Category Archives: Attachment

Love Like a Super Attacher (Someone with a secure attachment style)

Black Couple SleepingDespite what romantic movies, TV shows, and books tell you, love isn’t something that simply happens. It is a work of art created by you. Really. Finding love is less about meeting the right person and more about acquiring the habits of what I call a super-attacher. People with good relationship skills and healthy attachment behavior, who believe they are lovable, are the ones suddenly finding love, as singles often perceive it.

So how can you begin to learn healthy attachment behaviors and find the relationship you want and deserve? It all starts with understanding what attachment style is and how it affects relationships.

Each of us comes into the world with a biological predisposition to attach to people in a certain way ? some babies require more closeness and care than others. During the crucial first year of life, when our brains triple in size, we start to form a hardwired blue print for love based on how our caregivers respond to our needs. Then, in our adult romantic life, we attempt to replicate that version of love, even if, believe it or not, it was filled with feelings of loss or pain. Trying to replicate that love is what causes millions of singles to seek out help from coupled up friends, speed dating events, dating advice articles, and reviews of dating sites from places like DatingAdvice.com. Once we find our preferred venue for replicating that love, attachment style is the invisible force that prompts us to swipe right on someone we like or say hello to a stranger we find attractive. Attachment style is also the invisible force that determines whether or not we get into roller-coaster relationships with extreme highs and lows or not.

At the top of the mating heap are super-attachers. These people have whats known as a secure attachment style. Secure people tend to have high self-esteem. They are comfortable sharing feelings with friends and lovers. When they are suffering, they seek out social support. They take responsibility for their actions and are known for having a lot of empathy. Best of all, they have trusting, lasting relationships.

If you dont exactly fit the profile of a super-attacher, there are three simple things you can do that should help transform your dating life:

  1. Give Care Without Having Strings Attached

Yes, be an authentic nice guy or nice gal, not one whose kindness comes from fear that someone will bolt or who uses a manipulative tactic to get someone to like them. Instead, be kind, expecting nothing in return except your own sense of high self-esteem. Enjoy the ego boost. Love just for the sake of loving and youll like yourself better.

  1. Receive Care Happily

The next time you are feeling under the weather or under a lot of stress, call in for backup. Reach out to friends and family members. I know this can be very hard for some people, but learning to have interdependent social support is great practice for one-on-one love. Let the people in your life know what you need and allow them to take care of you.

  1. Dont Take Anything Personally

If you often get emotionally hijacked by sudden feelings of abandonment or rejection, I have four words for you:?Its never about you.?There is always another side to every story, and trust me, people are more concerned with their own stuff than yours. So take a deep breath, and use every feeling of rejection as an opportunity to practice self-consoling. Remember, its never personal.

Learning to have healthy attachments is the key to having a long and happy relationship ? and life in general. Because when you love better, you live better. By the way, if you are curious about what kind of attachment style you have, you can?take the quiz here.

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Anatomy of a Broken Heart

heart with plaster on green

(Originally written for Darling Magazine)

The pain of loss. That sinking feeling of blackness. Lethargy. Tears triggered by engagement ring ads, a reminder of a future interrupted. The cell phone, once a source of a smile and a quiver over the ping of a lovers text, now lies lifeless in hand.

All these symptoms plus a body that responds to an invisible invader. Some people, when suffering from a broken heart, actually experience a temporary disruption of heart function, perhaps a reaction to stress hormones that produce abnormal pumping and pain that mimics a heart attack. But the center of heartbreak syndrome is often the stomach?a hornets nest of thoughts and feelings?it churns around chemical messengers that signal sadness and terror. Its no wonder that psychologists call the stomach a second brain. Its as if our lover has cut an emotional umbilical cord and we are sailing away from Mother, vulnerable, unmoored. Nauseous. We are dying a tiny death.

For most of us, heartbreak is a necessary loss.

Carly Simon once sang that theres more room in a broken heart, and she may well have been singing about the strange empathy that comes with vulnerability. Its not that one needs a serious abandonment episode to become a kinder person. Its just that a fall from the high horse of love drunkenness lands us down to earth, and from here we can have a much clearer view of what drew us to that racehorse in the first place. Simply put, if used correctly, a broken heart can help us know ourselves better. A broken heart can empower us. Heartbreak can shine a light on our unique attachment style. Parts biological and parts psychological?each person has a unique manner of bonding. Some cling. Some avoid. Some can give care but not receive it while others prefer to only take.

