Podcast – Episode 0125 – Attachment Theory In Relationships

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In this episode Joel and Antonia talk with relationship expert Bruce Muzik about attachment theory in relationships.

In this podcast you’ll find:

  • Love At First Fight – Bruce Muzik
  • Attachment Theory started out as a study of how children created a bond with their parents.
  • Researchers started discovering that the same attachments patterns were in couples.
  • You can be securely attached or insecurely attached to your mate, or child.
  • People who are securely attached:
    • Grew up in a place where they found comfort when necessary.
    • They are comfortable depending on others and having others rely on them.
    • They are comfortable providing comfort and support to others.
    • Securely attached people have long term relationships and fewer fights.
  • Insecurely connected people:
    • Are not comfortable depending on their partner,
    • Not comfortable being depended upon,
    • They don’t reach out for support, and
    • They struggle through the power struggle phase. (See previous podcast w/ Bruce Love at First Fight w/ Bruce Muzik)
  • Two characters:
    • Hailstorm – anxious
    • Turtle – avoidant
  • Think of your relationships. How do you react when you feel disconnected from your partner?
  • In attachment theory, the hailstorm:
    • Grew up in the family environment where comfort was inconsistent.
    • Such a child becomes hyper vigilant of monitoring mom’s proximity and availability.
    • They also monitor mom’s emotional responsiveness.
    • Tantrums test mom’s responsiveness when they aren’t getting the things they need.
    • They get into relationships where they have a constant need to feel securely attached.
    • When they perceive they are not securely attached to their partner, the hailstorm can’t address such things reasonably; they get angry and aggressive.
    • They are so angry that mom and dad didn’t comfort them when they were children, that they become clingy in relationships.
    • Hailstorms don’t speak straight to their partner to get your needs met; they get manipulative, angry, controlling, etc.
    • Protest behavior pushes the partner away and creates the hailstorms worst fear – abandonment.
  • Hailstorms end up in relationships with turtles:
    • Turtles are the opposite of the hailstorm.
    • Turtles often appear dismissive.
    • Turtles grew up in families that had no comfort. “Big boys don’t cry.” A popular form of parenting in the 70s. Very destructive.
    • Children cannot regulate their emotions. Mom and dad are the only ones who have the ability to fix what is affecting the child’s emotions.
    • A child will learn to numb themselves, and they grow up into adults that struggle to know how they feel.
    • They look even-keeled, but they aren’t feeling much.
    • Turtles appear independent, but they aren’t truly autonomous.
    • Their independence is a character flaw. They are incapable of depending on others.
    • They’ve never learned to allow people to depend on them. They always keep other human beings at arm’s length.
    • They worry their emotions will get turned on and they will be left vulnerable and open to harm as they were as children.
    • When turtles get into conflict, they shut down their heart and retreat. They are incapable of empathy during this time. When they have alone time, their heart gets reconnected with brain, and they can feel the desire to reunite with their partner.
  • This disconnect is the worst thing for a hailstorm partner.
  • Hailstorms fear abandonment, so they start protesting and becoming critical and demanding, which pushes the turtle deeper into the shell.
  • Turtles worst fear is rejection. They secretly believe they are flawed. Why else would nobody come when they called. Most of their relationships end in the same way.
  • They are terrified someone will need them, and they won’t know what to do, and they’ll be discovered for being flawed. If the turtle lets their hailstorm partner too close, the partner will realize they are flawed and reject them.
  • Turtles main fear is rejection.
  • The second fear is engulfment: losing independence in a relationship. This may be the result of having a helicopter parent.
  • A third insecure attachment style is called fearful avoidant:
    • Usually typified by someone growing up in a chaotic family environment.
    • Painful extremes. Abuse.
    • Fearful Avoidants crave intimacy but are terrified of it.
    • Parents were unstable. They provided some comfort, but also provided abuse.
    • These people struggle the most because they lash out at their partner when things go wrong, then disappear.
    • These need to find a great attachment therapist – ICEEFT.com
  • These three styles of behavior aren’t types. They Are learned behaviors. They are easy to unlearn too, once you understand what is going on and how to become secure.
  • Secure people are comfortable being dependent.
  • Secure people are comfortable soothing and comforting another.
  • If you want to become a secure couple, learn how to depend on your partner. And how to be dependable for them.
  • How can you become more secure?
  • It is easier to help somebody help their partner than it is to help themselves.
  • What are the things that happen in your relationship that has you so insecure – broken toes.
  • Think of the relationship as a dance – one person leads and the other follows.
  • Imagine your partner has a broken toe, and you don’t know about it. Every time you bump it, they react strongly, and you don’t know what is happening.
  • Now imagine you have multiple broken toes that you aren’t even aware of, you just keep reacting whenever your partner strikes them.
  • Step 1 – know your broken toes.
  • Step 2 – know how to soothe your partner’s broken toes.
  • Step 3 – know how to ask for what you need at the moment.
  • Step 4 – know how to ask what your partner needs at the moment.  

