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Author Topic: Understanding Our Attachment Styles in Romantic Relationships  (Read 1463 times)
livednlearned
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« on: June 25, 2015, 03:04:29 PM »

Understanding Our Attachment Styles in Romantic Relationships
Adapted from the book:
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment
by Amir Levine, MD and Rachel Heller, Phd.

 
People vary greatly in their need for intimacy and closeness, and these differences can create clashes. Attachment theory offers us a way to look at romantic relationships.
 
It seems that an entire mosaic of factors comes together to create our attachment patterns: our early connection with our parents, our genes, and also something else -- our romantic experiences as adults. On average, about 70 to 75 percent of adults remain consistently in the same attachment category at different points in their lives, while the remaining 25 to 30 percent of the population report a change in their attachment style.
 
Researchers attribute this change to romantic relationships in adulthood that are so powerful that they actually revise our most basic beliefs and attitudes toward connectedness. And yes, that change can happen in both directions -- secure people can become less secure and people who were originally insecure can become increasingly secure. If you are insecure, this piece of information is vital and could be your ticket to happiness in finding relationships.
 
John Bowlby claimed that attachment is an integral part of human behavior throughout the entire lifespan. He understood that our need for someone to share our lives with is part of our genetic makeup and has nothing to do with how much we love ourselves or how fulfilled we feel on our own. He discovered that once we choose someone special, powerful and often uncontrollable forces come into play. New patterns of behavior kick in regardless of how independent we are and despite our conscious wills. Once we choose a partner, there is no question about whether dependency exists or not. It always does. An elegant coexistence that does not include uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability and fear of loss sounds good but is not our biology. What proved through evolution to have a strong survival advantage is a human couple becoming one physiological unit, which means that if she’s reacting, then I’m reacting, or if he’s upset, that also makes me unsettled. He or she is a part of me, and I will do anything to save him or her; having such a vested interest in the well-being of another person translates into a very important survival advantage for both parties.
 
Three types of attachment styles are discussed here:
 
  • Anxious: Wants a lot of closeness in the relationship. Expresses insecurities -- worries about rejection. Unhappy when not in a relationship. Plays games to keep your attention/interest. Has difficulty explaining what's bothering him/her -- expects you to guess. Acts out. Has a hard time not making things about him/herself in the relationship. Lets you set the tone of the relationship. Is preoccupied with the relationship. Fears that small acts will ruin the relationship; believes he or she must work hard to keep your interest. Suspicious that you may be unfaithful.
  • Avoidant: Sends mixed signals. Values his/her independence greatly. Devalues you (or previous partners). Uses distancing strategies, emotional or physical. Emphasizes boundaries in the relationship. Has an unrealistically romantic view of how a relationship should be. Mistrustful -- fears being taken advantage of by partner. Has rigid view of relationships and uncompromising rules. During a disagreement, needs to get away or "explodes." Doesn't make his/her intentions clear. Has difficult talking about what's going on between you.
  • Secure: Reliable and consistent. Makes decisions with you. Flexible view of relationships. Communicates relationship issues well. Can reach compromise during arguments. Not afraid of commitment or dependency. Doesn't view relationship as hard work. Closeness creates further closeness. Introduces friends and family early on. Naturally expresses feeling for you. Doesn't play games.

Attachment styles are not pathological.
 
Attachment styles are stable but plastic.
 
Attachment principles teach us that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs.
 
Despite variations in the way people with different attachment styles learn to deal with these powerful forces--the secure and anxious types embrace them and the avoidants tend to suppress them--all three attachment styles are programmed to connect with a special someone.
 
The emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors automatically triggered in children in attachment situations appear similarly in adults. The difference is that adults are capable of a higher level of abstraction, so our need for the other person’s continuous physical presence can at times be temporarily replaced by the knowledge that they are available to us psychologically and emotionally.
 
Mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in marriage, even for people who love each other greatly. If you are in such a relationship, don’t feel guilty for feeling incomplete or unsatisfied. After all, your most basic needs often go unmet, and love alone isn’t enough to make the relationship work.
 
