Do ya’ll remember the movie The Notebook? Think Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling (that should jog your memory). I rewatched the ending recently (spoiler ahead…although if you haven’t watched it by now I feel pretty confident you won’t mind the spoiler). I’m not ashamed to admit I saw this movie upwards of 15 times in my 20s. But, as I rewatched the last romantic scene I was surprised. Rachel McAdams’ character had aged and developed Alzheimer’s, and Ryan Gosling’s older version of his character vowed, as her husband, to be there for her until her dying breath, even if she had no idea who he was. I remember watching this in my 20s for the first time thinking, “this type of love is just Hollywood.” I had subscribed to the idea that we are supposed to be self-sufficient, reliant individuals that don’t need anyone. I viewed romantic relationships as a really nice accessory, maybe even an expensive Fendi handbag, but not a human need.
I was wrong. Relationship experts have found that humans need connection with other humans as much as we need food and water. Romantic love, it turns out, in order to thrive, last, and be satisfying to both partners, needs to respect this innate need in all of us. I recently wrote about attachment and why it matters so much in relationships. It now comes as no surprise to me when I see the overwhelming distress of clients in my office. When their romantic relationship is suffering or feels uncertain, it can truly feel like life or death. It’s how we are wired.
I promised a follow-up to my last post about attachment (read it here if you need a reminder) to help you identify your attachment style. Doing so can help you make sense of your ways of connecting to your partner, and their ways of connecting to you. This isn’t about which of the five love languages are yours (however, I do love that book and will post about it in the future), this is your general way of being in your relationship. Once you have identified your ways, it can help you make sense of any turmoil or disconnect that is happening in your relationship. It can help you make sense of things…which in turn can help you turn it around.
What’s your type?
There are three most common attachment styles. I’m going to make it short and sweet and very non-clinical. For a more thorough and complete explanation, read Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (it’s good).
Secure Attachment – You are warm, loving, and can easily communicate your feelings and needs. In layman’s terms, you know what you feel, and can tell your spouse in ways that makes it easy for them to support you. You are also aware of how your spouse feels and can be emotionally supportive to them too. You aren’t worried that they don’t love you or aren’t going to be there for you. You basically trust that they do and are. You also don’t clam up in a ball or do everything in your power to shut down the feelings of your spouse because feelings terrify you. You don’t view the emotional needs of your spouse as them being needy. You expect them to lean on you. Why wouldn’t they? You are glad to be there for them.
Anxious Attachment – Relationships consume your energy. You think a lot about the state of the relationship and how your partner feels and acts. You worry. Do they love you? Are they going to be there for you? If they don’t send a text back quickly, you notice. If they are cold and short in the morning when they leave, you notice. If you are at dinner and they are checking their phone or seem distracted, you notice. And then you worry: Are they mad? Are they seeing someone else? Do they not like you anymore? You experience a lot of negative emotions in relationships, you second guess yourself often and can tend to be suspicious of your partner’s loyalty. You often feel like your partner is not meeting your emotional needs and that can make you very upset—you may voice this concern loudly and often in a marriage.
Avoidant Attachment – You highly value independence and being self-sufficient in your relationships (these folks do well in long-distance relationships). Feelings are not your forte and can make you uncomfortable. Your spouse may often complain that you are distant and emotionally shut down. You can compartmentalize the problems in your marriage and do not obsess about them. You may have thoughts like “my spouse is so needy/crazy/emotional” and can judge your spouse for wanting emotional support. You may even view your self-sufficiency as a badge of honor. You are not overly concerned with your partner’s feelings toward you or their loyalty. You rarely (if ever) communicate vulnerable feelings to your partner and do whatever it takes to shut down their emotions when you see it. Emotions are unhelpful in your opinion and can even be viewed as a sign of weakness. When there is conflict, you either withdraw, shut down or explode. You do not view your relationship as a place of comfort. Rather, when you are having a hard time, you are more likely to pull away from your partner and find comfort in things like work, alcohol, sleep, TV or the internet.
What to do?
Identify your style. Why? It can help you view the problems in your relationship in a way that doesn’t pit you and your partner against each other. If you can recognize your different styles, you can more clearly see the root of your disconnection.
Have hope. If you are not operating in a secure relationship, it’s okay! With a little work, your attachment style can evolve and change for the better. It’s way easier to change your attachment styles in your relationship than to change your partner or your partner’s personality.
Recognize how your style impacts your relationship. If you are stuck in a cycle of trying to get your partner to be emotionally available to you, but your efforts only seem to push them away or you are doing your best to be there for your partner but it never seems to be enough for them—take heart! This is a common, predictable and FIXABLE cycle between two people that may be battling different attachment styles. Sometimes it does require therapy, insight and work to replace this cycle with a connecting, satisfying one.
- You need connection like you need food and water.
- You may have attachment styles that are conflicting and keeping you both feeling disconnected and dissatisfied.
- There is hope! Learn your style and help it influence your view of your relationship and yourself (in a less blaming, non-judging way).
- It you need a bit of help with evolving your attachment style into a more secure style, great! You would join millions of others who need the extra hand too!