Dating with Anxious Attachment

Dating with Anxious Attachment

By Madison Wise, LPC Associate

If you resonate with having an anxious attachment style, it’s likely that you know it—and that you love/hate the idea of dating. Anxious attachment often rears its head early in the dating process, which can make it hard to enjoy getting to know new people and exploring your compatibility. Anxious attachment is characterized by a preoccupation with relationships, a fear of abandonment or rejection, and reaching for connection. It can show up as overwhelming concern about a potential partner’s text response time, feeling emotionally out of control when you haven’t heard from someone you want to, or constant rumination over your conversations and what they mean. It can show up in a lot of ways—most notably as emotional distress over feelings of uncertainty. 

So how do you make it through the initial stages of dating, which are often riddled with uncertainty, and find a healthy match for you? You’re here, and awareness is a great place to start. But what else can you do? Below are seven tips to help you navigate dating with an anxious attachment style. 

  1. Notice when you are trying to manage the relationship in your mind.
    And by that, I mean notice when you are obsessing about the relationship. This habit is referred to as an “activating strategy,” which is described by Levine and Heller in “Attached” as “any thoughts or feelings that compel you to get close, physically or emotionally, to your partner.” It might look like imagining a future together, thinking about everything you like about them, or replaying past conversations in your mind. A little of that is ok, but when it starts to feel intrusive or constant, take heed. Call it out for what it is, and redirect your attention to your immediate environment.
  2. Pause before you react.
    When you’re dating someone new and something seems “off” with the relationship, it can be easy to act from a place of urgency in terms of re-establishing a connection with them and seeking reassurance that things are ok. Before acting on your impulses, check in with yourself and do what you can to soothe yourself. Consider that you don’t actually need to connect with them right away; what you really need to do is calm your nervous system. Here are a few ideas for what you can do to press pause and comfort yourself:
    1. Move your body. Do some jumping jacks, take a walk, do a handstand—whatever is accessible to you at the moment. Focus on the physical sensations in your body as you do it. 
    2. Call a friend, someone you trust, and bonus points if they’re funny and can make you laugh.
    3. Lengthen your exhalations. This breathing technique is scientifically proven to help calm your nervous system. I like to practice by breathing in for 4 counts, holding in for 4 counts, exhaling for 8 counts, and holding out for 4 counts. Repeat this at least 3 times. 
    4. Distract yourself. Watch your favorite show or scroll through your favorite feel-good social media account. Again, bonus points if it can make you laugh. 
  3. What situations consistently heighten your feelings of anxiety?
    Are there any behaviors from potential partners that immediately spike your heart rate? What platforms (texting, voice calls, social media) trigger the most anxiety? Journaling about the moments when you feel most distressed and what happened leading up to them might help identify key points.
  4. Should you consider dating multiple people?
    Ethically, of course. It’s common for someone with an anxious attachment style to start to feel, well, attached early in the dating process before there have been conversations about expectations or the chance to really gauge compatibility. One way to ease the pressure of making it work with a new love interest is to have a few love interests. Don’t rush to make things work with someone you’re still getting to know. Take your time getting to know a few different people, see what works, what doesn’t, and be honest with yourself and them about what you want and need. 
  5. Embrace conflict.
    I know, I know. It’s scary. But facing conflict in relationships can actually be a good thing. No two people are ever going to get along perfectly all the time. If you notice anxious tendencies in yourself, pay attention to dating situations where you feel pulled to neglect your own wants and needs in favor of keeping the relationship peaceful. Challenge yourself to be more authentic in your communication with your dating partners, even if that means there may be disagreement. This will give you a chance to get to know one another and learn more about how the other person handles conflict.
  6. Practice self-compassion.
    If you’re struggling to maintain your composure or feel secure when dating, then give yourself some grace. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best, you’re trying to learn new ways of relating to others, it’s a little scary, you’re struggling, and that’s ok. You’re not alone in this, and you deserve the same compassion from yourself that you would give to one of your friends in a similar situation. Dr. Kristin Neff at the University of Texas has written loads on this—check out this YouTube video and browse her website to learn more. 
  7. Get support.
    Navigating the world of dating on your own can be scary. We can all benefit from the support of friends, family, and a licensed professional at times. Talking it out can help with calming your nervous system, identifying your triggers, and better understanding yourself and your relational needs. It’s also important that you don’t blame your attachment style for what is really someone else’s negligence or incompatibility. Having a trusted person to listen and be in it with you can help to ground you in reality and navigate the dating world more securely. 

Want to read more by Madison Wise, check out What is My Attachment Style, learn more about anxiety counseling, relationship counseling, or make an appointment for counseling.

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