Of the millions of books about love, one favorite is The Course of Love, written by British author and philosopher Alain de Botton. A common theme in many of his works centers around the idea that: Love, in all its complexities, is the one facet of life we will consistently get wrong. Let that settle in for a moment.
Botton believes that love is so difficult because it requires us to do something that goes against our instinctual nature. Love requires approaching another human being and saying, “I need you; I would not survive without you. I am vulnerable before you.” In many ways, loving someone requires a certain level of attachment as we tap into this more vulnerable side of ourselves. It is no surprise, then, that many of the clients who come to therapy want to increase their understanding of their primary attachment style and how this continues to show up in their relationships. All of this is based on the intention of learning how to love their partners better.
The importance of attachment theory
It would be remiss to talk about love without first referencing John Bowlby’s groundbreaking work on attachment theory and how the attachment styles we form in our early childhood significantly impact our adult relationships.
At its core, attachment theory focuses on our relationships with our primary caregivers. Attachment theory posits that our caregivers’ responsiveness to our needs influences how we navigate our later relationships in adulthood. Our attachment patterns, relational templates, and how love was provided to us combine to shape the primary attachment style we develop as adults. Your attachment style becomes the source of your capacity to trust others, to receive and give love, and, essentially, to form fulfilling and healthy relationships.
By understanding attachment theory and how our primary attachment style shows up in our relationships, we establish a clear starting point on where we need to begin in our attachment journey and how to best navigate this process of discovery within ourselves. We begin to choose more fulfilling and healthy ways of showing up in our relationships as we learn how to create a more secure attachment with our partner and ultimately love them in the way they need.
So, what does love have to do with attachment, you ask?
Love is an expression of attachment
When we love someone, we focus on forming an emotional bond or attachment with them. This attachment is a healthy and normal part of learning to love our partner well. Love is expressed as attachment because we have developed a secure bond with our partner. The bond enables us to depend on our partner in a way that is safe, meaningful, and reliable. All of the emotions we feel and the thoughts we have are directed toward this other person. Love makes us more inclined to put our partner’s needs before our own or think of our partner’s needs as equal to ours.
Love says, “I choose you. I don’t need you, but I want to be close to you and have you as a part of my life. I am willing to show up and do the necessary work for you and for us.”
John Bowlby was the first to define attachment as a “deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.” He viewed attachment as a product of evolutionary processes, believing that all humans are born with an innate drive to form attachments with others that we are in relationship with. According to Bowlby, attachment is characterized by clear behavioral and motivational patterns.
For instance, when a child is frightened or anxious, they will seek closeness from their primary caregiver in order to be soothed and comforted. For adults who are navigating love, this may look like seeking validation and reassurance from your partner after experiencing a conflict with a coworker. This validation and reassurance is what you need from your partner at the time in order to feel less elevated in your nervous system and return to a state of balance and security. Moreover, when your partner is attuned to your needs and responds appropriately, they can be the secure base you need to safely express your emotions and attach with them in a loving and genuine way.
Next, let’s take a look at what the attachment research says about the benefits of a secure attachment.
Creating a secure attachment is part of a healthy relationship
The ultimate goal of enhancing our relationships is to work towards a more secure attachment style. The research shows that creating a secure attachment style is the foundation for healthy and fulfilling relationships. Individuals with a secure attachment are more emotionally balanced, calm, and comfortable with intimacy. They are able to form secure and loving relationships without being defined or overwhelmed by them. Moreover, when conflict or distress arises, they are secure enough in themselves to be able to take responsibility for their mistakes and admit when they need support.
Securely attached individuals are more emotionally equipped to handle problems in the relationship because they have a healthy sense of self and self-esteem. There is a healthy balance of give-and-take in the relationship because they are willing to seek support from their partners if they need it and can also provide their partners with support.
The good news is that we can all learn to create a more secure attachment over time. Our primary attachment styles are in no way fixed or intact. Here are five practical ways to achieve a more secure attachment in your relationship.
1. Learn about your attachment style
Your work can begin as soon as you gain a more solid and comprehensive understanding of your primary attachment style. With this knowledge, you can start to identify relationship patterns and seek clarity on unhealthy areas that need improvement. Research has shown that even just knowing about the four attachment styles and their key characteristics can positively influence your relationships.
2. Share areas in your life that you find you feel more sensitive about
It’s important that you are open and honest with your partner about areas in your own life that you feel more sensitive to, as they are more than likely to surface in the relationship. The most effective way for your partner to understand the intention and deeper need behind your emotions, behaviors, and thoughts is through direct communication from you.
For instance, if one partner is more sensitive when it comes to other people’s expectations of them, the best way to share this with their partner is by simply telling them. This can sound like – “I tend to be overly self-critical and reactive when you are disappointed with me because I don’t want to let you down. How you feel about me and your expectations of me are extremely important to whether or not I feel safe and secure in the relationship. This is something that I would like to work on.”
3. Have an open discussion about boundaries
Setting and respecting healthy boundaries is vital for a secure attachment. Remember, boundaries are a way to clearly define your limits, needs, and expectations in a relationship. They are a way to communicate what you and your partner need to feel safe and secure in the relationship.
When you and your partner have an open discussion about boundaries, you ensure both your needs are heard and respected. Moreover, an open discussion can also serve as a good reset to evaluate your relationship to see which areas are working well and which can be strengthened.
4. Increase your emotional awareness
Emotional regulation is essential to cultivating a secure attachment in your relationship. By learning to recognize and manage your emotions in a healthy manner, you ensure that you are able to show up in the relationship with a calm and balanced mindset. This allows you to create secure connections with your partner and to increase your empathy for them, to listen to and hold their emotions.
5. Consider seeking therapy
Life is not meant to be done alone, especially when navigating many inevitably challenging obstacles. Consider seeking therapy if you need help exploring your attachment style and understanding your relationship patterns.
Many clients who seek support for attachment find therapy a safe space where thoughts and concerns can be shared freely and without judgment. Please get in touch with us when you’re ready for objective guidance and unconditional support. We have availability for individual sessions for those living in North Carolina or South Carolina.