Why Men and Women Fight, Part 4: Attachment Styles

Okay, so we’ve talked about the operating system disparities that make men and women fight. We’re just very different animals right from the get go. It’s natural.

Then there’s the hardware, the result of the early nurturing process, that gets hardwired into our psyches—before we even develop explicit memory (somewhere around age 5). Prior to that, our brains process our experiences on an implicit level, and what we learn from our early life experiences gets etched into our view of the world, without us even realizing it. I’ll call it “nurtural.”

Ideally, in the first 3-4 years of life, our caregivers interact with us in such a way that we develop a solid sense of ourselves and others. Parents do this by providing for our real needs—not needs that they imagine us to have based on their own anxieties, stresses, and immaturity. Caregivers who nurture well, who provide an environment in which the developing child can rely on them for both structure and freedom, as the child actually needs, are also able to regulate their positive and negative emotions, so that the child isn’t drawn into regulating the inner world of the caregivers. Such an environment leaves a child with what we call a secure attachment style, which the child then takes it into all relationships from then on.

Individuals with a secure attachment style are able to both be independent from and intimate with others. They don’t worry about whether others approve of them, so they are free to develop their interests, without having to sacrifice their sense of self out of an undue need for acceptance.

On the other hand, children whose caregivers interact with them based on imagined needs—keeping the child too close or providing too little guidance—create an environment, out of their own anxieties, that promotes one of three insecure attachment styles, that the child takes with him or her into adult relationships.

Adults with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style seek high levels of intimacy, and become fearful when separated from loved ones. They often doubt their worth and blame the other if he or she isn’t responsive enough.

Adults who develop a dismissive-avoidant attachment style deny needing close relationships, and tend to be invulnerable, independent, self-sufficient, and condescending. They usually hide their feelings and distance themselves when they sense rejection.

Those who emerge from childhood with a fearful-avoidant attachment style find it difficult to trust others, although they do express the desire to be in close relationships. These mixed feelings emanate from feeling unworthy of care and suspicious of the intentions of others.

So imagine what a fight might sound like between someone who desires but feels unworthy of care (fearful-avoidant) and whose partner displays little need for close relationship (dismissive-avoidant). Yikes! Or what about someone who feels smothered (dismissive-avoidant) by their partner’s desire to spend all their time together (anxious-ambivalent). Argh!

To make matters worse, we tend to be attracted to others at the same level of our own functioning (not necessarily the same attachment style), so people with a secure attachment style tend to be drawn to others with a secure attachment style, and people with an insecure attachment style tend to be drawn to others with an insecure attachment style.

Fortunately, people who enter the adult world with an insecure attachment style can develop a secure attachment style…by doing a hell of a lot of psychological repair of attachment injuries. I’m a product of that process myself, and can attest that it’s not easy work, but I highly recommend it if you want to fight less…or at least more fairly.

More tomorrow on our hardware, and then we’ll talk about our software, which gets men and women into some especially heated battles.

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4 thoughts on “Why Men and Women Fight, Part 4: Attachment Styles

    1. Very true, Louis, as this post describes. The first three parts in this series have more to do with gender directly, along with some more that are on their way. But gender certainly isn’t the only reason we fight! In fact, even mature people fight sometimes–at times due to gender issues, and at times not. Hope you enjoy today’s post about the effect of life’s dents on our relationships. This is also a less gender-based than parts 1-3, but even the dents we experience along the way occur to us as male and female, and get processed through our gender-based lenses. Every dent you ever experienced, you experienced as a male; every dent I ever experienced, I experienced as a female, and we will process our damage differently because of that reality. I know that our culture today talks of gender as a construct, and that is certainly true to some degree. But the very hormones that course through our bodies that make us male and female are also responsible for proclivities in how we view the world and the events that happen to us as we move through it. Hope you enjoy “Why Men and Women Fight, Parts 1 – 3.”

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  1. Em, certainly, there are inherent differences. But from my stance, those differences, both biological and cultural, are only influential to immature minds; teaching people to be strong will eliminate the problem entirely. So, the entire gender discussion seems nearly irrelevant to me, especially considering the general immaturity throughout humanity still perpetuating crime, corruption, war, tyranny, famine, etc – thus promotion of strength of character is necessary, whether or not gender issues exist.

    That aside, I noted the purpose of your blog, and would like to leave you a concept that I hope will find its way into the zeitgeist. I mention this subject because it is one that feminism has swept under the rug; it is a damaging effect of feminism, which you seem possibly interested in.

    Feminism oft speaks out against “slut-shaming”. Which is fine, if we define “slut” as a female that has numerous, healthy sexual relationships. But that was never the definition of “slut”.

    A “slut” is female that sleeps around for financial advantage. The male version of the could be termed “rake”, though I don’t know of any dedicated term. Neither are to be confused with a prostitute; a prostitute provides a mutually agreed upon service. Sluts and rakes, on the other hand, are sociopathic manipulators whom exploit people for financial gains.

    Sluts and rakes should be shamed. Anyone who takes advantage of anyone like that should be shamed. The behavior should be scorned throughout society as a whole. Ironically, in attempts to defend female characters, feminism, in this subject, has encouraged self-destructive behavior. Women, am I right? That’s a joke.

    Related behavior can be found in the recently popularized “polyamory”, but I’ll stop as I’ve rambled enough.

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