I recently read the book Attached by Amir Levine. They use scientific findings to help us better navigate our romantic relationships and learn more about ourselves in the process. But wait, Love and science – those two words don’t seem like they should go together. It seems like love is meant to be mysterious. Right? But it turns out that there’s concrete science behind how we attach to others and how we behave when looking for love or when we’re in a relationship. No matter who you are, I bet you want to be in a relationship. Amir says, “The need to be in a close relationship is embedded in our genes.” During our evolution, if we were part of a relationship and had someone to rely on, we had a higher chance of survival. But even though we have this basic need to form close bonds with others, the way we create them is different from person to person, and how you choose to attach might be very different from your partner. It turns out that picking the right partner in style can make a world of difference in our relationships and overall happiness in life. And mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in a marriage, even for people who love each other greatly. Just look at Hollywood, a marriage is a success there if it outlasts milk. Some say, the secret to a happy marriage still remains a secret, but I think understanding attachment theory can at least help us choose better partners and set ourselves up for a successful marriage.
There are three key attachment styles, and a fourth which is a combination. And these are:
Secure: If you are this one, being warm and loving in a relationship comes naturally to you. You don’t get extra anxious in your relationships and you’re pretty easy-going when it comes to dealing with relationship matters. It’s relatively easy for you to communicate your feelings and to listen and respond to your partner.
Anxious: If you are this one, relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy. You like to be very close to your partner, but you frequently feel anxious that your partner doesn’t share that same desire for closeness to the extent that you need. You tend to be sensitive and can get easily upset with your partner.
Avoidant: If you are this one, it is very important for you to maintain your independence and self-sufficiency and you often prefer autonomy to intimate relationships. Basically, if you find that someone is getting too close or threatening your space, it can become a problem for you. And by the way, this style contrasts directly with the “anxious” style.
If you want to change something in your life, the first step is always awareness. This book helps us to better understand what’s driving our behavior in a relationship, as well as better understand why our partners act the way they do. But how can we use the knowledge of the attachment style?
THE ANXIOUS STYLE: Finding and Navigating Your Relationships
Let’s say you fit into the “anxious style”, what are some ways that you can more successfully navigate your relationships? When you are looking for relationships, make sure to look for partners who have a “secure style.” Amir says that what’s usually common is that those who are anxious in relationships often end up with partners who are “avoidant” as it actually reinforces their patterns and tendency to repeat the same dramas. Because the more the anxious partner tends to cling, the more the avoidant pulls away. This can be a recipe for relationship disaster! Instead, if you have an anxious style and look for someone who has a secure style, they can make you feel more reassured as they will demonstrate a higher comfort level with closeness and intimacy. Their communication style will also be more reassuring for you.
THE AVOIDANT STYLE: Learn from Your Deactivating Strategies
If you have an avoidant style, you probably do something that Amir describes it as “Keeping love at arm’s length.” You might go from relationship to relationship and avoid commitment. It’s not that you don’t connect with a romantic partner but you always maintain some mental distance and an escape route. A few examples include “Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy—to maintain your feeling of independence” or “Forming relationships with an impossible future.” Do you have a habit of dating someone who really is not available? This could be a clue that you are “avoidant” in your attachment style. You better start becoming more aware of these self-sabotaging behaviors that you engage in to avoid moving forward in a relationship. If you do idealize self-sufficiency, are you telling yourself that you can’t be self-sufficient and independent when you’re in a relationship? Perhaps you just need to be with someone who is perfectly fine with allowing a lot of freedom into the relationship. Rather than being with someone who needs to spend every minute with you, look for someone who has a full, active life already and who won’t be miserable if you choose to spend some time on your own or with your friends.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS: Relationship Fallacies
When it comes to relationships, there are a lot of misconceptions that are not true. For example, they say “Everyone has the same capacity for intimacy.” So basically, everyone should desire the same level of closeness as we do. Right? Nope! not everyone has the same capacity for intimacy, and not everyone has the same goals in a relationship. So, you’ll want to look carefully at your own assumptions, and perhaps make some adjustments as needed, particularly when it comes to the amount of intimacy or space that’s needed.
The next misconception that we usually hear, especially in Hollywood movies, is that ”Marriage is the be-all and end-all.” Marriage certainly can make you happier and add great joy to your life. Yet sometimes people think that marriage is going to change everything when we know that people with very different relationship styles may still have some real ups and downs. Married people still can have moments or even long stretches of loneliness or unhappiness. Just like anything of value in life, marriage takes work. Being married won't magically solve everything or result in the perfect love life every day. This is natural.
But if you use the knowledge of the attachment theory to learn your own attachment style and look for partners whose attachment style matches yours, then you not only can better identify your behavior patterns, but you are also setting yourself up for a happy and satisfying relationship. On the other hand, if you ignore it, for example, if you are anxious and choose an avoidant, you are setting yourself up for a relationship disaster.
So make sure to identify your attachment style and use that knowledge to help you better understand yourself and navigate through your dating. Hopefully, this will be another tool for you to create a happy and lasting relationship. Because we all know that life is so much better when you are in a happy relationship. So, I wish that for you. Good luck.