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Domestic Violence and Attachment Style

The context of domestic violence within relationships varies as the number of relationships themselves. The understanding and treatment vary as well.

    1.     Here,  we look to Attachment Style as an important puzzle piece to that explanation.

Our chosen exploration begins with a very brief background of Attachment Theory itself:

Hunt1, “Attachment Theory began with Bowlby and Ainsworth who independently found that the nature in which infants get their needs met by their parents will determine their “attachment strategy” throughout their lives. Your attachment strategy probably explains a great deal of why your relationships have succeeded/failed in the manner they did, why you’re attracted to the people you are attracted to, and the nature of the relationship problems that come up again and again for you. (Ainsworth, M. S., & Bowlby, J. (1991). An Ethological Approach to Personality Development, American Psychologist, 46(4), 333. Cited by Mark”

Fraley 2, “Although Bowlby was primarily focused on understanding the nature of the infant-caregiver relationship, he believed that attachment characterized human experience from “the cradle to the grave.” On the basis of these parallels, Hazan and Shaver (1987) argued that adult romantic relationships, like infant-caregiver relationships, are attachments, and that romantic love is a property of the attachment behavioral system, as well as the motivational systems that give rise to caregiving and sexuality. “

More specifically, we delve into two specific attachment styles which are likely to lead to domestic violence- Dismissive in men, Anxious in women. As we say, “lead to” violence, understanding that violence, itself resides on a continuum from hinting, complaining, sulking to bickering, to out and out battering.

Attachment style in Men3

“Dismissing adults often have an overly positive view of themselves and a negative, cynical attitude toward other people. In many cases, this high self-esteem is defensive and protects a fragile self that is highly vulnerable to slights, rejections, and other narcissistic wounds. It exists usually as a compensation for low self-esteem and feelings of self-hatred. According to adult attachment experts, Phil Shaver and Mario Mikulincer, avoidant partners often react angrily to perceived slights or other threats to their self-esteem, for example, whenever the other person fails to support or affirm their inflated self-image.

Attachment style in Women4

“Even though anxiously attached individuals act desperate or insecure, more often than not, their behavior exacerbates their own fears. When they feel unsure of their partner’s feelings and unsafe in their relationship, they often become clingy, demanding or possessive toward their partner. They may also interpret independent actions by their partner as an affirmation of their fears. For example, if their partner starts socializing more with friends, they may think, “See? He doesn’t really love me. This means he is going to leave me. I was right not to trust him.”  (Lisa Firestone Ph.D. Compassion Matters)”

These two opposing styles within an adult relationship can spell anything from anxiety to disaster.

Bond SB, Bond M5, “An anxious attachment style was a significant predictor of females being victims of violence and of men not being victims. A dismissive style in men was predictive of men being victims when entered into the model with problem-solving communication. The combination of anxiously attached females and dismissive males was a potent predictor of violence, and longer duration of the marriage and poor problem-solving communication added power to the prediction. Marital interaction, which is influenced by couples’ attachment styles and problem-solving communication, is a significant factor in marital partners experiencing physical violence.

So what can be done?

      1. The relationship may be dissolved
      2. The relationship may be resolved


Dissolution, page 3/11

“The sociological perspective assumes that social structures and various social roles provide explanations for DV with women being seen as economically dependent and subordinate, poor education, and the lack of employment skills prevent woman from leaving abusive relationships. Other barriers such as religious and cultural beliefs,  and the belief by victims that they have a responsibility towards the abuser, keep them trapped in an abusive relationship (Fonagy, 1999; Chornesky, 2000; Lawson, 2003;    Levy & Orlans, 2004). Economic explanation is less relevant today as more woman work, which should allow them to leave more easily than in the past. However, despite  this many woman continue to remain in abusive relationships.”     Resolution, page 8/11

Couples Counseling Session:

“ Much of the work in these initial sessions had been to deescalate the intensity of expression by the woman for nurturance, so that her true needs can be heard by the             dismissing man. This has allowed him to understand what she needs from him in terms of support which he is able to give in a pragmatic manner at this stage. The woman had come to understand he is unable to respond in an emphatic manner when she is     extremely angry and upset. He has come to understand her extreme emotional response is the result of childhood abuse and neglect, and is not a direct attack upon him per se but a fear of abandonment. This mutual understanding has reduced the risk of violence, and the feeling of containment has been achieved between sessions.”


     This begins the long road back from insecurity to security.  Our counselors at  Counseling on Demand can be your guide along that road.

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1. Matthew Hunt, Troubled Relationships – Dismissive Avoidant Attachment, June 13, 2016

2. R. Chris Fraley, University of Illinois, A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research,

3. Op. Cit. Hunt

4. Matthew Hunt, Troubled Relationships – Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Type Detailed, June 15, 2016

5. Bond SB, Bond M. Attachment Styles and Violence Within Couples.
. 2004 Dec, School of Social Work, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

6. Kevin Standish, A Psychodynamic Approach to Couple Therapy Domestic violence revisited: the application of attachment theory towards understanding domestic violence, Unpublished paper, March 2012,





I am the Founder and CEO of Counseling On Demand with a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with over 25 years of experience in helping Individuals, Couples, Adolescents, and Families who struggle with a wide variety of Life's Challenges. I thus have developed an Array of Effective Counseling Tools and Evidenced-Based Interventions to help you towards Your Road to Better Mental Health and Wellness. You are Never Alone...I look forward to meeting with you or your family member soon!