It’s important to understand why relationships don’t work and the laws of attraction. It will help you find and keep a meaningful relationship in your life.
Many people think that there is a “right” person out there waiting for them. They believe they will meet in some serendipitous moment. Those who give up on “serendipity” turn to online dating.
I used to think like this too. Until I became a couples therapist and watched couple after couple funnel through my office and realized every couple struggles. I started to wonder what was going on and what makes a great relationship. It’s changed how I date. I now understand the laws of attraction – aka why we are attracted to certain types of people and not others.
We think we are looking for a “feeling”; that we will just “know” when it “feels right”; we think that the right relationship will feel great at the start. It will just work out and be smooth. If it’s too much work at the start – it’s not right. Wrong. If it’s a lot of work at the start, this isn’t a sign that it’s the wrong relationship. It’s a sign that your attachment to others is probably unhealthy.
Have you ever heard of attachment theory? Attachment theory tells us how we learned to bond growing up and how this will affect our future relationships. It effects not just our future romantic relationships, but every relationship across the board. Your attachment style is all about the way you’ve learned to emotionally connect with others. The attachment style that you exhibit will impact your connection with friends, family and a future partner. There’s four attachment styles and every single person fits into one of these categories. It’s a bit like a spectrum and attachment styles can change over time through hard work and probably some therapy. However, awareness and willingness to grow goes a very long way in shifting your attachment style.
1. Secure Attachment
If you’re a secure attacher then you are the healthiest bonder. Secure attachers grow up in the most healthy families. They learned how to be emotionally connected with their parents; and most importantly, they had parents that knew how to attune to their emotional needs. In secure homes, parents value and connect with their children even during distress and disappointment. Secure attachers learn how to value themselves and others equally.
Secure attachers are comfortable with closeness and intimacy. They feel they can manage the risks of getting involved with others and the uncertainty this entails. They can, generally, handle the disappointment of relationships ending. Therefore, they move forward to the next person in a relatively healthy manner. Secure attachers don’t engage in casual relationships.
Secure attachers are comfortable meeting another person’s needs and asking for their own needs to be met. They are able to set appropriate boundaries. Secures often move through conflict in a fairly, healthy way without damaging the emotional connection they have with their partner. Secure attachers tend not to have intense, aggressive, or dramatic fights. This is because they aren’t easily triggered by their partner expressing their feelings or needs. They are able to manage disagreements and can easily reconnect after conflict. They understand that they don’t have to agree during conflict. Secures believe it’s more important to listen and understand each other than to agree.
They are not Perfect
It doesn’t mean that secures have perfect relationships or are perfect people. They do hurt each other, disappoint each other, and let each other down. However, they are capable of forgiving quickly and making the necessary repairs in the relationship to reconnect with each other.
A note about secure attachment: someone can grow up with secure attachment, but experience something that shakes their sense of security and trust in relationships. In this case a secure attachment style could change and become either anxious or avoidant in nature. Often, when this happens, the person can more easily shift back into a secure attachment style. This is because it’s easier to transition back to a secure attachment when the attachment wound occurs in adulthood. If you have insecure attachment due to childhood, you have not previously experienced secure attachment; therefore, it takes longer to shift your attachment pattern.
Insecure attachment covers three types of insecure attachment styles.
2. Avoidant Attachment
Avoidant Attachers are the strong independent types. They tend to think of themselves as needing no-one. They are self-sufficient. Often avoidant attachers have a strong sense of self-confidence, sometimes perceived as arrogant. Avoidant attachers probably had a parent that was unavailable emotionally; and therefore, developed a strong sense of needing to taking care of their own needs.
They are afraid of closeness and intimacy. This is, often, because falling in love requires them to be vulnerable; and therefore, they fear the possibility that they could be wounded by someone they love. It’s also sometimes related to fear of losing their independence. Self-reliance is a deeply rooted, survival response, due to having a detached parent or partner later in life.
Avoidant attachers tend to keep everyone at arms length. They need and want connection like everyone else; but they are generally afraid of deeper intimacy and the vulnerability that accompanies this closeness with another human. They won’t dig to get to know you; and hope, that you also won’t dig to get to know them too deeply. It’s safer keeping a distance. They tend to be hard-on and critical of others; this is a distancing tactic they use to ensure they don’t get too close to someone. They also tend to be pros at separating emotional and physical connection – this is also a distancing tactic.
