What Is Preoccupied Attachment — And 6 Ways Men Need To Work On It

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man and woman looking at each other close

A lot of men struggle with preoccupied attachment and low self-esteem, which ends up pushing their relationship into a pursuer-distancer dynamic.

They constantly worry that their wife isn’t close enough, doesn’t want sex enough, and even that she is cheating.

People with preoccupied attachments tend to go for people with avoidant attachments. 

So, how can you work on your trust/insecurity issues in addition to going to therapy?

Note: If you won’t try therapy you need to explore that; it is often because you feel the therapist will judge you for acting "crazy" and this in no way reflects the collaborative, non-judgmental, and often transformational process of therapy.

RELATED: 10 Lasting Ways To Create Change In Therapy — Fast

Here are 6 ways for men to work on preoccupied attachment:

1. Empathize

Your wife wants to live her life and feel positive about herself. This is what you want too.

If your wife is more emotionally avoidant, more of her life is about socializing, career, kids, hobbies, and so forth than about her primary romantic relationship.

When you are constantly following her around telling her she isn’t spending enough time/energy on you, this feels smothering and makes her even more distant than she started off.

With deep empathy, you can start to understand your wife’s feelings and why your behavior feels stifling and frustrating. 

2. Focus on yourself as a man

This means getting back into hobbies. It means focusing on being an involved dad and family man and coming up with cool ideas for family activities. It means working on your health and fitness.

It also means therapy for most people who struggle with deep-core self-esteem issues.

The more you focus on yourself, the happier your partner will be with you, because you are not trying to suck up her time and focus and instead are interacting with her from a more confident place.

3. Try to understand the origin of your self-esteem issues

Going back to your family of origin can be very useful. Then you can see that your problems are your own and predated your wife; she exacerbates them but you started out with them from childhood.

This can help decrease your feelings of anger that you’ve misplaced in your wife as though she is the sole reason you struggle with trust.

RELATED: What You're Really Like In Relationships, Based On Your Attachment Style

4. Don’t go down internet rabbit holes

I have worked with men who have done hours of research on how to be better in bed when the reality is their wife doesn’t want a new oral sex technique, she wants to respect him and think of him as an equal.

If your internet research, including on my blog, is more time per week than any other thing you do besides work and sleep, that is a bad sign for you and for the future of the marriage.

5. Acknowledge your trust issues

Unless your wife is very rare, she doesn’t sit around all day thinking about having sex with other men (or with you, honestly).

Rates of infidelity are very low, and certainly higher in men than in women. The statistical odds that your wife is cheating are low but some guys go down internet rabbit holes and convince themselves of the opposite, which then erodes closeness in their marriage as their wife feels they are in a stalker movie and it’s you who is the paranoid stalker.

RELATED: 5 Things To Ask Yourself To Be A Better Partner

6. Respect your wife as a separate human

This is another way to say empathize, in case you glossed over the importance of #1.

Your wife is likely a grown-up version of a little girl raised with not much emotion in her home, that learned to be extremely independent and self-reliant to a fault.

If you don’t like this personality trait, and you’ve done all the work you can do on yourself, leave the marriage. But don’t twist her into knots trying to change her. It is unlikely she will change this core trait, and if she does, it will be because she finally feels safe and relaxed around you.

This is the opposite of how she feels when you are following her around telling her to read my blog or listen to my podcast.* Leave her be and let her be herself. Only when you have deeply introspected about your own issues and worked on yourself and bolstered your own self-esteem and become a man that you respect should you turn to her and ask her to change in any way.

*Note that of course, I think it’s a good idea to share posts and podcasts, as these can help partners understand one another. But if you are blasting your partner with dozens of these "helpful" things when she doesn’t want to read or listen to any of them, you are just using the podcasts/articles as another way to smother her and she is reacting as per your usual dynamic. Be respectful of her time and interest level.

Now, what if you have done all of this and the marriage still isn’t what you want and you feel lonely and unfulfilled?

This often portends the end of the relationship, and you owe it to your wife to tell her that you are deeply considering splitting up.

I have seen this assertion be transformational. Do not use it as a fake ultimatum. Only tell your wife that you are thinking of leaving if, in fact, you are.

At this point, she might honestly respect you more, not less, because previously you felt too insecure to even contemplate leaving, so you just came off as constantly complaining to no end.

However, if your wife recognizes that you have the inner strength and confidence to actually leave, she may realize that she does love you and finally have the impetus to actually engage in couples' work.

But again, don’t threaten to leave to get a response when you are actually not going to do it. This is about the neediest and most insecure thing one can do, and your wife will correctly feel it is a manipulation tactic and pull away more.

Ultimatums can work, but only if they are not dramatic empty threats but the expression of true boundaries (e.g., you are no longer going to stay in a sexless marriage and want to discuss what separating looks like). The former looks like a tantrum and the latter is a calm and reasoned conversation.

Hopefully, this post struck a chord in you and made you commit to working on your own issues deeply before blaming too many of them on your wife and your dynamic.

Again, individual therapy can be extremely helpful and can finally help you grow into the strong, independent man that is your best self… irrespective of what happens with your wife or your marriage.

RELATED: There Are Only 4 Types Of Love Attachment Styles — Which Is Yours?

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This article was originally published at Dr. Psych Mom. Reprinted with permission from the author.