Attachment Theory

At a conference last week there was an interesting workshop on attachment theory, presented by Yuval Berger and Lisa Alexander from Vancouver, BC. While I have heard talks on attachment theory before, I thought they presented it in a particularly helpful way (as a lawyer I can get lost in psychological theory pretty quickly).

Basically, as I understand it, the attachments that infants form with their caregivers (mainly their parents) tend to establish patterns for interacting with others that often last our entire lifetimes.  In the workshop we discussed three different common attachment patterns – secure, anxious, and avoidant. The person with secure attachments tends to have relationships that are focused on both themselves and the other person. This type of person might say “I’m not happy about X, but I understand why my partner thinks it is a good idea”.

A person with avoidant attachments tends to focus on themselves and avoid conflict with others – they are less comfortable with close relationships and may be perceived as distant and uncaring. On the other hand, the person with anxious attachments tends to focus a great deal on the other person, feeling that others are never as close as the anxious person would like them to be. This type of person has a strong need for intimacy and approval from others to validate themselves and complains when they do not get it. This person may be perceived as needy.

Recognizing these tendencies can help us understand the relationships our divorcing clients are in. For instance, there might be one family dynamic going on if a secure person is married to an avoidant spouse, and a different dynamic if an avoidant person is married to an anxious spouse. Understanding these dynamics can help us work better with the clients. An anxious client may need more reassurance and contact, and an avoidant client may need some space and some coaching to understand the needs of their spouse.