Tag Archives: attachment

FOR COUPLES: The Secret of Love and Parenting

loving familyKids can be challenging. But so can our adult love relationships. But are they the same relationship? In many ways they are, and what we learn from one kind of relationship, we can apply to the other. The common link is emotional intimacy and the big tug-o-war in every intimate relationship is the struggle between independence and union. While many people have heard of co-dependence, that pop psyche term that means no one can remember whose problem is whose, not many fully understand the feeling of a healthy inter-dependence.

Independence and union are the yin-yang of human connections. Being in union with another fills us up with feelings of security, confidence, and heals our loneliness. And sometimes being together can also feel more like suffocation and imprisonment. Independence can help us feel powerful, free, and proudly self-sufficient. But independence can also bring feelings of isolation, fear, and, with no cheer leader, insecurity.

Every intimate relationship is a live action game, it’s partners on the same team with (hopefully) a common goal. Like basketball, sometimes one partner runs with the ball and scores, and other times is happy to assist or play defense. You steer the parent/child team when you make a firm rule. Your child steers the team when his/her unadulterated insight blurted out at a family dinner, awes and amazes you, and you change your behavior based on it. In an adult relationship, you may choose to lead by instituting firm boundaries between work life, couple-hood, and family life. He leads when you all move to a new city for his job and know that the long-run win will be family harmony.

The biggest difference between parenting and adult love is the direction separation runs. When you meet a stranger and fall in love, your journey together is one where you continue to grow closer and closer to create deep intimacy. A mother/child relationship runs the opposite course. You begin, literally as one body. And your journey is a long, slow separation from womb to dorm room. Both kinds of relationships share this: on their journey together each partner’s needs for closeness and autonomy will wax and wane as emotional needs ride the waves of daily life stresses.

Some people might think that another huge difference is that kids can’t leave. They are wholly dependent on their parents. But I beg to differ. Although kids may be financially dependent on their parents, they can emotionally leave the relationship. They can check out if their well-timed calls for some  autonomy are not heeded. They can check out if they are given too much independence, and feel unprotected by their parents. Lovers can do the same thing. They may leave physically or emotionally.

So, how can we honor the struggle between our desires to be an individual and our desires to be a partner? The answer is always to talk about it. To have empathy for another’s autonomy and not “take it personally.” To voice our own needs for autonomy or closeness in a non-threatening way. The road to intimacy is a prickly path. We will often make mistakes in judgement, or act from a place of fear. But the other wonderful thing about all relationships is that they are alive and growing and there is always room for repair. And in that very process of repair, where we may use empathy and humor, we will feel in union again, that is, until the next time we feel smothered.

For more watch my youtube video on: Why IN-dependence is OUT

FOR PARENTS: Hug Your Kids For Their Longterm Health

black-girl-hugging-father If you didn’t have affectionate, loving parents, I’m sure you are aware of the consequences in your longterm relationships. But now research out of UCLA has made a link between abuse, neglect, lack of love and physical health.

The study, available online at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that adults who have had toxic childhood stress have physical arousal systems that are not only hyper-sensitive to threats, but simply don’t turn off easily. In other words, negative early life experiences amp up a regulatory system and high levels of stress are linked sickness. For the study, more than 700 adults completed a survey about their early family life called “The Risky Families Questionnaire” and then were given a battery of physical tests that included measuring blood pressure, cholesterol levels, waist circumference, heart rate, blood sugar, etc. And, surprise, surprise, those who had unloving, non-affectionate parents — those with attachment injuries — tended to have much higher risk factors for serious disease.

Of course, linking two factors together, in theis case, bad parents and bad health, doesn’t always mean causality, but it would certainly be fair to infer that those with unloving parents may grow up to self medicate their emotional injuries with unhealthy lifestyle choices — like over eating, alcohol, smoking, or drugs.

The big take away, besides reminding good parents to keep up the good work, is for governments to not underestimate the importance of parenting. Both parenting classes and early childhood programs as part of the national healthcare debate. Breaking the cycle of abuse by giving support to parents who could use some tools, can ultimately reduce longterm national healthcare costs.

FOR SINGLES: Does Your iPhone Cause You Attachment Anxiety?

article-2363956-1AD2F66D000005DC-651_634x424Lynn stared at her iPhone. It had been exactly nineteen hours and eight minutes since her date’s last text. She scrolled back to check her math and his pattern. His text bursts were at least twice a day, sometimes three. Never a gap more than seven hours, unless he was sleeping. And he always pinged after each date to make sure she’d gotten in safely. But last night he broke his rhythm. No text. No text this morning either. It was nearly lunchtime already. She reran the date in her head. It was a third date so things were getting playful. Had she teased him too much? Did she say something that hurt him? Was he running away?

