Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

She Doesn’t Really Love Me!?! Or Check Out Your Attachment Style

 

hand holdingRecently I came across the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, as well as articles about the topic of how attachment styles influence our relationships. Having been interested in Attachment Theory since my first baby was born, I was intrigued about how my wife and I can use attachment theories wisdoms on our couple relationship.

Attachment theory was first developed by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who observed children’s reactions to being separated from their parents during WW2 in England. He realised that how children related to others was directly influenced by their experiences with their primary caregivers.

birdiesI wrote before about how essential our first bonding experiences to our caregivers are and that when our needs are not met at all or not all the time, we can end up longing for this sense of security and feeling of being loved unconditionally as adults . And this often influences how we are relating to our partners. In other words, the fears and needs of our childhood travel with us into adulthood and we re-enact certain situations and struggle with connecting to our partner out of fear of abandonment or rejection.

If we can’t be sure of being loved for who we are (and even if our actions aren’t always perfect), we might decide to hide our true emotions, close our heart and use communication to hide the truth of the matter.

Several researchers have looked into how our attachment styles influence our relationships. There are four styles. In their research, Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan found that about 60 percent of people have a secure attachment, while 20 percent have an avoidant attachment, and 20 percent have an anxious attachment.

  • SECURE people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving
  • ANXIOUS people 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 minimize closeness.
  • FEARFUL/ AVOIDANT people live in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to.

By being aware of your own attachment style (and that of your partner) you will be able to “see through” your own thought patterns (“he always does X that means he doesn’t really love me” or “she goes on and on about my flaws, I just can’t take it anymore”) and begin to address your emotions differently, by relating them back to your attachment style. What you have taken as “reality” or “truth” might suddenly be turned around.

So, for example if you have an avoidant attachment style, you might repress emotions, be distant, withdraw in conflicts and find it difficult to tolerate true closeness. The way to get your needs met is to act like you don’t have any. You might communicate in a way that frequently pushes your partner away from you in order to regain your sense of distance. Now, it might be that your partner has an anxious attachment style their buttons will be pressed painfully by your behaviour. They will want you to respond to their communication and can’t deal with your withdrawal. Lisa Firestone writes that your partner wants to be with you lots to feel reassured of your love as well as have their needs met.

Knowing your own and your partner’s attachment style can help with exposing the Disconnection Cycle that you might find yourselves in and moving towards healing past experiences and forming a secure bond.

It is interesting when we consider that research has also shown that we often choose partners based on the same character traits as our parents (or one of our parents). In their book, Levine and Heller write that “attachment styles actually complement one another in a way. Each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships. The avoidants’ defensive self-perception that they are strong and independent is confirmed, as is the belief that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with. The anxious types find that their perception of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed, as is their anticipation of ultimately being let down by significant others. So, in a way, each style is drawn to reenact a familiar script over and over again.”

I believe, and have experienced, that it is possible to start being more secure in your relationships. It takes a lot of reflection and putting old thought patterns on the head, but it’s so worth it! My wife and I are doing everything to ensure our children are securely attached to us, we feel that in order to achieve that we had to look at our own attachment styles, our childhoods and what kind of thought patterns we had about each other. It’s funny to think that really all our partner wants is to be held in that secure bubble that we hold our children in.

If you haven’t already recognised yourself/your attachment style, here is a test to find out!

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships, Society

Why We Need to be Loved

When I was a two-month-old baby, my parents left me with a neighbour, while going on a holiday. A stranger took care of me 24/7, while I had no idea where my parents were, whether they are dead or alive (babies anticipate that their parents are “dead” when separated for a long time; we are still born with the same brain as a stone age baby was…and you know, there are hyenas out there!).

I don’t want to judge the decisions they made, just show you what impact this experience, along with other similar ones, had on my life since then. For years (and I still work on it) I had traumatic fears in my relationships that my partner would leave me. So, in order not to be the one who gets dumped, I often ended relationships first. Or I would anxiously seek signs and confirmation of still being loved. It’s not a nice feeling. My ability to trust was completely destroyed and only slowly am I overcoming those fears and anxieties.

