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How Does Attachment Theory Impact Valentine's Day Celebrations?

Updated: Mar 26



white female hands making a heart sign at a concert
Attachment theory is at the heart of healthy love relationships.

Attachment Theory in Romantic/Sexual Relationships

Of course, relationships are on my mind because Valentine’s Day just happened. This made me think about attachment theory, and how it relates to Valentine's Day and love relationships. Attachment is the bond that people form with one another. Dr. John Bowlby developed Attachment Theory and then the theory was further developed by Drs. Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main. There has been tremendous research on its impact for coping with stress, the ability to self-soothe, and the way we form friendships, romantic partnerships, and other relationships as adolescents and adults.


Attachment Theory posits that how you were treated as an infant and child influences the way you relate to other people.  I recently wrote a blog post explaining what attachment theory is and how it might impact you.


Why is Attachment Theory relevant at Valentine's Day?

Healthy relationships depend on a secure base of attachment so that members of the relationship feel safe to share needs and vulnerability without worrying about being shamed, ridiculed, dismissed or otherwise hurt. This can be true between romantic or sexual partners, but also in family relationships. Adult attachment research is rapidly expanding and can help us understand the effect of relationships and mental health on attachment style. But how do you know whether you have a secure attachment style?


There are four types of attachment style: secure; anxious/ambivalent; avoidant; and disorganized/disoriented (also known as fearful-avoidant in adults). People who grew up with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, caregivers with severe mental illness and/or substance abuse, or in disorganized homes are more likely to have insecure attachment to their caregivers and subsequently, to friends, lovers and other important people in their lives as adults.


Children who grow up in homes where their caregiver was both the source of comfort and fear or danger are more likely to have disorganized attachment. This is one of the unfortunate results of inadequate support for families that struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, or intergenerational trauma.


It’s okay to be on your own for Valentine’s Day.

A friend of mine pointed out that Valentine’s Day is great if you’re in a romantic relationship, but very lonely and exclusive if you’re single. I can see where she’s coming from, but I can also advocate for improving your relationship with yourself if you’re not in a relationship with someone else. How would you like to spend time with yourself this Valentine’s Day?


What do you find brings you joy, a sense of peace, and fulfillment? Maybe you think Valentine’s Day is just another day and it doesn’t make that much difference in your life. That is always an option as well. Not everyone is interested in romance or sex, or they don’t feel the need to designate a specific day to celebrate romance.


Is it comfortable to be on your own, or does it make you anxious or insecure? Do you crave the company of a lover or friend? For some people, it has been so long since they’ve been close to someone, they have learned to do everything independently. Your attitude might be that no one is there for you anyway, so might as well be independent, even if makes you feel lonely. If you had an anxious attachment, you feel very uncomfortable when you are not with romantic partner or with your friends.


Conversely, if you had an avoidant attachment, you may seem like you don’t need anyone else, but you might still wish that you had more company. It can be helpful to identify which attachment style had to your caregivers and to other people as an adult. Attachment style influences everyone, regardless of whether you’re in a relationship with someone else.


Can you use Valentine’s Day to Fine-Tune your Relationships?

Valentine's Day can bring up different emotions about your current relationship, as well as past relationships. You can use this day to reflect on what does and doesn't work or feel good about your relationship.


pink and red roses lying on white background
Love is not measured in roses & chocolates but instead with how you treat each other.

If you’ve had relationship problems with your spouse, lover or boyfriend/girlfriend, you don’t need to put a lot of pressure on yourself or your partner about what should be done about Valentine’s Day. It’s just one day in a year, and it doesn’t have to be a grand, elaborate gesture to prove your worthiness as a romantic partner. How you feel about the other person is not measured by how much money you spent on them, or how many long-stemmed roses or chocolates you lavish them with. While it’s culturally expected to acknowledge it, what’s most important is how you treat one another the rest of the year as well.


Do you have the same fight over and over, with no resolution? Do you feel distant from your significant other? Do you see signs of trouble that you think should be addressed professionally? Couples or relationship therapy can be a good way to preserve the good aspects of your relationship and work through the troubling aspects. I provide inclusive counseling for couples and other types of relationship, so that you can enjoy your relationships more thoroughly and thus have better wellness and life satisfaction.


In this type of therapy, I pay a lot of attention to attachment wounds from your past and how they influence your relationship. I help you slow down, notice where things go off-track, and help you develop healthier patterns of relating so you can get along much better with your partner. In the process, old attachment wounds are healed and you heal as an individual within the relationship as well. Obviously, it's a win-win!


Whether you’re with a partner or single, you don’t have to get all worked up about Valentine’s Day. Whatever you choose to do this Valentine’s Day, I hope that you enjoy it and think about the kinds of attachments you’d like to have to others as an adult. Even if you had an insecure attachment style when growing up in your family of origin, you can have a better set of skills and relatedness as an adult. You can learn better relationship skills in therapy as well as in relationships with healthy, stable people. If you’d like to develop healthier attachment, please call me at 661-6771.

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