It takes two willing individuals to create intimacy. People have very different capacities or intimacy. When one person’s need for closeness is met with another person’s need for independence and distance, a lot of unhappiness ensues.
 
We alone are responsible for our emotional needs; they are not our partner’s responsibility. When we’re in love and want to continue a relationship, we tend to ignore the contradictory messages we’re getting. Instead of recognizing that someone who blatantly disregards our emotions is not going to be a good partner, we accept this attitude. We must constantly remind ourselves: In a true partnership, both partners view it as their responsibility to ensure the other’s emotional well-being.
 
When we compromise our self-esteem and happiness by ignoring our most basic needs and try to be someone we’re not, we fail to experience the benefits of a secure bond.
 
When our partner acts as our secure base and emotional anchor, we derive strength and encouragement to go out into the world and make the most of ourselves.
 
Research on attachment repeatedly shows that when your need for intimacy is met and reciprocated by your partner, your satisfaction level will rise.
 
When couples disagree about the degree of closeness and intimacy desired in a relationship, the issue eventually threatens to dominate all of their dialog. This is called the anxious-avoidant trap. The reason people in an anxious-avoidant relationship find it particularly hard to move toward more security is primarily because they are trapped in a cycle of exacerbating each other’s insecurities. People with an anxious attachment style cope with threats to the relationship by trying to get close to their partner. People who are avoidant have the opposite reaction. They cope with threats by taking measures to distance themselves from their partners. The closer the anxious person gets, the more distant the avoidant acts. One partner’s response reinforces the other’s in a vicious cycle, and they both remain within the relationship “danger zone.”
 
People with a secure attachment style know how to communicate their own expectations and respond to their partner’s needs effectively without having to resort to protest behavior.
 
Our brain assigns our partner the task of being our secure base. We are programmed to seek their emotional availability. But what if they aren't emotionally available? If we feel secure with our partner, we can take risks, be creative, and pursue our dreams. If we lack that sense of security, and if we are unsure whether the person closest to us, our romantic partner, truly believes in us and supports us and will be there for us in times of need, we’ll find it much harder to maintain focus and engage in life. There is an emotional price to connecting with someone who has drastically different intimacy needs from your own.
 
Golden Rules for Deciphering Attachment Styles
 
1. Determine whether he/she seeks intimacy and closeness.
 
2. Assess how preoccupied he/she is with the relationship, and how sensitive to rejection.
 
3. Don't rely on one symptom; look for various signs.
 
4. Assess his/her reaction to effective communication.
 
5. Listen and look for what he/she is not saying or doing.
 
Secure Attachment: Effective Communication
 
People with a more secure attachment style are less likely to play games. The important thing about a secure approach is that if a partner treats us disrespectfully, it’s indicative of his or her inability to be responsive in a relationship, and not of his or her own worth. One of the tools most frequently used by people with a secure attachment style is effective communication -- they simply surface their feelings and see how their date reacts. If their partner shows true concern for their well-being and a willingness to find a middle ground, they’ll give the relationship a chance.
 
Be available: Respond sensitively to their distress, allow them to be dependent on you when they feel the need, check in with them from time to time, and provide comfort when things go wrong.
 
Don’t interfere: provide behind the scenes support for their endeavors. Help in a way that leaves them with the initiative and the feeling of power. Allow them to do their own thing without trying to take over the situation, micromanage, or undermine their confidence and abilities.
 
Encourage: provide encouragement and be accepting of their learning and personal growth goals. Boost their self-esteem.
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« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2015, 05:26:50 AM »

Excellent synopsis. Thanks livednlearned. I think I will do well to get a copy of this book Smiling (click to insert in post)
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« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2015, 06:54:09 AM »

When we met I was secure. He appeared secure but quite quickly showed he was a mixture of anxious and avoidant. I am now very insecure. I don't know what he is anymore. :'(
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« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2017, 12:28:12 PM »

I found this quiz that determines what attachment style that you are, I was curious to know what attachment style that I have after learning about them. I've had a lot of abandonment in my life time, starting with my biological mother. I'm starting to understand why I have great difficulty in close relationships. I have an attachment style of fearful avoidant www.web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl
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« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2019, 06:44:53 AM »

So...I sit up and notice when I'm presented with a concept that I've really never thought through before. In one of my other threads
https://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=335627.0  Snowglobe raised the issue of attachment styles.

