says.

Anxious


In childhood: The primary caregiver was inconsistent — providing enough attention and support sometimes, but not always.

In relationships: Anxious-attached people fear they’ll be abandoned, which causes insecurity in relationships. “They are clingy, need constant reassurance from their partner and have difficulty understanding boundaries,” Dr. Frederick says. Anxious people may get attached too quickly, be jealous and be overly accommodating to their person’s needs (at the expense of their own). They also let little things cause them to behave in ways they regret later. Think blowing up and saying you’re done when you don’t really mean it.

Avoidant


In childhood: Parents may not always have been present for you or didn’t provide enough emotional support.

In relationships: People with an avoidant attachment feel they can’t depend on others, so they’re usually super independent and self-sufficient. Avoidant folks want to have intimate relationships, but they’re emotionally distant, don’t like to share their feelings and withdraw when someone gets too close. If you’re avoidant, you probably have a strong cutoff game. Since avoidants are uncomfortable dealing with the emotional stuff, they may end things by ghosting people.

Which of those upbringings and dating habits rang truer for you?


How to have better relationships, regardless of your attachment style


Tune in to your love interest’s style.
Think about the traits above, and figure out where your person falls. Knowing their attachment style may make it easier to understand them (or decide you’re not interested).

Work together (or not).
Different attachment styles don’t automatically mean a relationship is doomed. It just requires work. For instance, if you have a secure attachment, you can offer support when your love shares they feel distressed, says Dr. Frederick. Or if one is avoidant, the other can try to be more understanding when the partner pulls back. That said, certain couplings make for rocky relationships. Specifically, if you’re anxious, you’ll probably feel neglected and on edge if dating an avoidant.

Take lessons.
If your lover is secure and you’re not, try to learn from them. For example, if they give you space and don’t call you constantly when you hang out with your girlfriends, try doing the same next time they go to shoot pool with their friends. If you’re not dating a secure person, observe and learn from other secure people in your life, like a family member or sister-friend.

Use your words.
Whether in a new or long-term relationship, be upfront about your needs. That may mean being honest about your tendency to pull back at times if you’re avoidant or, if you’re anxious, telling would-be suitors that you get anxious sometimes and need reassurance, Dr. Frederick says. Effective communication allows you to determine if you’re the right fit for each other and get your needs met.

Create a life you love.
Take care of yourself. Every day, do something you enjoy. “Start, or continue, a workout routine to get both physically and mentally strong,” Dr. Frederick says. Try something new. Conquer negative thinking. And surround yourself with good people. Happiness with yourself makes you so much more attractive to partners.

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