Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love

by Amir Levine, Rachel S.F. Heller

Attached guides readers in determining what attachment style they and their mate (or potential mates) follow. It also offers readers a wealth of advice on how to navigate their relationships more wisely, given their attachment style and that of their partner. An insightful look at the science behind love, Attached offers readers a road map for building stronger, more fulfilling connections.

Summary Notes

Decoding Relationship Behavior

“The need to be near someone special is so important that the brain has a biological mechanism specifically responsible for creating and regulating our connection with our attachment figures (parents, children, and romantic partners). “

Have you ever wondered how and why people stay in unfulfilling relationships? Or how other relationships are so easy-going and completely normal? Some believe this is sheer luck, while others have found the formula to building a strong foundation for a loving relationship. That is understanding the Attachment theory.

Attachment theory designates three main “attachment styles”: 

  1. Secure: people who feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving,
  2. Anxious: people who crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back, 
  3. Avoidant: people who equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness. 

All people in our society belong to one of these categories or, more rarely, into a combination of the latter two. Whether they have just started dating or they have been married for 40 years, it is never too late to understand your attachment style. 

But how do these attachment styles develop in the first place? We used to believe that adult attachment styles are a product of each individual’s upbringing: if your parents were sensitive, available, and responsive, you should have a secure attachment style; if they were inconsistently responsive, you should develop an anxious attachment style; and if they were distant, rigid, and unresponsive, you should develop an avoidant attachment style. But, this is far from correct. The attachment styles in adulthood are strongly influenced by a variety of factors such as the way we were taken care of, our genes, and life experiences.

Understanding your attachment style is beneficial to growing deep, meaningful relationships. Once you understand why you behave a certain way in romantic situations, you’ll learn what your needs are and what you should do in order to be happy in a relationship.

Actions to take

Dependency Is Not a Bad Word

“If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, first find the right person to depend on and travel down it with them.”

For the past few decades, there has been an erroneous belief that all people should be emotionally self-sufficient. Parents were advised to take a step back when it comes to emotional availability towards their children and the common belief was that a proper distance should be maintained between parents and their children, and that physical affection should be doled out sparingly. 

Nowadays, we are taught that we cannot be loved unless we love ourselves first. We are being bombarded with quotes, books, and movies, teaching us that being dependent on someone else is toxic for us. But these ideas are far from the truth.

Several studies on both children and adults show that a lack of dependency on either a caregiver or partner can negatively affect our health, personal growth, and even our career. 

Therefore, we need to understand the term “Dependency Paradox.” This suggests that choosing someone special unleashes l, powerful and often uncontrollable forces. New patterns of behavior kick in regardless of how independent we are and there is no question about whether dependency exists or not. It always does. When we are involved in a secure relationship, the world is at our feet. We can take risks, be creative, pursue our dreams and even better our health. 

Actions to take

Step Two: Cracking the Code—What Is My Partner’s Style?

“Understanding attachment will change the way you perceive new people you meet, but it will also give you surprising insight into your partner if you are already in a relationship.”

Trying to decipher your partner’s attachment style might be tricky, as the person you know best is yourself. Luckily, most people give away almost all the information you need to determine their attachment style through their actions. There are a set of traits and actions for each attachment style. 

We can already tell some traits of someone who has an anxious attachment style: they fear closeness and intimacy (even if they actually need it) and are in desperate need of space and independence. Thus, if your partner has an Avoidant Attachment Style, he/she will:

  1. Send mixed signals. 
  2. Value his/her independence.
  3. Devalues you. 
  4. Use physical or emotional distancing.
  5. Emphasize boundaries in your relationship.
  6. Try to get away during fights or “explode”.
  7. Has difficulty talking about the status of your relationship.

If your partner has an Anxious Attachment style, you already know they crave intimacy and have a hard time expressing their needs and distress effectively. If your partner has an Anxious Attachment Style, he/she will:

  1. Want closeness in your relationship.
  2. Express insecurities.
  3. Worry about rejection. 
  4. Act out instead of trying to resolve the problem between you.
  5. Play games to keep you interested.
  6. Has difficulty explaining what’s bothering them.
  7. Be preoccupied with the relationship.
  8. Fear you might leave him/her.

When it comes to a person who has Secure Attachment Style, you probably know that he/she wants to be close to their partner, communicates easily, and allows you to be your most authentic self. If your partner has Secure Attachment Style, he/she will:

  1. Be reliable and consistent.
  2. Make decisions with you.
  3. Communicate relationship issues well.
  4. Can reach a compromise during arguments. 
  5. Not afraid of commitment or dependency.
  6. Naturally expresses feelings for you.
  7. Not play games.

