Hello everybody, welcome to episode 28 of Optimal Living Advice. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Today we have a question sent in that’s all about attachment in relationships. It’s often tough to know just how close is close enough, and whether you're in a healthy relationship, and this viewer put it beautifully, so let’s hear what she has to say…
QUESTION: “How do I know if I’m in a healthy relationship? I feel like one thing that has kept me from finding the right person is not being sure about if we have a healthy attachment to one another. I have a very hard time gauging what amount of space, communication, intimacy, is healthy or harmful. How do these types of things go in a healthy relationship?”
All righty. Good question to ask with Valentine’s Day nearing! This is great stuff to take inventory of and It sure can be confusing not only to gauge what’s healthy in terms of these types of things, but especially when keeping in mind that everyone expresses themselves and their affection differently. With that in mind, there’s been a lot of research done on this and one psych model in particular I think is worth referencing here is called attachment theory.
So in attachment theory, the idea is basically that there are three different types of attachment, and believe it or not, there is actually a “right answer” or a form of attachment that we all ideally want to strive for in our relationships to people, places, things, and other…nouns.
What is Anxious Attachment?
The first type of attachment is called anxious attachment. We’ve definitely all experienced this in relationships – especially at a younger age but it frequently follows people into adulthood so listen up. A person with anxious attachment is typically overly clingy, needs a lot of attention, easily gets jealous; essentially they display a lot of traits that don’t reflect confidence.
The running theme is anxiety about not having the object of their affection around at all times and not trusting in their own independence or the independence of the object of their affection. There’s constant fear of losing the object of their affection because there’s a lack of confidence that they’ll survive if that object is not with them. So they offer a suffocating amount of affection as a means of keeping tabs on the object of their affection. Typically this leads to bad things.
For my fellow Chris Farley fans out there, think of what Tommy Boy did to his “pretty little pet” when he was at the diner with Richard. Lots of destruction, lots of embarrassment. Anxious attachment habits are dangerous to the other party because they can easily be mistaken for being full of love and devotion. But over-reliance and insecurity can easily be mistaken for love and devotion, too.
What is Avoidant Attachment?
Next, you have the total opposite of anxious attachment, which is avoidant attachment. Avoidant attachment is behavior that is almost in the fear of becoming too close so as to avoid getting hurt or losing independence. Avoidant attachment types are prone to needing extra space, are rarely affectionate, and can easily feel trapped if their partner tries to connect too much.
You’ll often find this in people who have interest in their partner, but simultaneously worry that those feelings put them at risk to lose their own freedom. So think of people who constantly feel smothered in their relationships and jump from relationship to relationship, never fully being vulnerable with any one partner.
Avoidant attachment habits are dangerous to the other party because they can easily be mistaken for independence and strength. But fear of getting hurt and fear of being vulnerable can easily be mistaken for independence and strength, too.
What is Avoidant Attachment?
Finally, you have the sweet spot, which is called secure attachment. Though anxious and avoidants can feel secure in how they relay their feelings, the difference with those who are securely attached is that they have confidence in whatever degree of space their partner needs.
That’s not to say that secures are indifferent or careless to how their partners behave (that would be closer to avoidant), but the self-worth of the secure is not unhealthily attached. They understand their partners needs, and can be ok if their partner takes a while to text them back, goes for coffee with an ex, or whatever. There is an ability to see connection, trust and the needs of the partner as opposed to being blinded by one’s own insecurities, if that makes sense.
Communication and Curiosity
In theory, we want our relationships to have this secure attachment. As we know, though, people express themselves differently, and the best bet to get both people on the same, securely attached, triple stapled page in a relationship is to be communicative about those means of expression.
Asking an anxious why they don’t trust you rather than exploding at them every time you’re falsely accused is how both parties start to understand one another. Asking an avoidant why they won’t tell you about their childhood rather than crying about why they never open up to you is how both parties start to understand one another.
Communication and curiosity that is free of ego can bridge the gap between anxious and secure and between avoidant and secure, as both parties are able to calmly explore their patterns, the effects of their patterns on the relationships, and how those patterns can be changed for the sake of the relationship if necessary.
Effort towards this type of communication is what reflects a healthy relationship – maybe even more so than the behavior in the relationship in question.
Healthy Relationship: Conclusion
Amidst this communication, however, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that secure attachment can be very difficult to find and is not always a simple way of living for people, as much as they might want it to be.
Anxious and avoidant attachment, like anything else, is born of certain experiences that can be too complicated for our partners to just shut off. It’s also never too late for anxious and avoidant attachment to start, as any new strong experience can still happen.
For example, you can’t really cheat on your partner and then be upset with them for becoming more avoidant or anxious. If you’re dating a late teen or someone in their early twenties, you also can’t expect them to be totally free of anxious attachment, either, as they probably haven’t come to fully understand their identities yet. So being aware of the natural ebbs and flows of life and relationship, and how those ebbs and flows affect attachment is of great importance, too.
Ultimately, experiences past and future alter our levels of attachment. And getting to the root of these experiences and how they affect our own (or our partners) attachment gives us a glimpse into why our attachment is the way it is and how it can become more secure and more healthy.
Another one in the books. This one kinda brought everyone back to psychology class a little bit, but that’s ok, nothing wrong with that. I sure hope it was of use to the viewer and to all of you who have had some curiosity about your own relationship dynamics.
If you still have questions, though, about that or anything else you need help with, you can email them to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Thanks again for tuning in and we sure hope you’ll be in for the next one. Until then, everyone.