Understanding How We Bond With Others In Love
Like the air we breathe, our bonding style permeates our lives in ways we aren’t always consciously aware of. If you’re satisfied with your relationships, you may not feel the need to investigate the psychological underpinnings of your personal attachments.
But if you struggle with repetitive conflicts, feel lonely or guilty, or fantasize a lot about “flying solo,” your attachment style may be undermining your healthy attachment needs. Understanding your attachment style can help you better balance your needs with your partner’s needs.
SEE ALSO: On Dropping Your Armor Of Cynicism
Three relational patterns
Most relational patterns can be understood through the lens of attachment theory, and fit into one of three categories: secure, anxious and avoidant.
You know secure attachment is your style when connections with others feel fluid and relatively worry-free. You’re a good “fit” with most of the people in your life, and particularly with your romantic partner. Communication feels smooth, you manage differences well, and your partner appreciates your thoughtfulness. You rarely get emotionally overwhelmed and you’re happy with the level of intimacy you’re getting.
With anxious attachment, you crave closeness, intimacy, and connection but often worry that your partner doesn’t feel the same way. Their need for space hurts and feels personal. You’re highly attuned to their signals, particularly when they pull away from you. You get upset when your partner doesn’t respond to you in the ways you want, and you return to center most easily when your partner reassures you of their love and commitment.
Although people with an avoidant attachment style can be very passionate in the early stages of a new romance, they clearly prioritize independence. They find another’s “neediness” unsettling or threatening, and fear getting too close. They are wary of being smothered or controlled and keep partners at arms length for fear of disappointing them or of being engulfed by their needs.
Leaning too far in or too far out
Understanding whether we have an anxious or avoidant attachment tendency in our romantic relationships can help us counterbalance the lopsidedness of either tendency through conscious awareness. Over time, being more conscious about the ways we lean in or out too much can bring greater equilibrium to our interactions with our partner. Unchecked, anxious or avoidant tendencies can throw us “off-balance” so that we’re leaning too far in one direction–either too far into the relationship, or too far out of it.
Improving your relational balance
Here are three ways you can begin to improve your Self/Other balancing skills:
1. Question your convictions about “rightness” and “wrongness.” When you notice yourself feeling self-righteous about something, e.g. your partner is late, they forgot to do what you asked; or they’re making a choice you disagree with, stop and try your best to mentally “get off your high horse.” Flip the script on yourself. Imagine you were in a court of law defending your partner’s case. How are they entitled to do what they’re doing? What mitigating circumstances contributed to their lateness, forgetfulness, or decision? And how might you, in fact, be “wrong” when you indict them as wrong? The purpose here isn’t to put yourself down or disparage yourself, it’s simply to challenge the human egotistic tendency to see things solely through the lens of our own needs and wants.
2. Identify your fears as they’re activated and take a moment to go inward. Notice which fear “switches on” with your partner in triggering situations. Are you afraid of losing your partner and being left alone? Of being dominated or controlled? Consider how these fears connect to experiences or events in your past when you did, in fact, lose someone or when you felt controlled. Can you soothe this fear by noticing where the feeling “lives” inside your body, placing your hand, there, and gently reassuring yourself that it’s okay to feel this?
3. Build grounding rituals into your everyday routine. Explore and experiment with rituals that center you. Do them regularly. In the morning, sit on the edge of your bed, do a body scan and set an intention for the day. Identify three things you’re grateful for before going to sleep. Listen to a guided meditation on your favorite meditation app at lunch. Make a list of 10 activities you enjoy doing every Sunday night and then commit to doing three of them that week.
Independence is a myth
In “Attached”, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller point out that dependency is a paradox, and independence is a myth. It’s a paradox because, in order to move out into the world with confidence, we need to know that someone has our back and we are supported by others – whether that’s a friend, a family member, an AA group, or a romantic partner.
Independence is a myth because, as Levine and Heller point out, “Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing and the levels of hormones in our blood…the emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today’s popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective. Dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or a preference.”
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