Excerpt
1. Secure - mentally healthy individuals relate to the world in a radical acceptance trusting way, allowing people to both be near them (intimacy) and far away, all the while knowing they are loved and worthy of love (high self esteem and exploration)
2. Anxious attachment- when indivial goes out of their way to avoid conflict, exhibit clingy behaviour, settle of unsatisfactory relationships, have a negative view of self (low self esteem) and positive view of others (unworthy of being loved)
3. Avoidant attachment- when caregivers of the child aren’t available or responsive, the child maintains positive view of self, but untrusting to the outside world. These people are intimidated by intimacy, avoid it at most cost without conscious processing. Most people with BPD fall between anxious attachment (they are the aggressive ones, when they are presented with hypothetical rejection, or loss they strike out, they also want to discuss things in a circular arguments. Avoidant types just avoid/silent treat the other party.

Then empath brought up another style.

Excerpt
There is a fourth attachment style: insecure - disorganized which combines both the anxious and avoidant styles. This group is significantly smaller than the other three.

I did a little bit of googling. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_in_adults  So..I'm certainly not putting forth that article as the end all be all, more as a starting point for discussion. While I find this interesting I'm still trying to boil it down to what does it mean for me in my r/s with my pwBPD and more generally...if it can be figured out accurately...then what does someone do with this information? Some of the diagrams in the articles about how things play out seem really interesting.  I need to think about those for a while...but initially, they would seem useful in showing the point where "a relationship issue" went off the rails and perhaps a place where someone could thoughtfully change a reaction...and perhaps lead to a better outcome.

FF
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« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2019, 06:56:41 AM »

I will explain further, and yes, I completely forgot to include the fourth type. I relate to it in a way that most people forecast the weather. My husband is completely avoidant, he goes out of his way to avoid talking about his feeelibgs, our mutual reality, when cornered with demand, he runs and strikes simultaneously. I’m very anxious, so I overcompensate, chase and try to rationalize the behaviour. The attachment styles aren’t static, as we spend more time with partners, people with dysfunction can change to secure attachment when they are with someone who is securely attached. My husband never had to change his maladaptive way of relating to the world because I came more then half way. I never changed my negative view of myself because my partner never capitalized on my strength. It’s bidirectional. I will also include an article on communication style for you to read on demand withdrawal.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3218801/
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« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2019, 08:08:13 AM »

Snowglobe- same for me. H is avoidant and I was in overdrive to form closeness between us. He could just sit back and enjoy the attention while pushing me away.

Ironically, I became less anxious attachment and more secure attachment as I worked on my own issues and co-dependency.

He's said he misses the attention, but it became frustrating trying to be close to someone who I don't think can be, even though I think he wants to feel closer. He liked it when I was in overdrive trying to do that. Emotionally, it was a lot of work, and it didn't produce results.

When I have expressed my sadness about this, he goes into defense mode reciting a list of the things he has done as proof he is a great husband. Things like stopping at the grocery store when we are out and I asked him to because I needed a few things. Yes, that was nice, but stopping at the store isn't on the level of emotional intimacy between spouses I was thinking of. It doesn't resolve conflict to be given a list of things like that.

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« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2019, 09:09:12 AM »

In the bedroom too - he says " you don't show interest in me" but this is the pattern. If I do show interest and I'm available many times he says no, too tired, whatever.

If I am falling asleep in the bed- have to get up early in the morning for work and so not acting interested- that's when he's interested. If I agree, all is OK. If I don't - then I hear " you don't like me, you aren't interested in me".

I think he feels lonely and isolated, but it's his own avoidance that has been the seemingly impossible barrier to deeper emotional intimacy. I tried for years to work towards that, and the more I tried, the more he pushed me away.