Intent on getting back into communication, she remembered a silly bet they’d made during the evening. She’d bet that his morning golf game would be rained out. He had taken an optimistic stance against the local TV’s botoxed, perma-tanned meteorologist, and bet the skies would be clear over the first green. That was it! Lynn jerked around to peer out her office window. A spectacular September sun washed across blue skies. Perfect. The bet was for one cupcake. After a quick call to a delivery company to sail a cupcake and cute note to his office she relaxed, knowing his call or text would come within the hour. He’d have to at least thank her, right? The dude has basic manners.

At six pm, her stomach felt absolutely sick. No word. She called the cupcake courier and confirmed that the little temptation had landed on his desk at 1:30 pm. Back to her iPhone and more calculations. Four and a half hours, three minutes, forty five seconds. Oh god, had she been a fool? Was she so offensive as a date that he defiled Emily Post? Now she had totally embarrassed herself by sending the cupcake.she felt her chest tighten and her breathing quicken. Her fingers fumbled on her phone. She pointedly tapped one sand colored gel nail on the top power button and had half a mind to shut down and go off radio, just to show him up. But she couldn’t bring herself to miss his next text. Then with a giant sigh, she composed a careful text to inquire if he had received her little gift. It was her olive branch really because, clearly, they were on the outs if hadn’t connected with her in 24 hours. Her stomach churned and she could feel hot tears trying to escape from behind her eyeballs. But she was determined to appear calm and get him to communicate….

I wish I could tell you what happened to Lynn’s date. But as a doctor of psychology who specializes in human attachment, I’m far more interested in Lynn’s reaction to this brief lapse in communication with a stranger she’d met only three times. Why such a degree of anxiety? Why the self blame? Why the urge to turn the chase around and begin pursuing him? Why the inability to contain herself or remind herself how lovable she is? In this tiny rupture, a talented business woman with an MBA had morphed into an infant with critical needs. This is what psychologists call an attachment injury. Or, more specifically, an opening of an old wound.

In the next few months, you’re going to hear me talk a lot about attachment style. I’m going to explain how our attachment behaviors can bring us security or emotional and even physical pain. But most important, you’re going to learn how attachment styles can be changed. How your mind can be trained for healthy love. Keep reading my blog to learn more.

FOR COUPLES: Four Behaviors that Make a Relationship Stick

shutterstock_8935201Wondering if your relationship is normal? Do you question weather your tiffs, pouts, missed communication beats, followed by mad crazy make-up sex are a sign you are in a secure attachment or a psychotic union? The truth is that there are many ways to bond and feel fulfilled in a relationship. But the unions that really provide food for our soul, have what researchers call, a secure attachment style. Here are four super vitamins that define a secure relationship that is armed for the long haul.

1. Seeking Closeness. I’m not talking about the closeness that comes with emotional intimacy. I’m talking about physical proximity. People with a secure attachment style don’t feel smothered by too much time together. In fact, they feel calm and fortified knowing their love is nearby and do everything they can to make it happen often.

2. Acting Needy. For people who can securely attach, that closeness becomes paramount during times of stress. Those who have an ability to reach out to their closest companion for help when things are bad can use their relationship to steady themselves. Those who don’t risk being vulnerable and needy sometimes may have the belief that people can’t be trusted to respond well. Or they may think that their tender spots are unlovable.

3. Taking Risks Together. Attachment experts call it exploration with a secure base. If you and your partner discover new experiences together, take emotional risks, and explore life with the feeling that you are braver as a twosome, then you are probably securely attached. On the other hand, if most of your risks and growth involve you acting as a free agent, this could be a sign you don’t trust relationships.

4. Stressing Over Separations. Let’s face it. Even the most bonded couples have to endure separations of a week or more. But if breaks from each other bring more feelings of relief than distress, you may not be in a secure bond. It’s a good sign to miss your partner a lot.

Did you notice that I didn’t say anything about money, sex, division of household labor, communication any of the other things couples fight about? That’s because the frequency of conflict doesn’t correlate with strength of attachment. Plenty of couples argue for sport or argue because the rupture makes the repair process so blissful. But if a relationship is missing the important supportive qualities of secure attachment, those other bones of contention could be an ominous outcome.

Finally, if one partner is exhibiting attachment behaviors that aren’t being reciprocated, yet is still staying addicted to the relationship, that’s a clear sign of an insecure bond. In a healthy relationship, people who can securely attach move away from those who don’t trust love. As my mother once told me, never love something that can’t love you back.