Heartbreak is an opportunity for a prickly reality check.

In our sea of tears, free from the fantasy of what was, we can look clearly at how we swam into the deep waters of a love relationship with a partner who was no longer swimming beside us. We can use the sadness to prevent future heartbreak.

Did we move too fast? When the words I love you gush out, between breaths under a duvet, they are not to be believed. This is not the declaration of loyal dedication, nor the workhorse of sacrifice that secure attachments require. This is a rush for definition?an anxious attachment style that clings fast to fantasy.

Perhaps we ignored some important signs. Maybe we moved at a sensible pace but wore carefully adjusted blinders to selectively ignore some signals that our paramour was less than en par. If we tend to become attracted to dodgy lovers who feel like they are always slipping through our fingers and then artfully reel them in for moments of bliss, we are addicted to something that is more challenge than comfort.

Maybe we pushed love away. And what of those of us who coiled away from too much closeness? The feeling of loss is as confusing as it is painful after we worked so hard to not let our lovers cut close to the bone, only to discover they have sliced us through the heart with their final disappearance.

We let our love die. Perhaps, a good solid love was planted and grew strong but we forgot to tend our garden. The years dragged on until one partner simply crumbled under the boredom.

Its time to stop repeating the past.

Our unique blueprint for love is shaped early in life. It is our individual schema or model in our mind. As adults, we seek out partners to play the familiar roles we need to feel again?to match a secure mothers love or to create a conflict that we aim to right this time around. Early attachment theorists believed that we all come into the world with an attachment style that can blossom or die, depending on how it is pricked or prodded by our environment. And our most influential environment is our primary caregiver.

Some babies are born simply needing more care, attention and contact. Indeed, some children stay drunk on separation anxiety, weaving against mother or daddys trousers long after others have bounded off in search of frogs or flowers. And how parents react to their needy baby is crucial. Patience and kindness can program even the most anxious to trust love and later seek out gentle lovers. But a too-early push or a failure to console when a bumpy playground fall sends a child running for arms can be a prescription for excruciating longing. For these people, love becomes a journey of rebounding between familiar losses.

But what about those other babies, the ones who are born happily sailing from womb to toddler bed with barely a whimper? All goes well if the rocking arms respect the need to wiggle free. But if Mommy or Daddy have unmet needs of their own?needs to over bundle, stroke intrusively, force a bottle on an already full tummy?then baby might learn that love is smothering and engulfing and must be avoided at all costs. These are the girls who hook up and run from beds, the boys who hide behind the safety of texts. For the avoidant, love demands that one must stand sentry against an invasion and defend or vanish when love gets too close.

Finally, what of the baby of any biological ilk who faces a damaged parent, one with wild emotions (chemically induced or not) who treats a child like a punching bag or a pet or a giant burden to ignore? What of that child? What of that version of love? Sadly, this too becomes a blueprint for attachment issues.

The bad news: We seek out our familiar childhood conflict in adult lovers, some hoping to right a wrong, others playing a painful game of repetition compulsion.

The good news: Attachment injuries can be healed!

As conscious, aware, thinking adults, we can do the emotional work of changing our patterns of love and loss. We can deliberately and thoughtfully date a different kind of lover, one who doesnt give us the familiar thrill of a rocky roller coaster ride. We can find an understanding therapist to walk with us through the uncharted territory of safety, gentleness, care.

But when you are in the depths of despair, when the future looks bleak, it is important to recognize this as a gift. It is an awakening. Heartbreaks are a special opportunity to meet your complicated inner world, to make peace with old paths, and forge a new journey. The most important relationship you will ever have is one with yourself. This may well be the year that you learn to be a tender mother to your own psyche, offering forgiveness, consoling and new awareness.

FOR COUPLES: Three Ways to Turn an Argument Into a Love Fest

temperREX_468x559Let’s face it, conflict is the worst part of committed love. But the road to security is paved with ruptures followed by repairs. It is in the repair process where we see each other’s tender spots, seek forgiveness, remind our partner they are loved, and sometimes even have great make up sex. Ruptures can be the building blocks of deep love. But some arguments are more than ruptures along the road to intimacy. They are fights that can cause major relationship damage and sting for years. Here’s how to avoid world-war-we and have a growth enhancing conflict:

1. Begin every complaint with a compliment. Remind your love why you are in the relationship and plan to stay before you issue a criticism. “Honey, one of the things I love about you is that you always remember all the holidays. It’s fun to celebrate with you. But we need to watch our budget this year.”