In the early years of our relationship, I thought it was because of his demanding job. The job was a convenient "reason" and any conflicts were ended with a lecture from him on how hard he works to support us. It was like the carrot on the stick- once he advanced in his job, it would get better. Well, I know now that it wasn't the job.

We get along fine together as long as things are not deeply intimate. We can share watching TV shows, interest in the kids. He's a good dad to them- and that also is a different relationship from a marital one. He still keeps an emotional distance. I deal with the "feeling" side of things with them. But there is more good to the marriage than to split up. But this has been a personally sad thing for me to not be able to be closer. He feels it too, but doesn't see it as him, but me not showing how much I "like" him enough. I would have to throw myself at him while he pushes me away for him to feel like I like him. I've actually become more avoidant with him as I don't have the hope I did that it would be possible anymore.
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« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2019, 09:28:33 AM »


Notwendy

I assume you've given him examples of things you would like for him to do.  Flowers, notes..whatever.  Am I right?

I've always felt it odd that men pwBPD can't do those things.

Are there other things you were wanting him to do..that he wouldn't?

FF
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« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2019, 09:42:08 AM »

Honestly, FF, what I want isn't an aspect of his own thinking. It's more about closeness than flowers. I want him to be able to understand this, but he doesn't get it.

We have been married a while and it's cumulative. I felt emotionally burnt out trying to work overtime to get intimacy ( not just physical) but he can't go there. If I say " I wish we could talk more and do things together- really enjoy something together", he goes into lawyer mode to prove the point. " I went with you to the grocery store- that's something we did together".  Over time, we seem to be even more distant as we don't have shared feelings that I think other couples do over  time.

Compared to my parents, this is so much better, so much more stable than screaming raging BPD mom and my father snapping at each other, but then, conflict avoidance also comes with intimacy avoidance. We would have nothing to justify something like ending the marriage, but I don't know how to make the marriage closer with someone who just isn't able to and is still a good person. It only hurts his feelings if I bring it up.

Usually at that point, I start to cry, out of sheer frustration. Yes, thank  you for going to the store with me but really- I have to believe that this is amazing intimacy? Then he says " see this is why I can't talk to you".

He will do things with me but it feels he is going through the motions as if it is his duty. What he'd really prefer are his solitary hobbies that he doesn't share with me, they are not social hobbies. He likes to stay in his workshop and tinker with things. I'm fine with that- I think it is important for people to have their hobbies and interests, but we have zero shared things we like to do because there aren't any. He isn't really interested in things I like to do but will go and it feels unnatural. I'm social and he's not, so going out socially was me talking to someone while he's on the other side of the room talking to someone else.

Sometimes if I try to talk to him and he avoids it, and I push, he'll look at his watch and say " we do talk- we've been talking for 30 minutes " ( about nothing cause it doesn't get anywhere. )

It seems to work better between us if I just don't go there. Stick to taking about current events, or the weather, or a TV show and all is fine with him.
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« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2019, 10:42:35 AM »


What is an example of something you want to do with him?  Does he outright say no or just avoid giving an answer?

FF
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« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2019, 11:08:12 AM »

NotWendy,
I feel like you and I share the same husband. Joking aside, you have described my uBPDh to a T. I get rejected for 9/10 sexual advances, but once I’m tired or preoccupied the interest in me spikes up. I also noted, that after especially intimate moment or conversation the night before he splits. It’s more of a rule now then an exception. Once he feels close and intimate, something of a faulty avoidant mechanism pops up and he has to pick a fight so he can detach and disengage. I remember long nights, when my kids were young, that I would run after him, try to placate him, rub his feet and get him to come back. I don’t do it anymore. He feels like our relationships are decaying and I don’t love him the same way, that I don’t try hard anymore. I, on the other hand can see the pattern and try as much as I can to avoid it. The times he wants to be with me most, are when I’m rushing off to do something that doesn’t include him. Thanks to my therapist I can see the pattern better. I don’t feel happier, knowing that in my old age I’m likely to be alone. Being ill also frightens me, as avoidant personalities don’t deal with other people’s dependency and limitations too well. Only time will show I guess...
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« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2019, 11:23:54 AM »

Curious... shouldn't we talk about our attachment styles first?  Then the pairing of styles in our relationship?

