Much of our current understanding of what goes wrong in adult relationships is grounded in the research on attachment. For several decades now, psychologists, therapists and educators have understood the bond between children and their primary attachment figures ― usually their mothers. You can read more about this here. Recently, therapists and researchers have realized that attachment does not end in childhood. In fact, being secure in our relationships is, or at least feels like, a matter of survival. There is a growing understanding of the role of attachment in marriage and romantic relationships.
After decades of research, we understand that there are basically three attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Each of these will drive our emotional life and the way we show up in our relationships. We are usually unaware of these patterns, but learning about them can help us to better understand ourselves and our partners.
People who have attentive parents tend to have developed a secure attachment system. By and large, they grow up expecting to love and be loved, to have their needs met, and to be comfortable asking for those needs to be met.
People who had unpredictable moms tend to develop an anxious attachment system. They often grow up to carry this attachment anxiety into their adult relationships. They feel insecure in love. These people are never quite certain that they can trust that their partner really loves them, and that he or she is really going to be there for them.
People who had aloof and unresponsive parents tend to be aloof themselves. They seem to shut down their drive for closeness and connection; tend to grow up to be avoidant in love; feel suffocated by a partner who seeks emotional connection; and continually engage in distancing behaviors, keeping themselves familiarly aloof.
Attachment in adulthood
We humans have a strong drive to form close emotional bonds. Forget the myth of the cowboy, happily living alone on a grand adventure. Without human connection, we do not thrive. For modern Americans, in our frenetic-paced, time-strapped, isolated culture, the best place to have those needs met is in our romantic relationships.
Research shows that people who have happy marriages are far better off than those in difficult marriages are. Single people are better off than people in difficult marriages are, but not as well off as those in happy marriages. Happily married people enjoy many benefits beyond the economic advantage that often accompany a two-earner family. They are happier, and they even have physiological advantages. They get sick less often, recover faster, and may even experience less pain.
Attachment in marriage and romantic relationships
When we have been hurt, it is easy to rest in our anger instead of our vulnerability. We tend to see our partner as a jerk. Then we unconsciously build up walls to “protect” ourselves from him or her in an attempt to prevent further hurt. It is important to understand that the “hurt” that causes the breach does not even have to be a big, dramatic hurt. Little unanswered attempts to connect can lead to the same problem as big breaches of trust. Luckily, when we understand the role of attachment in marriage and romantic relationships, we are able to take a step toward cultivating a connected, loving partnership. When we have that, we are also able to reap all the many rewards that come with it.
Are attachment issues at play in your relationship issues? Contact me.