2. Be specific about your feelings and how you are hoping your partner can make a small change. “When you do (a behavior) it makes me feel like (ignored, sad, nervous, frustrated etc.) It would help me if you were able to do (new behavior.)”

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3. Never attack, name call or generalize your partner’s bad behaviors. A damaging argument might include words like, “You always do…” or “You’re a cheap jerk” or “Why can’t you be a better?” Limit your complaints to one specific thing and if, during the course of the argument, emotions cause a flood onto other issues, suggest that that the new complaints get tabled for another time.

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Family Secrets & Sirens – Is Your Family Too Closed or Too Open?

kelly-family-slw-7-14-09

When I was a kid, there were two kinds of families in my neighborhood, the fun, welcoming, kind who never knew how many people were going to be at the dinner table, and the private kind who rarely invited friends over and bit their tongues when asked personal questions. I considered my own family to be on the former ilk. Back then, I thought this could only be good. At various times in my development, the motley crew at our 5:30 dinner table might include a pregnant teenager on billet from our church, some cousin’s college aged kid who was doing a semester at our house, and an assortment of peer friends. And there were few secrets in that dinner table conversation. All states of the human condition were ripe material for conversational comedy.

Today, family therapists look at a family’s tendency to be more closed or more open as a way to determine how healthy it is for the children in the nest. While there is a huge range of communication styles within a family and styles of inter-relating with the community, a couple of extremes can indicate a family dysfunction. One is too private and the other is too open to outside influences.

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When you think about too private, think of the heart wrenching family structure of Philip Gerrido as the extreme example. His crazy ideas and violent behavior ruled the nest that included a kid-napped and raped “wife.” The family had little input from outside relationships, not even at school because the children were home schooled. This is a rare, extreme example of a closed family system. Another, less obvious, closed family system might be a family who follows a religion that is not represented in the community. Because some of the community’s lifestyle choices might be at odds with their religious beliefs, this family tends to limit social contact and exposure to media. Finally, an even more subtle example might be a family who is just very private. They send overt or silent messages to the children that family matters are not to be discussed outside of the home. They also are reluctant to have too many guests in their home.

There’s another extreme. That’s the family with so many people and ideas filtering through the front door that the family has no compass at all. These families often lack a family code, a set of values to return to when the winds of peer pressure blow too strong. Too many ideas and too much information, when not tempered with sound social structure and family emotional guidance, can make children feel frightened, and also leave them confused when they begin to build their own identity as a young adult.

The key is to find the right balance of open and closed. Having a tight-knit family structure that provides privacy and protection from influences that do not underscore family values is not necessarily dangerous for kids. But having a family system that prohibits exploration of alternative thought and choices, leaves a child unprepared when she/he eventually leaves the nest. Teaching children family values is crucial to their development. I call it, “Instilling The Hopi Way.” But preventing a child from interacting, exploring, and questioning the big, wide, world of ideas outside the front door, handicaps them when they begin the process of becoming individuals.

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How to Make Your Relationship Happier

Research has led some couples astray. Couple Fights in BedIn plenty of studies, couples who are happier also have more sex. Knowing that finding, it would make sense that having more sex should lead to increased feelings of happiness. But it turns out that having sex specifically to improve feelings of well being in a relationship more often back fires. Instead unhappy couples were left feeling tired and less interested in sex.

The truth is, happy people have more sex, and if you want to know how to make your relationship happier, there are many factors, unrelated to the bedroom, that can help. To name a few:

• A firm work/life boundary (cell phones off at home)

• Regular exercise (love those endorphins)

• Less isolation (more friends and family at the table)

• Music

But are there things that science tells us couple can clearly do more of to increase relationship satisfaction? Turns out there are two big ones: Frequent kissing and hugs of long duration. Surprisingly, frequency of kissing is linked to better relationships even more than frequency of sex. And, long bear hugs, the kind where bodies melt into each other, seem to help us release a dopamine in the brain.

So, if you’re relationship is in the doldrums, forget about high-pressured sex. Instead, turn off technology, and snuggle together for a cozy hug.

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