My observation is that a lot of the struggles members have are related to our own insecure attachment styles. I know that just being aware of this for myself has helped me in my relationship. I don't trust my first "fight/flight" instinct in the relationship because I know my attachment style. This has helped me find more peace in the relationship  without my partner doing anything.

When I extended my thinking to how her style and my style interact, I adapted to a style that makes her more comfortable and confident.
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« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2019, 12:14:16 PM »

Curious... shouldn't we talk about our attachment styles first?  Then the pairing of styles in our relationship?

My observation is that a lot of the struggles members have are related to our own insecure attachment styles. I know that just being aware of this for myself has helped me in my relationship. I don't trust my first "fight/flight" instinct in the relationship because I know my attachment style. This has helped me find more peace in the relationship  without my partner doing anything.

When I extended my thinking to how her style and my style interact, I adapted to a style that makes her more comfortable and confident.
It’s a very good observation Skip,
For me, being extremely anxious and avoiding conflict, constantly trying to minimize the distance, bring us closer have brought more withdrawl behaviour from my unpeg. I’m more mindful of that, and realize that not every conflict is worth trying to overcompensate over. I own my part, but also recognize that uBPDh needs to work on that too
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« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2019, 01:40:10 PM »

Curious... shouldn't we talk about our attachment styles first?  Then the pairing of styles in our relationship?

Something I'm going to chat with my P about tomorrow.

It's not that I've never heard of this, but I certainly haven't considered it in a while...and I really don't have anything worked out in my head about how I apply this information/knowledge.

FF
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« Reply #15 on: April 03, 2019, 05:41:26 PM »

Skip- I think your post is spot on. A lot of our issues were due to behaviors on my part. Since working on the insecure attachment style, my H is more comfortable around me. I think it has improved things a lot.

I think of boundaries and my overdrive to be close to him was actually a boundary violation to him. I had to work on mine. I also accept that his are different than mine. He needs more space between us than I do. I have had to adjust to that. This doesn't mean I don't wish we could be closer, it means I need to accept that this is the way he is and that he's actually doing the best he can. We both brought issues into the marriage from our family. Me with a BPD mom with poor boundaries. In his family, people don't express feelings but act them out a different way.

FF- there isn't one specific thing I want him to do. He used to say no to my requests but now he agrees. What I can't tell is if he wants to, or he's doing it because he feels bad about not being with me. He says he's conscientious about spending too much time in his workshop and makes an effort to be with me. I can appreciate that, but honestly, I'd rather he did it because he wants to spend time with me rather than he knows he'd look like a jerk if he didn't. It seems he is externally motivated - but I'd prefer he was internally motivated- spends time with me because he'd rather do that than something else. We have different social needs- his is much less than mine. I have to get this need met with friends and with my kids.

It's  a quality to the communication. A friend might express feelings about something- maybe disappointment or happiness about something going on at work. My H might tell me what is going on, but rarely expresses how he feels about it. It might be in terms of " this person wasn't fair " 'or this happened" but not " I felt unhappy or happy about this". I think there's a disconnect from his own feelings and that makes it hard to connect on my part. I hope this makes sense. This is a style or personality style and so not changeable as I see it.


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« Reply #16 on: April 03, 2019, 06:34:35 PM »

I tend to be securely attached. I can remember one of my counselors asking me why I was able to respond rather than anxiously react. I said I could remember back to my childhood when my parents were responsive to my needs and cared for me.

My h, on the other hand, would most likely have a "disorganized" attachment style. (one of his counselors has suggested an attachment disorder...) He swings between anxious and avoidant - and not just with me.

The idea behind attachment theory is that in order to feel secure in the world, one needs a secure "base" where they are cared for and valued. We tend to recreate what we learn in our early years throughout our lives, but people can move toward other attachment styles.
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