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The Crown Special: Charles and Diana’s Attachment Styles

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
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Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:

As the weather gets colder for some of us, we’re comfortably slipping into Netflix binge hibernation, and with the new season of The Crown out, we’re here for it. 

Charles and Diana are probably one of the most famous couples in history, and even though we all know the tragic ending 25 years ago, their story still captivates us. As season 5 builds into the most tempestuous, or rather, the most indifferent stage of their relationship, we can use this as the perfect example of attachment styles and how they play out in our behavior. 

While we can’t know for certain what the couple was like behind closed doors, we can look at their history and the scenes that portray a couple in turmoil and spot the signs of what might be happening. So let’s deep dive into attachment styles and what they mean for Charles and Diana in The Crown. 

What are attachment styles?

Attachment theory was first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s. It teaches us that a person's style of attachment to their romantic adult relationships is shaped and developed in early childhood in response to their relationships with their earliest caregivers.

These early experiences of love and care teach us to see ourselves and others in a certain way. For example, if we had a close bond with our parent or caregiver, we tend to grow up seeing ourselves as loveable, and we build positive expectations of other people. If we had distant, or inconsistent care, we might grow up feeling unlovable and unwilling to rely on others for fear of getting hurt or disappointed again. 

This is how we learn what love is, and if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Or at least, you’re less likely to be it. But the good news is, there are many things you can do to change the way you view love, and build a healthier attachment style with your partner. 

Your attachment style isn’t set in stone forever, and whether you grew up in a palace or not, you may not fall perfectly into one category. 

What attachment style am I?

Are you and your partner a Charles and Diana, two Dianas or maybe an Elizabeth and Philip? Read the descriptions below and see what you relate to the most. 

What are the 4 styles of attachment?

Secure attachment

  • If you’re securely attached, you’ll display low anxiety and low avoidance. You find it easy to trust others and feel worthy of love; you can be close and connected to your partner but you're also OK with alone time, with both having your own space. This is around 50% of the population. 

Anxious attachment 

  • If you are anxiously attached, you’ll have high anxiety around your relationship. You need more reassurance and might be what can be described as “clingy” You're more likely to view yourself negatively, as unlovable or less worthy of love. You fall in love quickly and find it harder to break bonds and let go of relationships when they end. You see the best in others and, usually view them as better than yourself. Roughly 20% of people fall into this category.

Avoidant attachment 

  • As the name suggests, this means you’re highly avoidant. You find it hard to trust people, and see them as unreliable or undependable so usually prefer to rely on yourself rather than others. You prefer your own space and often don’t like to get too close in relationships. Around 25% of people have an avoidant attachment style.

Disorganized attachment (or fearful-avoidant attachment)

  • This style is a combination of the previous two: anxiety and avoidance. This style of attachment often comes from a history of trauma. You have a deep need for people to be close, but at the same time, you are very wary of them, having been burned before by loved ones. This means you might often push people away when they get too close. Only 3-5% of people have a disorganized or fearful-avoidant attachment style.

Can you guess which attachment styles you think the royal couple had?

Having seen The Crown, and from the descriptions above, can you match up their styles? Do you think they had the same style, or maybe different ones? How do you think they match together? Let’s find out below. 

So, what attachment style did Diana have?

From what we can see of the character of Diana in The Crown, she displays the classic signs of anxious attachment. All the way through the series we see her craving love and affection, and unfortunately, not receiving it from her husband or the people around her. She also makes numerous comments about her low self worth and body image.

We can also look at her family of origin story. She talks of absent parents and “a succession of nannies whom I hated”, and memories of her mother regularly crying and not being told what was going on. Growing up in an emotionally unavailable environment with a distant parent can create anxious attachment.

Like many people with the anxious attachment style, she sought after a style that is probably the most difficult fit. The environment she ended up in would have exacerbated her attachment style traits. 

What attachment style did Charles have?

In The Crown, we see Charles’s character interacting with Diana in what looks like an avoidant attachment style. He sees them as being from totally different worlds, with no common interests, he finds it very difficult to see things from her perspective and makes little effort to do so. This is even if there was an attachment at all, there is a difference between avoidant attachment and simply not wanting to be together. We can’t know for sure which this was and whether that changed over the course of their relationship. 

We can look at his family of origin story. Quite unlike the average upbringing, Charles grew up in a unique way. But again, he had comparably distant relationships with close family members, and was sent away to a boarding school which clashed with his more sensitive demeanor. Charles does crave love, but not from Diana. 

In contrast, when we see him with Camilla, his self-described ‘true love’, he is altogether a different person. He wants to see her all the time, is always on the phone to her, he even says he thinks about her constantly. Sounds quite secure right? But when we look at Camilla in The Crown, she is actually unavailable. She’s married and is extremely reserved and diplomatic in her manner. Reaching for someone you know is unavailable to you, whether that be because of marriage, personality or culture, is a trait of the avoidant attachment style.  

“They knew what they were getting into with Diana, they knew she was vulnerable, they knew she had a difficult childhood. They knew she needed love and security, and reassurance, but did they give it to her? No, they gave her the total opposite, so they can’t be surprised when she hasn’t been happy.” – The Crown, S5 E2. 

How did Charles and Diana’s attachment styles interact? 

When you pair anxious attachment with anxious avoidant, you’ll notice a clash of needs. One partner needs a lot of affection and attention and wants to give a lot of it in return, the other needs less and also prefers to give less. You have two people anxiously wanting different things. Their combination is actually very common and has a lot to answer for, for many relationship issues. The good news is, you can do something about it. 

Can your attachment style change?

Of course, The Crown hasn’t caught up to the present day yet, and from what we can see in reality, Charles and Camilla are now happily married. We can hope for them that they have grown into a securely attached relationship. It is completely possible to change your attachment style, you just need t do a little work to get there. 

Advice for Anxious-Avoidant couples

If you think you are an attachment style mismatch with your partner, there is hope. It’s not set in stone, and there is help for you. The key things you need to work on are: identification, recognition, and action. Identification means you identify your style. This can be accomplished through taking an inventory to identify your style, and there are a lot of them available. Recognition means that, once you identify your style, you are able to see how it manifests in your day to day life and relationships. What are the behaviors consistent with that style? How do you exhibit those behaviors? Are there certain circumstances where you are more likely to display those behaviors than others? Lastly, action means you do something different to promote secure attachment and intervene in cases where an insecure attachment style takes hold. This can include learning how to communicate from primary emotions, seeing small opportunities for trust to be built, and practicing small communication exercises to get your needs met.  

Blueheart has courses to help you improve all of these. 

For example, when communicating with an avoidantly-attached partner, being sensitive to their need for autonomy and conveying the message that they are highly valued can mitigate their anger and withdrawal during conflicts (Overall, Simpson, & Struthers, 2013).

How does understanding your attachment styles improve your relationship

The more we know our partners, the better we can understand them. Digging deeper into their thinking and motivations behind their behaviors can help us reduce miscommunication and the conflict that comes with it. 

Understanding our own attachment styles, again, helps us learn about ourselves and the way we love. It can help us realize certain parts of ourselves we may want to work on to strengthen our relationships. 

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