Avoidant attachers avoid conflict and negative feelings. They often see themselves as very easy going and unemotional. This is a facade. The truth is that they feel things very deeply; nevertheless, they have learned to repress feelings so that they don’t experience difficult emotions. They don’t like to focus on the negative and will avoid starting difficult conversations. Generally, they don’t try to repair after an argument. They prefer to forget about it and move forward without revisiting the issues. Avoidant attachers are afraid that revisiting the conflict will create further ripples in the relationship. They tend to avoid situations or people that bring up their deeply buried emotions.
Avoidant attachers have a low capacity for too much positivity and too much negativity in their relationships. It’s almost like avoidant attachers are keeping track of how much negativity exists in their relationship. Once it reaches a certain level, they experience an overwhelming need to end the relationship. They often will say things like the following: “I don’t know if we can come back from what’s happened”; or “there’s just too much water under the bridge”. At the same time, if things are going too well, if they are becoming more and more attached (close and vulnerable), they will often focus on the negative, in order to end this relationship or cool things down.
Friends with Benefits
Avoidant Attachers are famous for saying they don’t “want anything serious” or are just looking for something “fun and casual”. If you see these sentences in a dating profile online – you have found the avoidant attachers. Avoidant attachers will frequently sabotage something good or run away from something hard. Basically, they will end most meaningful and deep relationships.
Avoidant attachers do get married. You might be wondering how it happens if they are so avoidant. Eventually an avoidant attacher realizes the need they have, like everyone, to have a partner. Most of the time, after enough failed relationships, they may begin to desire something more meaningful. They might want to get off the train-wreck of meaningless relationship after meaningless relationship. How does this happen though? Unfortunately, usually not by finding someone super healthy and secure who is ready to commit to a life-long relationship.
The terms of our relationship
Most of the avoidant people that I have worked with are married or in committed long-term relationships. However, they started off in a casual relationship that then lasted a very long long time. Slowly over time this relationship morphed from something casual to something casual but long-term. This happens once the avoidant person is satisfied that their partner is not going to leave; or not going to require too much unbearable closeness. Then, they will often commit to something more, as long as they aren’t required to change. Therefore, unless they get healthy and shift their attachment behaviour, the relationship will not be something healthy and secure. It will function really well for a time, but over time this relationship will unravel. The avoidant attacher believes they have found someone that’s willing to accept their terms for the relationship. Or so they think. Read on…
3. Anxious Attachment
As the title suggest, anxious attachers are, well, anxious about closeness and intimacy. They want it, just like the secure attachers do; however, they are afraid they won’t get it, or they will get it, but that person will leave. Anxious attachers are frequently afraid that the object of their affection is going to abandon or leave them. Therefore, they become vigilant for any signs of withdrawal in their relationships. This makes their behaviours very intense and clingy at times. They are so afraid of losing the closeness and connection that they fiercely cling to and protect that connection. Studies have shown that anxious attachers are highly intuitive. Anxious attachers can sense mood changes and shifts in their relationship faster than others can. They don’t always attribute this shift or change to the right reason. Thus, leading to misinterpreting and often creating dramas or conflicts in their relationships.
Disagreements and conflict can be quite intense with an anxious attacher. Anxious attachers often engage in “protest behaviours” – frequently protesting the distance they experience in their relationship with an avoidant person. They may become quite angry and even aggressive; they might threaten to leave. These are all attempts to try to reach the avoidant person, that they feel has shut them out.
Secure Vs. Anxious
There is only a slight difference between a secure and an anxious attacher in their response to someone avoidant. Although both will feel frustrated with being shut out, a secure attacher will not reach the same level of distress. Furthermore, the secure person will simply communicate their needs to the avoidant partner and expect those needs to be met. The anxious attacher lacks the same communication skills. They will hold onto the relationship despite their avoidant partner’s refusal to meet their needs. The secure attacher knows that the avoidant person’s struggle is not their fault and existed prior to them meeting; the anxious attacher believes they are to blame for why their avoidant partner is unable to meet their needs. The secure partner may feel just as frustrated as the anxious attacher. However, they will handle it differently and not reach the same level of distress over it.
Anxious attachers probably had a parent that was unpredictable or critical in nature. Anxious attachers usually highly value others, but don’t value themselves in the same way. They often struggle with their sense of self-worth. This is due to the damage done in childhood from an overly harsh parent and the lack of healthy validation.