Actions to take

Living with a Sixth Sense for Danger: The Anxious Attachment Style

“True love, in the evolutionary sense, means peace of mind. ”

We need to understand that each attachment style is a mechanism created in our brain that is responsible for tracking and monitoring the safety and availability of our attachment figures. If you are an Anxious partner, you can probably sense threats or even subtle changes in your partner’s behavior. Once this mechanism activates, it will be impossible for you to calm down until your partner reassures you that everything is fine. 

The first step of improving your behavioral habits as an Anxious partner is to detect which actions are triggered by this attachment style. Anxious people tend to jump to conclusions very quickly and misinterpret people’s emotions. When you catch yourself doing this, simply wait longer before reacting. 

Anxious partners develop harmful thoughts because they have an ultimate purpose: to reestablish intimacy and closeness with their partner. These thoughts are called “Activating Strategies”. These strategies are any thoughts or feelings that compel you to get close to your partner–physically or emotionally. Only after he/she responds to you in a way that reassures you, then you can go back to your calm, normal self.

What do these “Activating Strategies” sound like? Well, if you put your mate on a pedestal, underestimating your talents and abilities and overestimating his or hers, then you also probably have difficulty focusing on your daily tasks while constantly thinking about your significant other. 

After these strategies, there comes “The Protest Behavior,” which is defined as any action taken to reestablish contact with your partner. Both of these can cause you to act in ways that harm your relationship, such as manipulating your partner, trying to make them jealous, and even threatening to end the relationship. 

The key to a healthy relationship for an Anxious person is to nurture a relationship with a Secure partner. This is the only person who can satisfy all of your needs, making you feel safe, loved, and protected at all times. But, trying to find a Secure partner may not be as easy as it seems. Why? Because the Avoidant individuals actually prefer dating Anxiously attached people, as their attachment styles actually complement each other in a way. 

Start perceiving people you date based on their ability to meet your needs. Instead of thinking about how you can change yourself to please your partner, ask yourself,  “Can this person provide what I need in order to be happy?” 

Actions to take

Keeping Love at Arm’s Length: The Avoidant Attachment Style

“Even though it’s important for each of us to be able to stand on our own two feet, if we overrate self-reliance, we diminish the importance of getting support from other people, thus cutting ourselves off from an important lifeline.”

Independence. Autonomy. Self-reliance. These are the primordial values of an Avoidant partner. From the outside, we can view people with an avoidant attachment style as lonesome travelers on the journey of life. But are these their true desires?

If you are a lonesome traveler, the meaning behind your behavior that manages to keep someone you love at a distance may surprise you. You tend to connect with romantic partners while still maintaining some mental distance and a way out if things get too serious.

How do you detect the techniques of an Avoidant partner? These are what we call “deactivating strategies” - any action, thought, or behavior used to squelch intimacy. When in a romantic relationship, these mechanisms reduce your ability to get close, share intimate information, and connect with your partner. Many avoidants confuse self-reliance with independence.

As an avoidant attached person, the trickiest tools you might be using to turn off your attachment style are: convincing yourself that you long for someone from your past (the phantom ex) or fantasizing about “the perfect partner.”

In reality, people with avoidant attachment styles always assume that their inability to nurture healthy relationships has nothing to do with themselves and a lot to do with external circumstances (meeting the wrong people or not finding “the one”). If you want to change your attachment style,  acknowledge first that you need to look inward and seek counseling. 

Actions to take

Getting Comfortably Close: The Secure Attachment Style

“Individuals with a secure attachment style report higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships than people with other attachment styles.”

The portrait of the secure partner is very simple. They are reliable, trustworthy, consistent, and open to intimacy in romantic relationships. They are in tune with their partner’s emotions and know how to soothe them and take care of them. Their attachment system doesn’t activate in the face of threat (as with the anxious) but doesn’t get shut down either (as with the avoidant). 

Thus, not only do secure people fare better in romantic relationships, but they also create a buffering effect, somehow raising their insecure partner’s relationship satisfaction and functioning to their own high level. This means that if your partner is secure, they nurture you into a more secure stance.

But how does a secure person's inner system work? As a secure partner, you are programmed to expect your partner to be loving and responsive to your needs. You never worry about losing your partner’s love. You are comfortable with intimacy and have the ability to communicate clearly your needs. You don’t feel the need to act defensively or injure or punish your partner. You believe your partners’ intentions are pure and are therefore likely to forgive them if they do something hurtful. You are able to empathically address your emotions to your partner.