In this episode Joel and Antonia talk with relationship expert Bruce Muzik about attachment theory in relationships. #podcast #relationships #love

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Showing 27 comments
  • Kristie Palin

    I have been listening to podcast after podcast on attachment theory, just trying to find one that I feel explains it succinctly & well so that I can share it with others for them to easily understand it, and I am pleased to say I finally found it! Thank you Bruce, and to you guys for having him on!

  • Dee Simpkins

    Love it

  • Riki

    I wonder if learning about enneagram and mbti can sort of fix the attachment style and make it secure ..? Somehow once I learned about enneagram for few months I became secure

  • Kelly

    At the end of the podcast, you mentioned things we can do on our own to become more secure and directed people to your website. I’m interested in this since I’m not currently in a relationship but want to be, but I can’t tell which of the resources on your site get into this. Can you direct me more specifically? Thank you!

  • Ruth Rogers

    This episode resonated with my soul. Thank you for sharing these concepts. They are helping me on my journey toward healing.

  • mary

    Hi Bruce
    I am the turtle and my husband the hailstorm. We have tried couples counseling and we just can’t get anywhere. Is it possible for the hailstorm to appear as narcissistic due to this attachment or like someone who hates women? I continue to feel verbally abused by the put downs, aggressive outburst, mocking, antagonizing, disrespect and silent treatments. We are now separated and living apart in different states for 2 years and headed for divorce. What would u advise?

  • Devon Zingale

    Hello PH and Bill – newly discovered both PH and Attachment Theory, and I’m grateful for learning about both!
    I know I am an Anxious Attached and I deeply believe he is Avoidant. I’ve talked about this with him a bit, but since he will not consider therapy or any books and thinks we can work out whatever we need to, I am starting to question what his type or style really is.
    When I tell him what I need or what would be helpful to me, he focuses on the idea that it sounds like he would have to change. Which isn’t exactly true – but he would have to learn to recognize and not step on MY toes.
    Here’s the problem. I have never heard from him what he needs. His only “complaint” is that I am not happy.
    I’ve read and heard that Turtles can be so detached that they don’t even recognize they have needs. I have been w him for 9 months, we are both almost 50, and we do love one another. I don’t want to end it but how can we RELATE given these details?

  • Sophie

    Thank you for this, very interesting and accessible. I started looking into attachment theory because I’m having therapy and have many issues with relationships, the most notable of which is the absence of any real intimate relationship (plenty of ‘no strings attached’) for basically most of my adult life (I’m 27).

    I’m definitely the fearful avoidant type, so is my sister. We’ve had our fair share of mental health difficulties and general instability in life. We both encountered sexually traumatic experiences through teenage and adult life. I find myself somewhat perplexed, it’s clear to my sister and I that everything in the garden was not rosy in our childhood lives, however I find it difficult to pinpoint why we should have become so damaged in this fashion.

    My dad would be a textbook turtle and my mum a textbook hailstorm. I think my parents both have undiagnosed mental health difficulties however neither of them struggled through life as much as my sister and I have so far. My dad did get very angry, we were smacked if we were naughty and I do remember once being dragged from one room to another by my dad when I was having an argument with him. I once took and overdose to which my dad responded with irritation that they had to take me to hospital, and after my sister was raped we overheard him stating that it was her fault. We had obviously become substantially dysfunctional by this time…

    Would this constitute abuse? My apologies if that’s a really dumb question. I’m just trying to make sense of it all…

    Thanks again

    • N. B.

      Very late response, but this definitely constitutes abuse. These interactions would lead to the attachment style you have.