4. Anxious-Avoidant/ Fearful-avoidant attachment
Anxious-avoidant, also referred to sometimes as fearful-avoidant attachment, is formed in the worst family environment. Frequently due to parents who are physically or emotionally abusive or parents that struggle with addictions. Often parents who are abusive/violent or struggle with addictions are extremely unpredictable.
Imagine a parent being loving and kind one minute. All of a sudden turning into a monster, becoming abusive and unpredictable in nature in the next minute. After this passes, that parent often feels remorse and tries to reconnect in a loving way with that child. This truly fucks with the child’s brain and sense of safety. These parents send a message to the child’s brain that threatens that child’s survival. Except that the child can never predict the parent’s behaviours. The avoidant and the anxious attachers can predict their parent’s behaviours – the behaviour is unhealthy and un-attuned, but predictable. This is not true for parents of the anxious-avoidant child.
An Unpredictable Threat
Anxious-avoidant attachers become unpredictable. They are a messy blend of both anxious and avoidant. They crave connection and closeness and will often risk everything to experience this with another human being. Nevertheless, once they taste it they will freak-out, fearing the closeness and uncertainty of the relationship. Then, they usually pull away very quickly. They crave connection yet are terrified of it at the very same time. They perfectly embody the fears of both the anxious attacher and the avoidant attacher. Often it feels like they are pulling close one minute and pushing away the next. You never know what’s going to happen: will they cling or will they keep you at arms length. They will do both. Anxious-avoidant attachers will feel self-confident and worthy one moment, and the next feel not good enough and insecure. They want relationships, but relationships are a threat to their nervous system.
Anxious-Avoidant attachers struggle to navigate romantic relationships. Outside of relationships they might live quite lively and fulfilling relationships. Whether this person will be anxious or avoidant is dependent on the other person’s attachment style. If they are with someone who is anxious, they will frequently behave avoidantly. If they are with someone who is avoidant, they will frequently take on the anxious traits.
You are not your Attachment Style
I think it’s important to remind you that you are not your attachment style. If your attachment fears are being triggered, you are going to behave in ways that aren’t truly who you are. Your attachment style does not represent your true nature. These behaviours are sometimes unpleasant and unhealthy, but they are protective behaviours meant to keep you safe. These behaviours are survival tactics. Your brain is designed for survival and relationships are, on a biological level, about survival. So biologically your brain is trying to help protect you in the best way it knows how. However, due to these behaviours most frequently developing in childhood, they are ingrained and automatic responses. It can be challenging to change something that is a subconscious reaction.
Why Relationships don’t work
So while you are out their looking for your potential mate, engaging in casual relationships, or just running from relationships all together, these attachment processes are happening subconsciously. It is all occurring outside of your awareness. This means you are unaware of how it’s effecting the dynamic of the relationships you are choosing to be in. This means you won’t understand why you are attracted to certain individuals and not to others. You also won’t understand why you end certain relationships or hold onto others.
People are making these really big choices, 100% subconsciously, and based on an ingrained fear-response. They are just looking for someone that biologically inspires them and gets them going; that’s the person you think you want to be with. Except that, this has a whole lot to do with subconscious attachment issues. What works for you and what you’re attracted to is solely part of your attachment needs. This is great if you are secure. You will find and form healthy relationships. Everyone else will find and form unhealthy relationships, but think they are in a healthy one.
The Laws of Attraction
Being unaware of your attachment issues means choosing a life partner based on some very unhealthy and unconscious attachment needs. This is a disaster waiting to happen. This is the story of every couple that has come to see me over the past 3 years. They met the “one” person whose attachment style didn’t disrupt them too much. Which allowed them to see all the lovely things about that person at the beginning of the relationship. It therefore works out and they get married. This is good in some ways, really bad in other ways.
There are a few things you can look for in a partner that give you a good shot at having a great relationship. Things like: common interests, shared beliefs, similar values, and mutual attraction. These are pretty standard and basic. Generally if we have found this the rest of the relationship should be great. Except that there is one more thing to account for and that’s attachment theory. An insecure attachment style could possibly ruin an otherwise fantastic prospect. So let us look at how attachers attach to each other.
Secure Relationships Look like:
This is the ultimate relationship. Secures have the healthiest and most fulfilling relationships Research shows that they also tend to be physically, healthier human beings; and thus better able to manage life’s challenges (like the loss of a child or loss of a job). If you’re secure, you will, generally, be drawn to other secures or anxious attachers. Secure attachers are not uncomfortable with other peoples needs.