The equation for a secure attachment style is a cumulation of our early connection with our parents, our genes, and our romantic experiences as adults. But, change can happen in both directions - you can become less secure, just as insecure people can become more secure with time. 

If you are insecure, this piece of information is vital and could be your ticket to happiness in relationships. If you are secure, you should be aware of this and understand you have a lot to lose by becoming less secure.

Actions to take

Escaping the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: How the Anxious-Avoidant Couple Can Find Greater Security

“Remember that attachment styles are stable and plastic—becoming more secure is an ongoing process.”

If you are involved in an anxious-avoidant relationship and want to develop a secure base with your partner, some work needs to be done. The first step toward improving your partnership is to handle your instincts more securely. 

How can I adopt a secure perspective? Find a secure role model by mentally reviewing the various people in your life, past and present. It can be a parent, sibling, or friend. Identify their actions: what they say, how they act in different situations, what they choose to ignore or not, how they behave when their partner is feeling down, and their outlook on life and relationships.

Create a relationship inventory. Let’s say you find yourself being frustrated by your partner not reaching out often during their work hours. Take a minute to search for the meaning behind your feelings. 

For our relationship to improve, we have to be willing to change. We believe that when people are in this kind of relationship, especially when they are unable to move to greater intimacy, these discrepancies will always be a part of their lives and will never completely disappear. The compromise is in no way mutual; it is actually one-sided. Instead of engaging in endless, nonsense conflicts that result in nothing but frustration and disappointment, you have to decide to change your expectations and reduce conflict to tolerable proportions.

Actions to take

When Abnormal Becomes the Norm: An Attachment Guide to Breaking Up

“A common view is that only masochistic, “pathetic” people would tolerate such bad treatment, and that if they are willing to put up with it instead of leaving, well, maybe they deserve it!”

All of us create human interaction throughout our existence, building relationships and satisfying our needs. We cannot wander through life by ourselves. 

Now that we identified our attachment styles and our partner’s, we have the tools to grow and nurture a healthy relationship. But what happens when we are aware of being in the wrong place? What do we do when we invest time and energy in a relationship that  is slowly hitting a dead end?

When our mind is not in sync with our heart, giving us signals that something is wrong, we need to find the will to pull the brakes. 

The first things you need to consider are your feelings. If you are involved in a relationship with an avoidant partner, whether you are anxious or secure, you might recognize the following behaviors which trigger your attachment style: 

  1. You feel ashamed to let friends and family know how your partner really treats you.
  2. In case of an emergency, you feel uncertain whether your partner would drop everything in order to be there for you.
  3. It is more important for your partner to make a good impression on strangers or friends than you.
  4. You’re surprised when you see friends being treated considerately by their partners.
  5. You are the person most likely to be insulted or put down by your partner.

Chances are that if you’re getting the cold treatment, your partner is much considerate to others and usually “pleads the fifth”—choosing not to talk to you—you’ve become their enemy. Your only crime has been to become too close to someone who can’t tolerate it.

Admitting there is a problem in a relationship is the most difficult yet crucial thing to do. You might experience the rebound effect, thinking that all relationships have rough patches and reminiscing about the few good times. Severing an attachment bond might be even more excruciating than staying in an unhappy partnership. 

Actions to take

Effective Communication: Getting the Message Across

“In order to be happy in a relationship, we need to find a way to communicate our attachment needs clearly without resorting to attacks or defensiveness.”

Effective communication works to achieve two main goals. First of all, it will bring you to the right partner for you. Effective communication can save you months of frustration in a new relationship in a matter of minutes. Your potential partner’s response will be a dealbreaker or a green flag. Secondly, you can ensure whether your needs are being met in this relationship. 

Not only do you set the tone for the dynamics in your relationship, but you also provide a role model for your partner, so that both of you can be honest and in touch with each other’s needs.

If you’re anxious, you should apply effective communication because it will bring you a huge relief by showing you just how strongly your partner feels about you when you desperately need it and this will strengthen the bond between you two.

If you’re avoidant, you should also apply effective communication because it will bring you much-needed space without making your partner feel any less important and without harming your relationship. Explain to your partner that your needs have nothing to do with your feelings towards them. 

Actions to take

Working Things Out: Five Secure Principles for Dealing with Conflict

“Attachment theory shows us that these assumptions are unsubstantiated; all couples—even secure ones—have their fair share of fights.”

The first goal of having a healthy relationship is learning how to handle any sort of conflict. All relationships experience disagreements once in a while. It’s important for us and our partners to understand how we need to conduct any kind of conversation, even the uncomfortable ones. One last word of advice: It’s always more effective to assume the best in conflict situations. 

Actions to take

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