  • Gina R M

    As I write this comment I’m looking at the list I’ve made over the last two weeks.
    The steps for leaving my marriage.
    I just listened to this powerful podcast.
    I am a fearful avoidant (ENFJ) married to an extreme turtle (ISTJ).
    This is my third marriage and his second.
    I’m not in my best space at all at the moment, however, this podcast was so on point it was almost painful.
    I’m not sure how our story will end but I’m grateful for this. Thank you!

  • Rey

    What makes this complex is types as well. As an INTJ, being independent and poor emotional response is quite normal for me. One can hardly rely on recollect his childhood behaviour. Also if one is in the middle does it mean he shows small symptoms of both sides?

    • David

      Indeed Rey, that is my wife, and INFJ, very similar and I am the extrovert. It certainly makes it more challenging to connect.

  • Gem

    I just listened to this, and I like the practical advice that was given for how others can help in a relationship with hailstorms and turtles. Many people certainly do display these characteristics and it is really important to keep in mind what best helps *them*. However, I am a bit skeptical about the theory regarding how deterministic it seems to be. I am fortunate enough to have had a wonderful childhood. My parents were extremely loving and attentive, and I basically only have happy memories there. I do identify most with the secure type of attachment. But your parents aren’t the only people who have a formative impact on you as a child. I somehow ended up acquiring this deep seated belief that I don’t matter, or that I’m necessarily “less than” everyone who I care about — not the absolute worst, but never good enough. This almost certainly didn’t come from my parents, but I do think it came from growing up non-American in America. My parents immigrated here from England four years before I was born, so until I was about 10 I was essentially all British — where the culture is very much “take care of other people first, then yourself” — living in a society where the culture is very much “take care of yourself first, then other people”. As a result, I never really got to be first, and I think that messed me up pretty good. While I am pretty secure in my relationships, in times of stress (and with partners who I am less secure with), I relate very strongly with the turtle — but not where it’s supposed to come from. You say in the podcast that these are learned behaviors, not types, and I have to agree with that, but I think that people can learn to be turtles or hailstorms through other means than just their parents.

  • Chandra

    I was listening to this and identifying with both. I took an attachment style test online and it put me at anxious-avoidant, but up in the corner of the graph near secure. When you started talking about the anxious-avoidant toward the end of the podcast, I started crying. I guess that means it must hurt more than I’d realized. I see a therapist, and we’ve identified one of my painful core beliefs, but we haven’t addressed attachment style, so I will mention it to her. My husband got “secure” on the same test. Married 14 years. I test INFJ. He tests INTJ. Thank you for speaking about this. It is helpful and it gives hope.

  • Gone Girl

    Thank you so much for this podcast! Now I know why I panic when my potted plants depend on me for watering… Or when student interns depend on me for guidance. I feel both resentful and fearful when I happen to see someone in a wheelchair, who is so dependent on other people’s help.
    I belong to the fearful-avoidant category. But mostly, I withdraw into my turtle shell when there is a threat of rejection or when someone gets too close to me, since I don’t have any close enough relationships for lashing out. If I had any romantic relationships, it would be a disaster!
    I have been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and I’m doing therapy, but right now we are focusing on the relationships between the different parts of my personality (inner child, inner critic, inner rebellious teenager, etc.), rather than other people. I think the attachment theory can also be applied in this scenario, e.g. when my inner critical adult doesn’t comfort the inner child.

  • Rod

    WOW…WOW and WOW…so many things were blasting through my mind as the pod continued, thinking about myself as a child, my past relationships, close friends and their relationships, and the potential of a future relationship, which, I have decided to abandon and why..I’ll bet there are a ton of INTP’s in your client list.

    I must say that all three of you use metaphors in your discussions that are more ground level and real, which helps to connect with your listeners, no reason to sugar coat it, just describe it in a real context. Love it! Great Job!!

  • RedMelodyFlashT.

    Waouh ! Very impressive conference about secure and insecure way of being in an intimate relationship. I love the image of “broken toes”, it is really appropriate to understand how to stop a fight. Thanks Bruce, Antonia and Joel !

  • Melissa

    Great talk, thank you. Very accessible and helpful – like the messaging about identifying problems in attachments styles does not put people in a box forever and pathologised, it is the starting point of awareness, insight, the aha moments of working out why what is happening is happening in relationships and then decision making and growth towards developing secure attachment styles. So many early attachment theory made out that once you have one style you are stuck for life with that style and can’t do anything about it; which is not only not helpful, it is also not true. Thanks for your message and your way of sharing it.

