attachment theory and relationship

Working Through Insecurity

working through relationship insecurities

Lately my practice has been presenting with couples who have a lot of insecurity issues.  Why is this? Both partners are very successful, emotionally aware and appear to be great parents!

As much as I know that self-doubt and insecurity affect people in a variety of ways, and for a number of reasons; as a clinician, when a couple walks into the room with insecurity issues, I still wonder where the root of the issues lie.

Here’s what I see: when it comes to insecurity in a relationship, it can feel incredibly jarring and is emotionally unsettling when one partner is behaving in a way or acting out for some reason. But what causes such anxiety in these relationships? And if the causes are known, what can be done to lessen the feeling of insecurity people feel in their relationships with their partners?

If you’re feeling insecure in your relationship, there are definitely ways in which you and your partner can build or regain confidence that may be missing right now. I’ll outline them below.

Anxiety and Insecurity in Romantic Relationships

Feeling anxious and insecure in a relationship is more common that people think. In fact, hundreds of studies have been commissioned to understand why this feeling is so prevalent. One of the leading theories behind this is called Attachment Theory. To paraphrase the premise of attachment theory:

Attachment theory is the proposition that affectional bonds between individuals and patterns of early life interactions between caregivers and children produce internal working models that serve as templates guiding interpersonal expectations and behaviors in later relationships. Caregivers who are stable, consistent, and predictable tend to encourage the development of internal working models of the self as valued and others as trustworthy and reliable sources of nurturance. Unstable, inconsistent, or unpredictable caregiving in early life can produce maladaptive internal working models that are reflected in insecurity and anxious forms of attachment.(1)

In other words, there is a direct link in how people approach their adult relationships, and it is usually tied with their upbringing. People brought up with predictable caregivers tend to view adult partners in the same way: with positive, unconditional regard. On the other hand, people who have unstable or inconsistent upbringings may bring more insecurity to their adult relationships. Of course, neither upbringing is a guarantee that someone will have anxiety in a relationship or not, so it’s important to have compassion either way!

What to Do to Feel More Secure

When one or both partners in a relationship feel insecure or anxious, it’s important to know that no one is alone.  Typically, both people are experiencing similar feelings and are just acting out in different ways.  A few ideas to consider:

Open Communication

Clear lines of communication come easier for some than others. Having an open and honest discussion about relationship insecurities can often be the quickest route to feeling more confident and secure. When feelings are discussed openly and respectfully, root issues can be identified quickly and (ideally) actively worked through in therapy.

For instance, if one partner feels inadequate in their partner’s eyes, simply bringing it up may help the partner realize that their actions are contributing to this anxiety.  In other words, “normal” behavior for one partner may unknowingly be exacerbating insecurity in their partner. By addressing this together, one partner may be able to change small aspects of their behavior, which in turns builds confidence and security in the relationship.

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

If a relationship is approaching--or is already in--the zone of insecurity, sometimes doing something out of the ordinary can be helpful. When couples find an activity they can share where both people need to step out of their comfort zone, it can actually help with the feeling of insecurity. When both partners are out of their comfort zone, it can open the lines of communication and in turn; that vulnerability can help with the insecurity, too.

Be Kind +  Be Strong

Bottom line: working through insecurity takes trust, strength and patience. However, finding ways to talk about relationship insecurity with your partner is a step in the right direction.  And from what I’ve seen; with time, it is possible for partners to rekindle that spark that led them together in the first place.