All of us need connection. Some of us have it. Some of us crave it and feel terribly lonely. And some of us feel okay without it – not realising that those around us miss the ‘whole person’. Secure attachment changes relationships from living in survival to thriving creatively.
Different types of attachment are simply different solutions to a less-than-ideal situation. Secure attachment can be disrupted any time in life. And it can be healed any time in our life. Our childhood attachment needs are simple: we need safety, predictability, continuity, emotional availability, positive regard. In other words, we need nurture and care in a way that tells us we are worthy and lovable and we have competence and agency to influence the people around us.
We always need secure attachment; the way it can be build changes.
As adults the attachment we need is similar in many ways. But the way it is created and expressed is different. Mark and Arian are a typical couple with one person being more avoidant attached (Arian) due to her losses in life. Arian also needed to become independent quickly. Mark on the other hand is more ambivalent attached. This is due to the lack of consistency he experienced in the way he was cared for as a child.
Opposites attract: You have what I crave
We fall in love among other reasons because we see in the other what we lack in ourselves. Mark loves Arian’s independence and competency and Arian loves Mark’s vivaciousness and outgoing, fun nature. Yet, when it comes to building intimacy and consistency in their connection, the disrupted attachment experiences play out. Mark wants attachment. He asks for it in the wrong ways, is afraid he might lose it and pushes it away when it is offered. He needs to protect himself from the anticipated pain of loss. Arian is quite happy with more distance. But she wants to engage, vaguely feeling a sense of loneliness under her competent surface. Yet, she is afraid of letting connection in, for fear of becoming dependent and more vulnerable.
After six months of individual and relationship counselling, they have a good understanding of these dynamics. They have done some work on their own pains and losses. And they are willing to take risks to build a stronger relationship.
Here are the basics they now cover every day. Mark and Arian want to create secure attachment: the consistency and reliability in connection they both lost during their childhood:
- Every morning Mark and Arian say ‘hello’ to each other in the way they prefer. Mark likes a cuddle in the morning in bed before they get up. Arian usually just jumps out of bed and gets going. But now she is willing to lie there for 2 or 3 minutes and explore what it is like to feel each other before she starts the day. On alternating days, she has asked Mark to make her a coffee in the morning when she has completed some of her morning chores. Incidentally this forces her to stop and Arian begins to find these short times of connection very enjoyable.
- They make a point in letting each other know where they are during the day. They talk about their schedule and involve the children as much as possible. One afternoon, Brent, who is 10, brings back the idea of a wall planner from school. He gets charged with the task of creating something they can hang up at the entrance hall for everyone to see. They have fun filling in the slots and knowing what everyone’s important dates and appointments are.
Simple little gestures can make a big difference and create secure attachment.
- Arian and Mark make an effort to look at each other each time they talk to each other. One morning, Mark spoke to a customer in his shop who he had not seen for a while. She commented on how good Arian’s new hairstyle looked. He was shocked to realise he had not even looked at her before he left for work.
- Incidentally, they found that making eye-contact more often led to small gestures of affection more often. It was easier to lean in and kiss each other or touch each other lightly while saying ‘hello’.
- It was Mark’s wish to check in during the day. This was more of an effort for Arian. So they decided to compromise on it by not making it daily but just trying to increase the contact. Mark held himself back with sending messages and Arian sent more. She did not feel pressured into something she did not like doing. In turn he lost some of his anxiety around her not being aware of him all day. As Mark felt more relaxed he naturally started making these messages fun to read. After a while Arian found they put a smile on her face when she read them. She realised that the had begun to anticipate another message from Mark. But she made sure not to tell him for fear of encouraging him to go overboard with messaging her. Arian was able to embrace these offers of connection without feeling obliged to respond after a little while.
- When they came home they made a point in re-connecting. The one who comes home calls out, the one at home comes to greet the returning partner and take a minute to hug each other. Arian was surprised to find this actually lowered her stress levels more than she ever anticipated. It also increased her willingness to continue her home chores at the end of a day that may have already been long.
Compromising and negotiating are part of the bread and butter of a healthy relationship
- At that point, they also took the time to express any needs and wishes for the evening. Sometimes Mark needed to complete his accounting or Arian had a dinner to go to. Sometimes one was just too tired to help much or the other felt like time alone. And if they found out they were both too tired to cook, they got take-away and allowed for a movie evening with no talking.
- They made sure to have time to check in on the day as often as possible in the evenings.
- They agreed on a time every Saturday where they would sit together and check in with how the logistics of business and household were travelling. This had been one of Arian’s wishes. She felt that she often carried the worry of the finances of their household alone. She wanted Mark to be more involved. But fArian found it hard to let him have his say in the matter, too. They had some heated discussions around money but found an ability to hear each other out.
- They agree to take turns to create family days. This was extended to the kids after a short time. Each family member took a turn to create a family day once a month. Everyone had to go along with what was planned. A budget was agreed on for this day and the kids joined in with great enthusiasm. These days turned into the most memorable experiences of their family over the years.
Change and healing can happen
Eventually Mark and Arian took stock of their sense of connection after using most of these strategies most of the time. They agreed that their relationship had turned around from being a daily challenge to being a daily joy. They had managed to build solid foundations.
No matter which style of insecure attachment has become your default setting: it can be changed. It is important to be aware of your go-to behaviour and the reasons for it. It is also important to feel safe enough to take some risks and be willing to feel vulnerable in your relationship while you explore new ways of connecting. That is why Mark and Arian needed to do some personal work first.
If you need help with building strong and healthy connections, book a free 45-minute check-in-session with Mattie now.