  • RB

    Hi PH and Bruce,

    Such a great topic you guys chose for this latest installment; attachment styles can be such an enlightening topic. I know you thought you were monologuing during the podcast, but your candor and glib were actually a very refreshing way of talking about the subject. Even though I know a lot about attachment theory from previous study and research, I felt like it hit a majority of the important points in an entertaining way.

    In the beginning of your podcast, I thought to myself “Wait, he’s missing at least a third attachment type”… which was answered for me as you continued talking and I am glad you added your two cents into it. As someone who knows this type (a rather disorganized fearful/avoidant myself), it was well worth it to offer the commentary and resources you did.

    Overall well-done and well received! I’d love to see a follow-up PHQ about this in the future, like growth states through each attachment style. I’m somewhere in the middle of my own.


  • Theresa Moynihan

    I am a fearful-avoidant. I am also a sexual abuse survivor. This podcast is on point. I have done a lot of work on my attachment style with my therapist. I am currently in a relationship (6 months) with a man that has anxious attachment style and we are learning to have a secure attachment. Thank you for sharing this, it is very important.

  • Tasha

    Wow, such an awesome interview. I can totally see how passionate Bruce is about teaching people to have healthier relationships, especially because of this own experience. I resonate with all three types actually, but mostly with the turtle (avoidant) type due to the lack of emotional support in my childhood. A lot of my friends think I’m “Ms. Independent”, but it’s actually a weakness because I don’t know how to rely on other people. it’s like a muscle that I never learned how to use. Bruce also helped me shed light on why I never felt emotionally connected or dependent in my last relationship due to keeping my partner at arms-length.

    Thanks Joel and Antonia for having Bruce share his wonderful advice, I’m definitely looking forward to the next podcasts!

  • Poppy

    Halfway through, and the same thing strikes me about this as about other discussions of attachment theory I’ve read. If someone has an anxiously- or avoidant- attachment style, wouldn’t it influence all of their relationships in some way, not just their primary romantic relationship? Friendship is a much more frequent relationship, and we build friendships before we build our primary romantic relationship – and to some degree, having insecure attachments to our friends might be more damaging to us than being insecurely attached to a single partner.

    • Tasha

      Poppy, I think there needs to be more of a degree of independence in order for a friendship to thrive. Yes, it’s still important that we speak up about our needs to our friends, comfort them and allow them to comfort us and so forth. However, if the relationship becomes too attached like an intimate relationship, this will put too much pressure on the two parties to maintain such a commitment. Friendships, IMO should be more loose, free and supportive in a sense that you can go off and be who you want, do what you want and still have a supportive friend there when you need it.

    • Bruce Muzik

      Hi Poppy. Great question.

      Attachment styles generally don’t affect friendships (or other non-primary relationships) unless that friend is an attachment figure.

      An attachment figure is someone we explicitly or implicitly rely on to do things for us that nobody else would dream of doing for us e.g. supporting us financially when we cannot, comforting us when we are sad, caring for us when we are sick, providing for us when we cannot, reassuring us that we are loved and our relationship is safe, listening to us “download” our day and the end of the day, etc etc etc…

      We rely on our attachment figures to ensure our physical and emotional safety.

      For the most part, attachment relationships are formed with our primary caregivers and our lovers, but it is definitely possible that a friend could become an attachment figure if they fulfill some of the roles I listed above.

      I hope that helps you understand is more clearly.


    • Heather Crystaloak

      Although I am completely new to this theory I can totally see it playing out in my friendships. I also think my early friendships were involved in forming my type (fearful avoidant).

      I had a turbulent childhood due to health issues in my family, sometimes I didn’t get what I needed because the health problems either made it impossible or took precedent. I then formed a friendship when I was 4 and I think I became very attached to her, until her family moved away. This pattern with friendships repeated another 3 times with someone I depended on moving away.

      Now I never have many, if any, close friends and when I do I can end up holding onto them really tightly and fearing abandonment. At the moment I am trying not to do this with the latest person I see as a close friend but it’s a real challenge when I am swinging between fearing abandonment and shutting down.

      I am looking forward to learning more about this.

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