Attachment is the buzz word used in therapy right now. There is no question that #attachment would be the mostly commonly used hashtag among couples therapists today. And for good reason. The research is compelling and it helps explain why we do the things we do in relationships. When you understand attachment, you wouldn’t believe how things start to make sense in your relationships.
I think of attachment as how we connect to others. Some of us do it amazingly and some of us have our challenges. For those of us that have our challenges, relationships can be less satisfying—which is why you should care about attachment.
Learning how you connect with others can help you figure out if your strategies are effective. And if they are not, good news, you can learn a different way. If your marriage is struggling, this may be a huge red flag that your attachment strategies aren’t top notch. Not to worry, you aren’t alone, the stats show that only about half of us use effective strategies that create secure relationships—the rest of us don’t. We have to learn them.
As a mom, this really hit home for me. In fact, I remind myself of this multiple times a day with my kids. I basically score a C-minus in the quality of healthy dinners I prepare that my kids will actually eat. Often, I allow too much TV and I can be a major slacker with consistent discipline. I yell at them when I’m frustrated and can give in on their demands for candy while checking out at the grocery store. But as an attachment therapist, I don’t obsess about those things. I know I can totally botch it at times—like forgetting to make Valentine’s treats for my daughter’s class party and instead scrounging up leftover cards from last year. And yes, I did cringe slightly when I saw the homemade masterpieces she brought home.
However, what matters most was the moment when my kindergartner came home from school in tears because she lost her sight words and was terrified that Mrs. Johnson was going to give her a red dojo (modern day teacher’s genius way to reward and discipline kids sent straight to an app on my phone). In that moment, responding to her with understanding, empathy and validation was way more important than serving up a Pinterest meal with kale-infused spaghetti. Being a safe place for her to feel, express and work through some tough emotions is what turns her into a well-adjusted adult who has meaningful and quality relationships.
Attachment means the same thing in marriage. At times, we can distract with our iPhones playing Candy Crush after dinner, ignore our spouse for the 3rd day in a row during busy season at work, forget to unload the dishwasher (again) and our marriage can still thrive. If…we connect when it matters most. Like the moment our spouse comes home from a brutal day at work filled with exhaustion, anxiety and distress and we are attentive, empathetic and responsive. Or, if in the moment we are riddled in worry about the prognosis of our ailing parent, we take these worries and fears to our spouse, ask for and get support and comfort. It is these pivotal moments that set the tone. Our relationship is either a safe place to feel, share and get support, or it’s not. When it is, we create a secure attachment. Relationships with secure attachments withstand the stressors of life.
So here’s the deal. Many of us come into adulthood with the skills to create secure attachments. Marriage is always hard work, but it is not as hard for those with these skills. Typically, we learn these skills in childhood, how our parents taught us to connect with others (don’t mom and dad always get the blame?). But experts have even found a genetic component, meaning you may have already been wired a certain way. Either way, some of us do not have the necessary skills to create secure attachments which means our relationships can struggle. However, you can become aware and understand your faulty strategies and learn effective ones.
What To Do:
If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to read Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find–And Keep–Love by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.. It is an easy read and a great way to learn your attachment style (there are self-tests and such) and understand your effective and ineffective ways of connecting to your partner.
If you aren’t an avid reader and like to do life a bit more like me, preferring the cliff note version in blog posts or tweets, hang tight. I will do another post this month explaining these different styles and help you figure out which one you are (hint…you are either secure, anxious or avoidant).
- Attachment is how we connect with others.
- People with secure attachment styles have more satisfying relationships.
- Half of us naturally have these skills and half of us don’t.
- If you don’t…don’t fret. These skills can be learned.