The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind — and Keep — Love
What is attachment?
Do you know that creeping feeling when you know you will be separated from your partner or loved ones for a while? That distress is caused by the feelings of attachment for one another. It is a strong bond that two people share with each other. Some examples of attachment are mother-child relationships or romantic relationships.
Interestingly these bonds come with many benefits. It gives us a secure emotional foundation which helps us remain calm in strenuous situations.
Being able to hold your partner’s hand during times of stress, reassures you that he or she will help you through the trouble and makes those bad situations feel much less frightening.
This was observed in a study that aimed to find out more about the healing effects of attachment. Female participants were put in stressful situations, giving some of them the opportunity to hold their partner’s hand. The participants who hold the hands of their partners had less activity in their hypothalamus, the part of the brain that makes us feel emotional pressure.
Conversely, those who lack these kinds of emotional bonds are at greater peril of unhappiness and health risks. In fact, when we are in an unhappy relationship we also suffer physically. Our blood pressure rises due to discomfort which can lead to medical problems such as heart disease.
The desire for attachment is embedded in our genes
From time to time our partners can drive us crazy, but despite those moments we still love them and feel attached to them. Where does the need for attachment come from?
Evolution has programmed us to build relationships. Since we were in the womb, we yearn for attachment. The desire is embedded in our genes.
This desire comes from our collective past when our ancestors depended on each other to overcome threats and survive. Only those who found dependable partners tended to produce offspring, to whom they then passed on the genes.
Predisposition to attachment can be influenced by experiences.
The way parents treat their children molds their attitude towards relationships in general. For example, children who had parents which maintained a healthy relationship with them are more likely to have secure relationships as adults as well.
Having difficult romantic relationships as an adult can influence your attitude toward later relationships negatively and cause suffering as a result.
People with anxious attachment tend to fret about their relationships
Example: Imagine that you call your partner while she is at work because you miss her. Rather than getting to hear her voice, you get the dial tone as she rejects the call. You get nervous thinking that she might not love you anymore. You fret and become sick of concern. Later she calls you back apologizing because she was in a meeting and couldn’t answer the phone.
If that feels like the way you or your partner behave then one of you has an anxious attachment style. Characterizing the tendency for you to take their behavior personally. You should look for someone that is willing to fulfill your need for constant availability and talk about your many worries.
Avoiding attachment means cravings for independence in a relationship
Imagine you are in a relationship where you feel confined due to the neediness of your partner. If that’s your case then you have probably an avoidant attachment style.
A person whit that tendency tries to maintain their autonomy while in a relationship. They struggle to recognize the (needy) feelings of others and thus are difficult to maintain relationships with.
However this doesn’t mean that avoidants don’t have a need for attachment, they just express it differently.
Avoidants need to think of their partners in a more positive way, looking at the source of conflict within themselves and seeing the problem from the partners perspective.
Secure attachment style
Most of us want that perfect partner who gives us space when we feel confined and cuddles up next to us when we feel lonely. These people exhibit the secure attachment style.
The secure attachment style person feels comfortable with closeness and intimacy. Whereas the other attachment styles struggle with too much or too little dependence, secure people don’t really fret it.
They can read between the lines and understand their partner’s needs without worrying like the anxious person or being indifferent like the avoidant person.
There are hardly any problems in relationships between two secure people. Take this scenario as an example: Imagine sitting on your desk worrying that you still have heaps of work to finish but not having enough time to complete it. As you worry more and more your partner enters the room asking you how you’re doing.
Instead of explaining the problem to him you tell him off for disturbing your work. However, because your partner has a secure attachment style, he won’t be offended by your harsh words, instead, he reads your signals and understands that you’re simply not in a good mood. He easily finds ways to support you, for example, by cheering you on saying “You can do it!”.
Effective communication will make it easier to find the right partner
Example: You’ve been on several dates with your potential partner, but he still hasn’t “made the move.” Many people wonder whether they should just wait for their potential partner to do something or take the initiative.
But rather than worry about appearing too needy, it can be much better to bring up the topic to find out about their understanding of your relationship.
Even if they don’t react the way you’d hoped, at least now everyone’s expectations are on the table.
Effective communication means to ensure worries won’t build up.
Be specific about your problem, but don’t assign blame to your partner. Articulating your problem without blaming, will make sure your partner will understand your perspective without going on the defensive.
Example: Instead of saying “it’s pathetic that you are still talking with your ex-girlfriend” you could say “talking to your ex makes me feel sad and insecure. I need to know that you are happy with our relationship.”
It’s not so important how much you disagree with your partner, but how you do it.
Here are some important things to keep in mind whenever you are dealing with a conflict in your relationship.
Be sure not to generalize.
Restricting the scope of your argument to the topic of the conflict will make sure it won’t escalate and to actually resolve the conflict.
An argument about who should do grocery shopping shouldn’t turn into an argument about who is to do the dishes.
Pay attention to your partner’s well-being.
One good way to make sure everyone is happy is to find good compromises on contentious issues. For example, you are discussing vacations and have two different preferred activities like lying on a beach and exploring big city life. Instead of fighting about places which enable mutually exclusive activities, find a place where you have the possibility of doing both things.
Bringing up conflicts open your partner’s eyes to your experiences and thus can actually help you deepen your attachment bond with them.
Our partners can’t read our minds, as much as we often think that what bothers us is so obvious.
After discussing the issue, you’ll find yourself relieved to have dealt with the topic, and your partner will be glad that he doesn’t need to guess your needs/wishes anymore.
Find a partner who fulfills your needs.
True love is powerful, but if someone with a great need for closeness falls in a relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style, their relationship is likely not to work that well.
The secret to a happy relationship is to find someone who can meet your needs. Effective communication is the way to ensure you will find a partner with does exactly that.
Hope this will help you to find your ideal relationship
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Also published on Medium.