Are Attachment Styles Specific to Relationships?

Attachment bonds are formed at birth and continue to develop throughout an individual’s life. When children are young, they develop attachments to their caregivers, parents, and siblings. As they get older, they begin to form bonds with peers and friends. When a child enters adolescence and young adulthood, romantic partners enter the picture and new relationships are formed. Attachment styles vary from very secure to insecure, and from organized to disorganized. People can have attachment styles that are secure and organized, insecure and disorganized, or any variation of styles. For example, if a child is abused by a parent who provides financial and material support, they may have an insecure and organized attachment to that parent. Attachment bonds are believed to continue to influence an individual’s well-being throughout life. But it is unclear whether people have one general attachment style or form unique attachment styles for each relationship.

Angela Caron of the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa in Canada wanted to find an answer to this question. In a recent study, Caron interviewed 2,214 participants ranging in age from 17 to 25. She asked them to describe their attachments to friends, parents, and romantic partners, and she also assessed their mental well-being. She found that overall, the participants had attachment styles that varied depending on the context of the relationship. Specifically, the participants had attachment patterns with their parents that were very different than those they had with friends or love interests. The attachment to parents was classified as secure or insecure and organized or disorganized, while romantic relationships fell into approach/avoidance categories. With friends and romantic partners, anxiety was an issue that affected attachment. Caron believes friendships and romantic relationships have similar characteristics in young adulthood and adolescence, thus the overlap in anxiety with respect to these attachment styles.

The results also revealed that attachment styles from parents had the most influence on adjustment and happiness despite the fact there are fewer child-parent interactions as children reach adulthood. “These results suggest that secure relationships with parents maintain crucial importance by contributing positively to psychological well-being,” Caron said. She hopes this study demonstrates how important and diverse young adult attachments are, and how they play a major role in well-being throughout the transition to adulthood and beyond.

Caron, Angela, Marie-France Lafontaine, Jean-Francois Bureau, Christine Levesque, and Susan M. Johnson. Comparisons of close relationships: An evaluation of relationship quality and patterns of attachment to parents, friends, and romantic partners in young adults. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 44.4 (2012): 245-56.

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  • susan

    December 8th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    I am not sure why the styles would necessarily be different.

    I would think that if you are secure in your relationship with your parents then there would be a greater chance that you would go through life developing close and secure relationships with other people too.

  • Peyton

    December 9th, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Children are given most of the skills that they will ever learn when it comes to being intimate with other people while they are still very young. When they have parents who care for them in all of the basic ways that young children need, then that leads them to a feeling of safety and security that most likely will stay with them for life.
    When they are not given this, though, it plants a seed of insecurity and distance in the that is often difficult to over come.

  • Percy

    December 9th, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    There’s only a handful of people I truly trust and have attachment towards. Others don’t even come close. Maybe I need to open up more but hey, this is better than doing that and being hurt you know,it has happened before and it’s very very depressing.

  • staci

    December 10th, 2012 at 3:59 AM

    For me, there are some people to whom I feel very close and others that I would keep at arms length.

    But I happen to think that this is not necessarily about different attachment styles, but rather about how I feel about someone.

    maybe there are just some people that I am not as close to or maybe choose not to be as close to, and so those are people that I will not bond with as easily or form any kind of attachment with.

    That doesn’t seem that unusual to me

  • Sara

    January 31st, 2020 at 7:54 PM

    This makes a lot of sense for me! I was doing research on attachment styles and I wondered if I could have a different style depending on the type of relationship since I feel like with my romantic partner my style is very secure, whereas with my friends I am a mix of anxious and avoidant, and then avoidant with my parents. You’d think that someone would be the same style for all of their relationships. I think the reason this is though, at least for me, is because all these relationships have different boundaries, expectations, experiences, and structures really. I have nothing but good experiences with romantic partners and the exclusivity of a romantic relationship helps with security, friendships, on the other hand, are very flexible, it’s easy to have bad friends, lose good friends, etc, which at least in my experience has led me to become more cautious with my friendships.

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