How to be in a Relationship with a Wave (Anxious) Partner

by Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

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In a previous blog post, I discussed the different attachment styles. If you are not sure which attachment style you or your partner is, you can take the Attachment Styles Quiz.

If your partner is a wave and has an anxious attachment style and you have a different attachment style, it can be difficult to know what they need. We can help you understand what it’s like to be them and give you some tips so you can help meet their needs.

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A Wave may have had a childhood where their caregivers were inconsistent in their availability- they couldn’t count on them to consistently be there for them. They may have had to take care of their caregivers physically or emotionally often feeling overwhelmed since they were only a child and did not have the coping skills of an adult. Their caregivers may have been overly protective and anxious themselves.

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In romantic relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected can make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to act clingy and feel overly dependent on their partner. They can be self-critical seeking approval and reassurance from their partner.

How to relate to your Wave partner

If your partner has an Anchor attachment style, relationship bliss isn’t necessarily doomed. You just have to understand that their wiring is different from yours, and that they require higher levels of intimacy and closeness than people with an Anchor (secure) attachment styles. You can learn what their triggers are, and how to best respond to make them feel loved and supported.

Here’s what you need to know

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  • Waves need consistency. Consistency helps them feel safe and secure. If you are hot and cold, you are mirroring the inconsistency they received as children. This will be one of their greatest triggers. They need consistency and balance in your attention and energy.
  • Waves need you to let them know how you feel. Your Wave has difficulty believing that you actually like them and without clear signs indicating your interest, they will convince themselves that you don’t. They need reassurance that you care about them, that you’re sticking around and won’t abandon them. Sounds exhausting, but it’s really not that hard. A simple “I’m thinking of you” text or a phone call to check in can go a long way. If you assume they know how you feel, think twice. They don’t. Proactively tell them how you feel instead of holding it in.
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  • When in a fight, reassure them you are not leaving. They are more sensitive and quicker to perceive offset emotions. They have a unique ability to sense when their relationship is being threatened. They have a tendency to think worst-case scenario because unconsciously, they deeply fear rejection and abandonment.

When in a fight, they’re instinctive reaction is to think that the relationship is over.  Their heightened alert system will make them think you’re going to leave them, so they will prepare for rejection and may even try to break up with you first. It’s important that you assure them that just because you’re in a fight, it doesn’t detract from how much you love and care about them and that a disagreement doesn’t mean the end.

Waves need you to validate their feelings. They have needs for intimacy, availability and security in a relationship that are necessary for them to feel safe so that they can trust and love with reckless abandon. Know that with the light, comes the dark, and the emotions that you love are also the emotions that become challenging for your logical, busy mind. Do not shame or judge them for feeling and instead show compassion. Their deep love and empathy is probably what drew you to them in the first place.

Waves need to see you are dependable and follow through on your promises. Follow through on promises – small or large. It’s extremely important to build trust with Waves, who are used to being let down or disappointed. Since Waves are more sensitive to cues, they pay more attention to the things you say and will remember the promises you make. If you do have to change plans, call or talk to them in person and be upfront as soon as possible. Then make plans to reschedule with them.

Reassurance and consistency are important for Waves to feel safe and secure.

 While it may sound challenging to be in a relationship with a partner with an anxious attachment style, the good news is, through support from their partner and their own self-work, they can move from anxious to secure. Once they realize that they are safe, a healthier narrative becomes reaffirmed through time and experience, and they gradually rewire their baseline.

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas. Carlene can help you turn your differences with your partner into strengths that give your relationship a stronger foundation. To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.