Dear Researcher,

I’m in a new relationship, and even though my partner is very supportive of my goals and has never given me a reason not to trust him, I can’t seem to allow myself to trust him! My last relationship left me constantly worrying about if/when my partner would leave me or if I was too overbearing because I wanted to spend a lot of time with him, both of which contributed to why my relationship ended. Even though my new partner is much more receptive to my needs and makes me happier than my last partner, I can’t seem to shake my worries about him leaving, and I don’t want this to impact my relationship. What do I do?! 

Dear Nervous Partner, 

I understand. If you’ve been treated poorly in the past, it’s hard to shake the fear that someone else won’t also treat you that way. The worries you described having in your previous relationship –fearing abandonment and trying to get extremely close to your partner because of this fear– align with what social psychologists call an anxious attachment style. 

There are three widely known attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Securely attached people tend to trust their partners and are comfortable with intimacy and autonomy within their relationships. On the other hand, anxiously and avoidantly attached individuals tend to have a harder time trusting their partners. To counteract their trust issues, anxious and avoidantly attached people either overcompensate and try to become extremely close to their partner or avoid getting close to their partner.

But you’re in luck! Research on attachment styles has shown that your attachment style is not permanent, and there are various means that you can utilize to help you become less anxiously attached and more securely attached (2). In addition, longitudinal studies provide evidence that your attachment style changes because of your circumstances and individual differences in family history and mental health (2). So, even though your previous partner did not provide you adequate support and caused you to feel anxious in your relationship, your current partner does not treat you this way, so it’s possible that you can decrease your relationship anxiety. 

A good first step into working on becoming more secure in your relationships is looking at your current romantic partner. You said that your partner supports your goals and is very receptive to your needs, and –even though you’re struggling with trusting him now– you see no reason not to trust him. Well, you’re in luck because research shows that being with a partner that validates your goals predicts decreased attachment anxiety and increases outcomes of traits more related to secure attachment (1). Your initial assessment that you feel as though your partner is trustworthy will help you feel more confident and secure in the early stages of your relationship (1). 

Another great method you can use to shift your attachment style is going to therapy. Research on attachment style has demonstrated that many people who started psychotherapy insecurely attached after twenty-five sessions reported being securely attached (3). In therapy, you would be able to discuss the hesitancies you feel about your relationship. Your practitioner will be able to help you think through why you carry these relationship doubts to allow you to change your perspective on relationships. 

Although changing your attachment style can be a long process, it is not impossible and will benefit you and your partner in the long run. I hope these suggestions help!

  1. Arriaga, X. B., Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E. J., Vanderdrift, L. E., & Luchies, L.B. (2013). Filling the void. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 398-406.
  2. Davila, J., Burge, D., & Hammen, C. (1997). Why does attachment style change? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(4), 826–838.
  3. Travis, L. A., Bliwise, N. G., Binder, J. L., & Horne-Moyer, H. L. (2001). Changes in clients’ attachment styles over the course of time-limited dynamic psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(2), 149–159.

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