Regardless of how secure someone is in their attachment style, everyone employs at least three different attachment behaviors in their relationships: accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement.
Accessibility: whether or not someone is reachable, or–like it sounds–accessible. For example, someone who’s across the country and doesn’t have cell service is pretty inaccessible. Someone who’s always at work and can’t take calls during the day is also inaccessible. Someone who’s just a phone call away is mildly accessible. And someone intentionally standing in the same room as you is very accessible. On a deeper level, however, accessibility can also mean how easy it is if your partner is distressed for them to get your attention and have you respond to their needs. Accessibility is important in relationships, but simply being accessible can fall flat if we don’t follow through with the next two attachment behaviors.
Responsiveness: how you respond to someone. Someone can answer their phone when you call (making them accessible), but if they just “yeah” or “uh-huh” you throughout the whole conversation instead of actually listening and answering, they’re not being responsive. Similarly, someone can be sitting in the same room as you, but if you can’t hold a conversation with them, they’re not being very responsive. Many times video games, smartphones, or TV can cause unresponsiveness in our partners while in the same room. When you can successfully have a conversation where the other person is mentally there, answering and asking questions, and responding helpfully to your needs, you are experiencing responsiveness from your partner.
Engagement is the culmination of accessibility and responsiveness. It is how well you can have serious, deep, meaningful conversations with someone. For example, you can be responsive, yet disengaged, while talking about what’s for dinner, or what the kids did all day. Engagement comes when you discuss more meaningful things in your lives. i.e. Talking about your hopes for the future, why you love each other, resolving conflicts, and other important conversations.
A high level of engagement is the highest predictor of marital satisfaction of all the attachment behaviors. You can’t experience engagement with each other, however, if you don’t make yourself accessible and responsive first.
Take the RELATE Assessment now and measure your attachment behaviors to see how engaged you and your partner are!
These attachment behaviors have been studied and explained further in this article published 2 years ago.
Written by: Erin