When I became a parent myself I read all about John Bowlby’s attachment theory, it made complete sense to me and informed the way we treated our children and still parent.

equalChildren need to have positive attachment figures.  Someone they can rely on to meet their needs, as they have no means to survive without it. They flourish through affection, learn and grow in a secure and safe environment, where, whatever happens they will be loved and accepted as who they are. However, if their basic needs don’t get met, they’ll look for an attachment figure, even as an adult. Laura Markham explains that “our brain development, our emotional development, and even our later ability to control our tempers, delay gratification and have healthy romances, all depend on having our innate relationship needs met as infants.”

Only recently did I understand about how attachment theory works for adults. In many ways, we are still like children. We crave to be closely connected to the people we love. The way we are connected decides upon our emotional and physical well-being. When we meet our partner and in the years of being a happy couple, most of us manage to shower the other with appreciation, acceptance and love, those of us with insecure attachments have their needs met.

It only changes when we become parents. The sometimes years of waiting, the “tip of the iceberg” of our love, only too often turns into a time of stress on our, we thought, well-established love. Studies have found that most couples grow closer apart, at least in the beginning, once they have a baby and 42% of marriages (not all have children) end in divorce. What happens? First of all, most of us are not prepared for how our relationship is going to change, we prepare for the birth, organise baby’s clothes and equipment, but not really for how we, as a couple and individuals are changing.

Then, we are not prepared for seeing our loved one occupied and totally in love with somebody else. Yes, it’s our baby, but suddenly, and men struggle more with this, our partner has only eyes for the baby and we are struggling to get close – emotionally and physically. This can be a very difficult time, especially for those who feel their “buttons pressed”. Those men who have had an insecure attachment to their parents can feel this apparent rejection and abandonment as pain that feels very much like physical pain. The more Mum is giving to the baby, what we haven’t received, the harder it is.

Mum on the other side might also have attachment needs, but the closeness to the baby can make regulating those, easier.

Disappointments and weakening of the couple connection can then lead to addictive behaviours (workaholics, alcohol and food, sex etc.) and eventually many men leave their families emotionally and also physically, looking for somewhere else where they find their needs recognised and met.

Nobody is to blame for this. Many women just don’t see their partner’s suffering and don’t know or understand about his, very realistic, needs. For her it seems like ridiculous neediness when all she wants is to be with the baby or have some precious moments for herself.

confused dadThe problem is that this can lead to a downward spiral: Many men need time to feel themselves into the fathering role, they need time and reassurance (not all women find it easy to let go of control and let their partners share in the caregiving). If they don’t get a chance to grow their confidence, feel rejected by their partners, they retreat and therefore feel even less able to look after their baby (“she is the expert, anyway”) and then the divide widens (she is responsible for the childcare and home, he for bringing in the money). Feeling resentment by losing connection to his partner and not being able to build a bond with his baby leaves the father craving for connection. Many men get ill. Some get depressed, others start affairs, a few endure the situation and numb their feelings with addictive behaviours and others leave the situation all together and separate.

So, what can be done to stop this happening?

First of all, awareness of this situation helps both partners. Being able to know and voice your needs clearly helps and finding out whether there are others who can meet these needs if your partner isn’t able to at the moment.

Strengthening the connection is important, taking time for one another again – grow and nurture the relationship, just as we did when freshly in love. It is after all, the foundation of your family life together and your well-being benefits your child too.

My baby-self is still sometimes coming up, wanting to heal and be reassured. I take my time to make sure to give myself nurturing – doing things that make me happy – then, in those dark moments when I feel unable to calm him, I reach out to my wife and she holds me and I know I am safe.

 

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To read on about the topic, I can recommend:

Why Dads Leave by Meryn Callander

Hold me tight by Dr Sue Johnson

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