Read other blog posts
How Different Attachment Styles Handle Separation

How Different Attachment Styles Handle Separation

Feb 03, 2022

When dealing with a break-up, divorce or separation, every client that you encounter will need different support based on their attachment style.

As therapists, it’s our job to get to the root of a client’s attachment style, understand the behaviours, thoughts and feeling their attachment style presents, and help them to process their relationship breakdown in a healthy way.

Understanding Different Types of Attachment

Anxious Attachment Style

People with an anxious attachment style often spend the duration of their relationship worrying about abandonment. They tend to exhibit ‘clingy’ or demanding behaviour, and need a great deal of reassurance from their partners. So when the relationship does break down, people with this attachment style often go into emotional freefall – blaming themselves, and demanding closure.

Adults with an anxious attachment style often rely on others to regulate their emotions, so the loss of a romantic partner can be hard to take, and take a long time to get over.

Signs of an anxious attachment style in adults include:

  • Insecurity within relationships
  • Worrying about rejection and abandonment
  • Being preoccupied with their relationship
  • Being needy and childlike in their affections and communication
  • Displaying poor personal boundaries
  • Inability to understand a partner’s need for personal space
  • Extreme emotions, including tantrums
  • Communicating through conflict

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

Avoidant attachment styles are often the result of feeling alone as a child, with parents who were rarely present. Adults with this attachment style have learned to suppress their emotions, and often avoid intimacy in their relationships.

People with dismissive-avoidant tendencies hold themselves in high regard, but think less highly of their partners. When the relationship breaks down, it’s not uncommon for them to pretend they feel nothing – instead, reflecting on all of the reasons the relationship was doomed to fail.

But this doesn’t mean they don’t hurt; dismissive-avoidants will often look for ways to numb the pain of a separation.

Signs of a dismissive-avoidant attachment style in adults include:

  • Only showing emotions towards others when angry or upset
  • Being unable to process feelings, and repressing them as a result
  • Struggling to trust others

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

Fearful-avoidants can’t suppress their feelings in quite the same way as dismissive-avoidants, but they share a fear of intimacy and will often go to extremes to avoid this level of closeness. Their self-esteem is typically low, which frequently exhibits as a preoccupation with abandonment.

When it comes to relationship breakdowns, adults with a fearful-avoidant attachment style will try to numb their feelings post-break-up – pretending they’re fine – before getting hit by suppressed feelings further down the line. This often causes their self-esteem to plummet further, and creates an urgency to start a new relationship (however short-lived) as soon as possible.

Signs of a fearful-avoidant attachment style in adults include:

  • Struggling to regulate emotions
  • Resisting intimacy or commitment
  • Seeking faults in partners to justify an ‘end’
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Feeling ‘trapped’ in relationships
  • Taking things too personally

Secure Attachment Style

People with a secure attachment style tend to have the healthiest response to a separation, as they are less dependent on their partner for their personal happiness, and can process their emotions more rationally than most.

Those with secure attachments often see a relationship breakdown as an opportunity to think about what they need from future relationships. This doesn’t mean they won’t grieve the end of the relationship; being more in tune with their feelings simply allows them to self-regulate, and recognise when they might be spiralling.

Signs of a secure attachment style in adults include:

  • Being comfortable with open conversations
  • Displaying empathy in their relationships
  • Exhibiting a willingness to compromise
  • Showing unconditional trust in their partner

Supporting Your Clients Through Separation

Keen to learn more?

In my relationship recovery toolkit course, you’ll learn how to guide your clients through separation and divorce – allowing you to grow in professional confidence, and your clients to thrive.

By the end of the course, you’ll:

  • Feel more confident working with separation and divorce
  • Understand why some clients are stuck in unhealthy patterns in relationships
  • Gain creative therapeutic tools to use in therapy (including PDF exercises and worksheets)
  • Explore key theories that underpin the work we do with clients
  • Receive a framework to help support your clients through separation and divorce
  • Complete 4 hours of CPD, with a certificate provided at the end

Get in touch to find out more.

Access your FREE 'Creative Therapy Training'

My Little Therapy box all started with my passion for helping clients in therapy who struggle to open up and articulate their feelings into words.

In this 30-minute training session, I share the barriers some clients face in therapy and how we as therapists can help them overcome this by using creative ways to help them engage and get the most out of the therapeutic relationship.

This is the same presentation I was invited to deliver at this year’s BACP Annual Online conference.


Get your 'One Week to Better Wellbeing' pdf

Access your FREE downloadable Wellness Workout – a great resource to help improve wellbeing for professional or personal use.

Please note: By signing up to receive your Wellness workout you are also agreeing to receive our regular emails.