- Every relationship seems to start the same way: you have instant chemistry, you love the attention he gives you, and although he's never had a long-lasting relationship, your gut says this one's a keeper.
- But before long, you feel needy and uncertain. He says he loves you but dodges dates, shows affection, seems emotionally detached, and somehow avoids meeting your friends. What's wrong with him - or you?
- Absolutely nothing, says Dr Amir Levine, an American psychiatrist.
There are three different attachment styles - secure, anxious, and avoidant- with unique needs and characteristics. And not surprisingly, each has an ideal partner.
"Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving," says Dr Amir Levine, an American psychiatrist and co-author with Rachel Heller of Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find - and Keep - Love.
"Anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner's ability to love them back; avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimise closeness," says Dr Amir Levine.
Overall, he says, research into attachment theory has determined that while 50 percent of us are secure, 20 per cent are anxious, and three to five per cent are a combination of anxious and avoidant, you're most likely to meet the 25 per cent who are avoidant because they're most likely to be single or divorced.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, says Levine. Although we tend to repeat past mistakes - for example, anxious types often attach to avoidants in an endless attempt to prove themselves worthy of love - we have an actual evolutionary need to connect.
Starting in the womb and dating back to prehistory, when having strong family groups meant you were more likely to survive, emotional attachment has evolved beyond the mere pitter patter of an aching heart.
"It's hugely rewarding to be close to a partner, but if they're absent, there's an acute sense of discomfort which comes from the reward centres in the brain, like the hypothalamus," says Dr Levine. People in monogamous relationships have more oxytocin (sex hormone) receptors than those in non-monogamous relationships, he says.
"So when you're not with the other person, it feels like a withdrawal from oxytocin. You're so linked your partner can control your heart rate and blood pressure with proximity."
It sounds co-dependent, yet when two partners are well-matched in their attachment styles, such 'effective dependency' is highly advantageous.
"There's a couple I work with, they're an amazing power couple. They call each other 20 times a day, but they're both very successful," says Dr Levine. If you want a successful relationship, you need to find someone really good to depend on.
In other words, "it's the idea that I'm on your side and we're allies," says Sue Johnson, an internationally renowned Canadian therapist and pioneer of attachment theory. "It includes having the tendency to turn to instead of away from your partner."
QUIZ -What's your attachment style?
Circle only those answers which are true for you, then tally them up and work out which style best describes you. Once done, apply each statement to your partner.
A) I often worry that my partner will stop loving me.
B) It's easy to show affection to my loved one.
C) I bounce back quickly after a break-up.
A) When I'm not in a relationship, I feel anxious.
B) I am generally satisfied with my romantic relationships.
C) I struggle to support my partner when it's needed emotionally.
A) I think about my relationship a lot.
B) I can let my partner know my needs, no problem.
C) My independence is more important than relationships.
A) I romantically attach quickly.
B) I'm comfortable sharing my personal thoughts with my partner.
C) I prefer not to share my innermost thoughts.
A) During a fight, I say impulsive things I regret later rather than reasoning things out.
B) Arguments don't usually cause me to question our relationship.
C) Sometimes, I'm annoyed with my partner without knowing why.
A) l worry I'm not attractive enough.
B) I feel comfortable expressing a dissenting opinion.
C) I hate feeling that others depend on me.
A) During a break-up, I show them what they're missing (a little jealousy never hurts).
B) During a break-up, l feel hurt, but I know I'll be fine.
C) When I get what I want in a relationship, I tend to lose interest.
Mostly As: Anxious
You love intimacy and being close and are sensitive to your partner's moods. Even so, you have a lot of negative feelings like jealousy, sadness, uncertainty and depression because you never really get the reassurance you crave. As a result, you are easily upset, and you say things you later regret. If you feel your partner is not attentive, you will use 'protest behaviour,’ like threatening to break up, giving the silent treatment, or being unapproachable.
PERFECT PARTNER: SECURE - Since you need reassurance, the secure type is ideal. Consistent and reliable, they know how to reassure you, and they always put your well-being first. They feel comfortable sharing their feelings and are very stable.
Mostly Bs: Secure
You're a natural at warm, loving relationships, and don't worry too much about them. You take things in your stride, communicate your needs and share your feelings. You are good at reading what your partner wants, too; you know how to lend emotional support.
PERFECT PARTNER: ANY TYPE - Fortunately for you, you put everyone at ease, even the edgy, anxious types. You are willing to see both sides, you expect others to be as understanding and responsive as you are. You bring out the best in others.
Mostly Cs: Avoidant
Independence is critical to you. Even though you want to be close to others, too much of a good thing means you keep partners at arm's length, and they complain you're emotionally distant. You are also intolerant of controlling behaviour. You often feel misunderstood, unappreciated, frustrated, and pressured; as a result, you just get up and leave rather than fight, may belittle your partner, withdraw mentally or stop listening.
PERFECT PARTNER: SECURE - You believe you'll find the perfect partner, but you ensure you don't by being emotionally distant. A secure partner won't threaten your precious independence.
Most anxious types go straight for the bad-boy avoidant despite the obvious benefits of finding a secure type. Why? Because if you've been with avoidant types before, you know the pattern and equate it with love. "You conclude this (secure type) can't be the one' because no bells are going off," says Dr Levine.
Here are the signs:
> THE ROLLERCOASTER RIDE: Every now and then, when your avoidant partner becomes emotionally available, you click and reconnect. You feel great - he feels threatened and withdraws.
I'M GREAT, YOU'RE NOT: Avoidants only feel independent in comparison to others, so a needy, incapable anxious partner makes them feel strong.
> INSTABILITY: Maybe you've been married for 20 years, but there's always a niggling, dissatisfying sense that you're not completely in tune.
WHY ARE WE FIGHTING? Do you fight about his friends, hobbies, or work schedule? In truth, it's really about your lack of intimacy.
LOVE & UNDERSTANDING
Breaking out of the trap isn't easy - but it is possible with hard work. According to Johnson, unhappy people often miss the spirit of goodwill. "People think relationships are hard, but they're not that hard if you have the right spirit."
If your partner is avoidant, you need to understand that your continual arguments have a hidden subtext - that they are genuinely unresolvable. This can change your perception of your role dramatically, says Dr Levine.
You will understand that your partner needs to withdraw and stop blaming yourself. An avoidant type can ease the tension by understanding his anxious partner isn't trying to be irritating by reaching out with calls and texts. He can reassure her by sending a quick thinking of you.'
Text a few times a day. Like the secure type, avoidant and anxious partners should view themselves as responsible for their partner's wellbeing. During conflicts, don't generalise or hide behind sweeping statements.
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