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Tuesday Apr 25, 2023

Let me begin by saying divorce is hard – whether it is a decision that you have made or a decision that has been made for you. And in the process of divorce, no matter what your attachment style, you will experience a multitude of emotions as you move through the process. But if you are finding that you are stuck and it’s been very difficult to move through this oftentimes long and painful process, here are some things you may want to consider that can help you decide whether you can do this on your own or may need to seek the help of a professional.

It’s important to note that the development of attachment styles is complex and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics and temperament, as well as environmental factors like parenting and life experiences. However, Bowlby’s attachment theory can add much insight into how one may respond to the divorce experience, which, in turn can help establish the appropriate treatment and support during the process.

Attachment theory suggests that the quality of the bond between an infant/child and their parents/primary caregivers can shape the child’s ability to trust in themselves and others. Infancy and childhood bonding experiences may become the template for how adults view relationships and how they respond to them. The application of this theory can aid in anticipating and understanding the potential reactions and behaviors of each partner towards the divorce process.

Secure Attachment

Infants who exhibit a secure attachment style likely experienced a stable, predictable, responsive environment in which they developed. Their feelings, from infancy through adulthood have been nurtured and validated. As infants, they seek comfort and support when they are distressed and are easily soothed. Additionally, they learn to self-soothe, which is crucial to healthy emotional development throughout all the lifespan stages.

Despite experiencing a broad range of emotions, including grieving through the divorce process, individuals who possess a secure attachment style can utilize their self-soothing skills and seek out comfort and support, which can prove to be invaluable in successfully navigating the process and promoting healing.

Anxious-ambivalent attachment

Infants who exhibit an anxious-ambivalent attachment style may have experienced an environment where inconsistent parental responsiveness has occurred. Research shows that responsiveness through facial expressions, touching and holding, and verbal interactions are key to infants and toddlers to feeling safe and secure in their world. It also influences their ability to feel valued and experience self-worth. Without engagement and responsivity, children may experience feelings of abandonment and rejection.

In divorce, these feelings become exacerbated. It’s common for anxious avoidant individuals to struggle with acceptance of the divorce, to avoid abandonment or rejection. They may also resort to seek comfort in harmful ways (e.g., triangulating or parentifying their children, is one example). Anxious avoidant individuals may also find it extremely difficult to self soothe which is a fundamental part of grieving and healing after divorce.

Avoidant Attachment Style

Parents themselves who are avoidant and dismissive of emotions, may become emotionally distant, unresponsive and neglectful to their children. Thus, when caregivers are not able to meet the emotional needs of their children or discourage emotional expression and intimacy, children may learn to shut down emotions and avoid them.

This leads to the development of an avoidant attachment style. In some cases, parents who are preoccupied with their own stressors and problems may be less attuned to their child’s emotional needs. For example, Sue Johnson suggests that it’s important to know that if your parents divorced, what kind of an affect that may have had on you. 

Individuals with an avoidant attachment style may face unique challenges during the divorce process. Due to their tendency to suppress or downplay their emotions and avoid close relationships, they may struggle to seek out and receive support from others during this difficult time. Also, their reluctance to rely on others for comfort and support may lead them to engage in avoidance behaviors, such as working longer hours, turning to substance abuse, or engaging in other forms of avoidance coping mechanisms.

Overall, the avoidant attachment style can make it challenging for individuals to navigate the emotional upheaval of the divorce process, and they may benefit from seeking professional support to help them effectively cope with their emotions and communication during this time.

Most importantly, remember that inside all of us is just a kid that wants to be loved! Knowing this can help you be more compassionate toward yourself and toward your ex. While it’s important to take responsibility for our behaviors, it is equally important to recognize how often what seems like intentional behavior is deeply rooted in previous relational experiences beyond our control.  Understanding your attachment style may help you better understand your emotions as you go through the divorce process. And help you better understand what may be compromising your ability to move through the process and heal.

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.