Anxious attachers are afraid of their partner being unresponsive or distant, but secures are neither of these things. Secures often relieve the stress that anxious attachers experience in relationships. They reassure and pull anxious attachers into healthier and more secure responses. They are able to reassure anxious attachers and this helps anxious attachers calm and behave in more secure ways. Secures rarely end up with avoidant attachers, because secures want closeness and connection, more than avoidant attachers can handle. So often avoidant attachers run away from secures. Even if avoidant attachers don’t run away, secures will make a bid for the closeness they desire. If the avoidant refuses, the secure will end the relationship and move on fairly quickly. Unlike the anxious attacher, secures won’t sacrifice their emotional needs to make an avoidant relationship work.
You can see why it doesn’t matter if they are conscious or unconscious of their behaviours. They are secure and instinctively know how to manage relationships.
Anxious Relationships Look Like:
Anxious attachers are drawn to all four types of attachers. They are drawn to secures for the closeness and intimacy gained in the relationship. With a secure, anxious attachers will generally adopt a more secure attachment over time. They are, also, drawn to other anxious attachers, because other anxious attachers also want closeness and connection.
Depending on how anxious the person is (remember it’s a spectrum), anxious attachers are often also attracted to avoidant attachers. Interesting enough, avoidant attachers fulfill the anxious attachers beliefs about relationships. Anxious attachers are convinced that others are going to abandon them or be distant with them. Therefore, anxious attachers commonly accept avoidant attachers distancing behaviours as inevitable. Anxious attachers are so desperate for connection that they are, often, willing to make sacrifices to meet the avoidant’s needs. They will cater to the avoidant attacher and allow the avoidant attacher to set the tone of the relationship. This is usually attractive to the avoidant person.
Avoidant Relationships Look like:
Avoidant attachers get the shortest stick, because often they have no choice but to settle for an anxious attacher. Why is that? Avoidant attachers with another avoidant attacher doesn’t usually work. Avoidants, the same as everyone else, still have an innate and undeniable biological need for intimacy. They are just afraid of it, which causes them to deny that such a need exists. Therefore, when two avoidants decide to date, there is no glue to keep them together. They often can’t work through conflict or get their connection desires met. As a result, the relationship fizzles into nothingness.
Avoidant attachers most frequently connect with secures and anxious attachers. Unfortunately, secures rarely get involved with casual relationships and avoidant attachers. They know that the avoidance is destructive to intimacy. Secures only stick around if the avoidant attacher is aware and willing to work on their fears.
“I Am not the problem”
Furthermore, avoidant attachers are the least likely to acknowledge they have an issue. This is because they don’t want to focus on having a problem or challenge. Avoidants feel overwhelmed when faced with challenges, and generally, become stuck in the the negative emotion. Due to always avoiding negative situations and feelings, avoidants have a very low tolerance for negativity and challenges.
They are famous for trying to live in the moment and get the most out of life – just not out of relationships. This requires too much vulnerability. True intimacy is built on vulnerability with others. Secures quickly perceive this as a waste of their time and move on. Another reason avoidants don’t usually end up with secures is that secures frequently marry, and are therefore, removed from the dating pool earlier on in life then insecure attachers. This means that often the most common individual you’ll find available to date are insecure individuals.
For this reason, avoidant attachers are stuck with anxious attachers, which accounts for only 25% of the population. Avoidant attachers often become overwhelmed with the behaviours of someone who is anxious. They see this person’s attachment needs as needy and “too much” to handle. They struggle to figure out how to calm the anxious attacher’s nervous system down. Moreover, the avoidant attachers avoidance further escalates the anxious person’s undesirable and needy behaviours. The avoidant attachers views the anxious attachers needs as “co-dependent” and fail to see the value in health mutual, interdependence. Avoidants, often, belittle the anxious attacher; thus, further threatening their nervous system and making the situation worse. This creates an ever escalating situation. The constant pushing and pull of these two individuals can destroy the relationship, pushing them further apart than where they started.
The more the anxious person pushes for connection, the further the avoidant person pulls away and distances; the more the avoidant person distances and withdraws, the more anxious and clingy the anxious attacher becomes. The two trigger each other, unknowingly. Some anxious attachers will figure this pattern out, and then, try to suppress their needs. Anxious attachers are the most likely to accept a casual relationship with an avoidant attacher. They will try to fulfill the avoidant attachers needs at the expense of their own needs. This is just for a time – don’t be fooled, it won’t last forever.
