Intimacy isn’t a luxury: it’s a necessity. Numerous new studies appearing in the scientific and popular psychology literature are showing us that as humans, we are hard-wired for dependency on others. We can handle this fact about our relationships skillfully or poorly—your choice.
In Attached:The New Science of Adult Attachment (and How it can Help you Find and Keep Love) by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, we can learn how neuroscience now proves that “dependency is a fact; not a choice or a preference,” (page 26). Once we become attached to someone, our partners affect our breathing, heart rates, and hormones. If we feel the attachment is threatened, our bodies go into “fight or flight”. No wonder our fights with our partners can feel like the end of the world! And remember how that simple gesture of holding someone’s hand can make the tension melt away? That’s your brain responding to attachment being restored.
But here’s one challenge: we have different styles of attachment, which we learned as small children. If we were responded to with reliable, consistent empathy, we have a chance of becoming securely attached, with good skills in communication, flexibility, and no fear of being close. If, as is true for many of us, our parents, through hardship or personality were inconsistent, we may become avoidantly attached. This looks like the person who sends mixed signals, values independence, distances a lot, has a hard time talking about feelings- sound familiar? Or, if you were parented well part of the time and left alone the rest of the time, you can become anxiously attached—wanting lots of closeness, worried about rejection, difficulty being alone—constantly seeking reassurance.
Who are you in relationship? Here’s the good news—if you have a secure attachment style, or your partner does—you will both be calmer and more resilient as a couple. Here’s the challenge- if one or both of you are avoidant or anxious, you may be constantly setting each other off physiologically, sending messages of danger through the most innocent behaviors- being late, forgetting a date, or being too preoccupied with the relationship!
At 360, we are skilled in helping you identify your style of attachment, and your partners. Once we have that information, we can help you strategize about what you need as a partner, and what your partner needs. Those partners that are avoidant need to be encouraged to express their feelings, turn towards the other instead of away, and to invest more in the relationship. Partners that are anxious have to learn how to self-regulate more, managing their own fears and asking for reasonable amounts of reassurance. Both partners are re-programming their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to more appropriately respond to relationship cues. The result: more empathy, and less conflict! And the best news of all: we can all learn how to become securely attached through our adult relationships.
If you want to learn more about your attachment style, you can take the test in Dr. Amir’s book (pp. 40-43). If you want to learn more about how to manage your attachment style with your partner’s, consider couples therapy.
Reference: ATTACHED (2011), Levine and Heller, Tarcher/Penguin.