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What your favorite song says about your relationship style

What your favorite song says about your relationship style

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According to a new study published in the journal Personal Relationships, people’s individual attachment styles correspond to the lyrics of their favorite songs.

What can listening to the same artist over and over reveal about how we deal with our romantic relationships, friendships and family ties? The artist’s lyrics, whether Adele or The Weeknd, can provide insight into a person’s attachment style, which relates to the typical way they think, feel, and behave in relationships.

“I am interested in the role that music plays in people’s lives. For as long as people began making music tens of thousands of years ago, songs across cultures have always focused on relationships—making a relationship, keeping one, or breaking up—so I’ve wondered if people listen to music that reflects their experiences in relationships reflects? says Ravin Alaei, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 2019.

According to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships and conducted by Alaei and Professors Geoff Macdonald and Nicholas Rule from the Department of Psychology, people’s attachment styles correspond to the lyrics of the songs they prefer. Essentially, we tend to be drawn to music that reflects our experiences in relationships, whether positive or negative.

“Texts are important, so pay attention to them,” says Alaei, who is also a doctor and earned his MD from McMaster University. “The lyrics of your favorite songs about relationships can help validate your thoughts and feelings, but they can also reveal things about your relationship experiences that you may not have noticed — something you go through repeatedly, something you come across over and over again.”

First, a refresher on attachment styles, which broadly fall into four categories, Alaei says. Anxiously attached people worry about being rejected and seek a lot of validation in their relationships. On the other hand, avoidantly attached people respond to their negative expectations of relationships by shutting down emotions and intimacy in favor of independence. People with a mixed attachment style have confused expectations that oscillate between clingy and cold. After all, secure people have an optimistic attitude towards relationships, are open communicators and trust their partners.

“We asked about 570 people to tell us their favorite songs, and then coded the nearly 7,000 songs for the attachment style their lyrics express. In turn, we’ve consistently found that people with avoidant attachments prefer music with avoidant lyrics,” says Alaei. “I expected to see a clear relationship between anxious attached people and anxious songs because they are the most emotional, but surprisingly this was the tenuous result.”

This strong avoidance bond is reflected not only on an individual level, but also on a societal level. In a second study, researchers coded over 800 Billboard number one hits from 1946 to 2015 for their attachment themes and found that lyrics became more avoidant and less safe over time.

“Popular music lyrics run parallel to sociological trends of social segregation – people value independence more than relying on others and feel more isolated,” says Alaei.

When we listen to music that reflects our relationships back to ourselves, does it help or hinder our relationship skills? Alaei says this is the next step in the research.

Take, for example, Adele’s discography, which Alaei says sets the tone for anxiously related issues and was popular with attendees. “Someone Like You” appeared on many playlists with the chorus: “I hate showing up uninvited out of the blue / But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it / I was hoping that you would see my face and that you would remember it.” will be reminded / that it is not over for me.”

If someone is an anxious connected person, will listening to “Someone Like You” over and over do more harm than good? According to Alaei, it all starts with self-awareness of one’s attachment style.

“As an anxious person, you should realize that you are prone to a negative feedback loop and your emotions will snowball up,” says Alaei. “Music can greatly exacerbate this because it can stimulate deep emotions and memories, and ultimately increase your worries.”

Adele fans may have very different relationship experiences than those who listen to The Weeknd’s “Heartless.” With lyrics like “Tryna be a better man but I’m heartless / Never be a wedding plan for the heartless / Low life for life ’cause I’m heartless,” Alaei says it’s an excellent example of an avoidant song.

His advice: “Listen to the song a few times to help you process what you’re going through and express your thoughts and feelings. You can decide whether listening to songs that reflect your experiences will either help you or reinforce behaviors that are destructive to yourself. At some point it may be more productive to listen to music that makes you feel safe.”

A popular flashback among attendees was Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”: “Then put your little hand in mine / There ain’t a hill or a mountain that we can’t climb.”

“It’s pretty much a guide to how to be securely fastened,” says Alaei.

What do your favorite songs about relationships reveal about your attachment style? Here are some of the tunes the research participants chose for their playlists:

Avoidance Songs:Beyoncé, IrreplaceableChris Brown, Say GoodbyeN’Sync, Bye Bye ByeMichael Jackson, Billie JeanTLC, ScrubsRihanna, Take a BowThe Weeknd, The Hills; HeartlessAnxious Songs: Adele, Someone Like YouThe Police, Every Breath You Take, Miley Cyrus, Wrecking BallAdele, HelloU2, OneSeether, BrokenNo Doubt, Don’t SpeakBruno Mars, When I Was Your ManDrake, Hotline BlingSecure Songs: Sonny & Cher, I Got You BabeWhitney Houston, I Will Always Love You, The Beatles, Love Me Do, Ed Sheeran, Thinking Out Loud ) I Do It for YouEtta James, At LastJustin Bieber, HolyAnxious-Avoidant (mixed) songs:Carrie Underwood, Before He CheatsGotye, Somebody that I Used to KnowTaylor Swift, Bad BloodSam Smith, I’m Not the Only OneNe Yo, So SickBonnie Raitt, I Can’t Make You Love MeAdele, Rolling in the DeepRihanna ft. Drake, WorkEminem ft. Rihanna, Love the Way you love

Reference: “The lyrics of individuals’ favorite songs reflect their attachment style” by Ravin Alaei, Nicholas O. Rule and Geoff MacDonald, September 30, 2022, Personal Relationships.
DOI: 10.1111/pere.12448

The study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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