Hitched: the Anxious-Avoidant trap
Sometimes this is how an avoidant and an anxious attacher end up hitched. Can you see the future of this couple? Eventually the anxious person, most likely, after the wedding, will get fed up with being shut out. They will become quite demanding. When they feel more secure in their relationship, they will begin to make bids for their own needs to be met. Their behaviours will escalate to protest and anger. They might threaten to leave, just hoping for any response from the avoidant person, even if it’s an angry response.
For this same reason, avoidant attachers might also connect with an anxious-avoidant attacher. The moments of being pulled close will be frustrating and overwhelming; however, the reprieve they feel when that person distances and pushes away, allows the avoidant to stay in this relationship and feel semi-satisfied.
Escalation now or later?
Attachment dictates the laws of attraction. It determines who you are drawn too.
Now can you see why unawareness is going to land you in a shitty relationship, despite the existence of mutual attraction, shared beliefs, and common interests? While you’re chasing those things, your attachment pattern is pushing you closer to some individuals and pulling you away from others. It’s just not necessarily pushing or pulling you towards or away from the “right” person. Your attachment style is pushing you towards or away from the person that clashes with your dysfunction the most. This is the one person that is providing you with the opportunity to shift your attachment behaviours now, versus later in life. You get to make a choice about when you’ll change your pattern. If you end that relationship, it’s most likely, because you don’t want to work on yourself right now.
This is fundamental to understand. If you’re clashing and running away from that person that is triggering you, you’re also running away from becoming more secure. If you turned towards that person and learn how to be secure and thus healthier, the clashing will stop. Remember that you won’t clash if two people are practicing secure attachment. Then you will actually be able to take an honest look at the relationship. Then you can determine if it’s the relationship you want for yourself. If you ignore it and run away from the clash, you are inadvertently putting off dealing with this issue until later on. Maybe until you are married with three kids.
The Unravelling of a relationship
Secure attachment leads to a fulfilling relationship that doesn’t unravel in the future. If you run away from a relationship that highlights your issues, don’t be fooled, you are also running away from yourself. If you’re unaware that your attachment style is creating issues, it is easy to fall into the trap of blaming the other person for bringing this challenge into your life. No, it was already part of you, you just had it repressed and this person brought it out. The only way to be in the “right” relationship is to be secure. You’re either secure or you’re not; and if you’re not, you need to learn to be secure. There is hope. You can learn to be secure. The more you understand your own behaviours, the easier it is to change them.
Moral of the Story
No matter how you slice it, if you and your partner don’t move towards secure attachment, you’re going to have a rough road ahead. If you’re insecure and you land in a relationship you think is the “bomb”, please don’t forget that you are insecure, and therefore, so is the relationship. Overtime it’s going to fall apart. Every relationship that isn’t a secure person with a secure person is eventually going to suffer and unravel. Unless you figure it out and and change your attachment style and your partner does likewise.
So when you meet someone that you find attractive, and you “feel” drawn to them, then later think “geeze, this is harder than I thought at the start”, it’s because you came face-to-face with their attachment style and it’s clashing with yours. What are your options? Well you can run away from them and chalk it up to being the wrong person; this is usually what most people do. It always, always, comes to the surface eventually. It’s not going to be healthy unless you’re with someone secure or you are working on being someone secure.
Growth and Change
If you are insecure, so is every relationship you attempt to be in. Prepare for some suffering. You are going to experience some growth-pains, either at the beginning of your relationship or later on. Whether you do the work now or later in your life, you have to learn to be secure or choose to walk away and chalk it up to they are the wrong person.
Secures are less likely to resort to divorce to handle marital problems. Secures work through their issues and learn to love. So, when insecures divorce, they land back in the pool with all the other insecures for round two. If you didn’t learn it with your first partner, you’ll search and search again, land another insecure attacher and start the whole process all over again.
The good news is, you can become aware of your attachment style and understand other people’s attachment style. Then you can learn to develop a secure attachment style and choose to improve your relationships right away, before you are hitched.
Counselling isn’t just for people who have problems. Counselling can help you understand yourself and your behaviours better, so that you can be aware and make good life choices. Whether you are an individual or a couple, you can work on shifting your attachment style and becoming more secure.