Dear Researcher, I’ve been fighting with my boyfriend and while we argue, he gets very worked up, flustered, and distant even when I am bringing up a conflict that I find important to work out. It is frustrating because I want to work through our problems, and when I bring up the argument a few days later and apologize for making him so stressed, he acts like he wasn’t that emotional and that he handled himself with composure. It is hard to work through conflicts when he seems to forget how the arguments go! Please help. Sincerely, Frustrated Girlfriend

Dear Frustrated Girlfriend,

While your partner may be frustrating you, it might not be his fault! Research shows that people have varying attachment styles. There are three types of attachment styles that people exhibit. The first type is avoidant attachment which includes people who are emotionally distant, like independence, and have goals of keeping their guard up with a romantic relationship. The next attachment style is anxious which includes people who want to be emotionally close to and intimate with their partners yet fear that their partner will abandon them. This fear of abandonment does not have to be logical or even a conscious thought of the person but will dictate their behavior in a relationship. The third type of attachment is secure which includes people who exhibit behaviors consistent with being open to closeness with a romantic partner and don’t have feelings of being abandoned. They are open to being dependent on their partner and sharing themselves with them. (1)

Based on research and your description, your boyfriend seems to be exhibiting an anxious attachment style. His lack of self understanding in terms of his behavior during your argument aligns with research conducted that concludes that peoples’ memory is often constructed by their attachment style and mold. Believe it or not – it’s not your boyfriend’s fault that he remembers the argument differently than you do! This is a psychological phenomenon that occurs because people want to reach their attachment goals. Since your boyfriend seems to be anxious, his attachment goal is most likely to appear closer to you and less anxious with his own thoughts and therefore he remembers being more composed and understanding than reality. Where do these attachment styles stem from you may wonder? (2) Research shows that it is a combination of one’s childhood experiences with their caretakers, genetics! (4)

So, when wanting to avoid these attachment style driven behaviors, research shows that couples should prime themselves with thinking about people (other than their partner) that they love . This way, you and your partner will feel more secure and comfortable in the discussion.(3) Next time you are fighting, you and your partner should take some time to reflect on all the people in your lives that make you feel secure and loved. This way you will be more empathic, composed people while resolving a conflict! Attachment styles are subject to change through therapy and other methods, but for now, respect the way your boyfriend may express himself and you may even learn more about him and get develop a stronger connection!

  1. Brennan, K.A., Clark, C.L., & Shaver, P.R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrative overview. In J.A. Simpson & W.S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46-76). New York: Guilford Press.
  2. Simpson, J.A., Rholes, W.S., & Winterheld, H.A. (2010). Attachment Working Models Twist Memories of Relationship Events. Psychological Science, 21(2), 252-259.
  3. Mikulincer, M, Shaver, P.R., Bar-On, N. and Sahdra, B.K. (2014) Security enhancement, self-esteem threat, and mental depletion affect provision of a safe haven and secure base to a romantic partner
  4. Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol 2. Seperation: Anxiety and anger, New York, NY: Basic Books

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