Couples who are secure together intrinsically know that they can both depend on each other. Such couples thrive because they know their partner has their back. They are not trapped in the false mindset promoting total independence from each other, a belief that is rooted in the fear of being co-dependent on each other. They know that there is a world of difference between being co-dependent and inter-dependent. As A. Levine and R.Heller, the others of the book “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep Love” point out, most people are only as needy as their unmet needs. Because our physiology is deeply connected to our psychology and our attachment system, when we become attached to someone who is unable and/or unwilling to meet our attachment needs, our mental and emotional health suffers. In fact, brain scans show that emotional pain is registered as intensely as physical pain. In other words, to truly feel and be independent, we need to know we can truly depend on our chosen person. All of this to say, it behooves us to choose carefully the person we attach to.
As pointed out in this video, the pairing of a person with an avoidant attachment style (aka Island) with someone with an anxious style of attachment (aka Wave) can be, especially in periods of high stress or emotional needs, quite rocky and challenging. Because each person is coming into the relationship from a totally different definition of what it means to be a couple, the clashes are often quite overwhelming and/or unsettling for both. In such pairings, “opposites attract” is activated to its fullest. Initially, each person is attracted to how different the other person is. Those differences are part of the “lust factor”.
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They greatly contribute to the excitement each person experiences in the early stages of the relationship. As each person’s individual attachment style returns –and soon or later they always do– the clashes in attachment needs begin to erode the connection and sense of safety in the relationship. When “Opposites attract” turns on its head, each partner confirms his/her innate views of relationships. The Island will be proven right that intimate relationships are suffocating and are asking too much from him/her. The Wave will be proven right that his/her needs don’t really matter, that people are cold, selfish and distant, and that they are always left or easily discarded.
To avoid this heart-wrenching trap, it is very wise to vet our potential mates more mindfully. Letting our hearts, intense emotions, fascination with his/her personality, professional, financial, material or physical attributes, and the intense mind-blowing sexual connection –is such is the case– be the predominant forces guiding the dating process often lead to emotionally painful outcomes –and often break-up– down the line. When the relationship goes south, Islands have a tendency to move-on in search of the real, REAL ONE. Waves, on the other hand, are often affected more deeply and take much longer to mend their wounds and rebuild their sense of self. In fact, they are frequently left with an intense state of guilt and shame for their need for deep connection. Unfortunately, in most cases both Island and Waves will return into the dating pool and repeat the same missteps with someone new. This will only reinforce each person’s initial beliefs about relationships.
As pointed out in the video, people who are deeply polarized at the extreme of either poles of the avoidant <––> anxious spectrum have a greater challenge when it comes to creating a culture of safety and trust in their relationship. On the flip side, they also have a greater potential for profound transformation and healing; untangle themselves from familial and trans-generational lineage of attachment styles. While this doesn’t happen overnight, it holds the potential for real freedom; untangled oneself from what might hold him/her from having a successful intimate relationship!
What about couples who are, or want to be deeply committed but struggle to keep an organic flow between their different, often opposite needs for proximity and distance? And what about those couples who know that their ongoing fights are not really about the texts that were not returned in timely matter –which makes the person feel unseen and unimportant (Waves)– or the harsh judgment towards their partner for being too needy and wanting to hold hands in public –which makes the partner feel trapped and suffocated (Island)? When these couples, and the countless others also trapped in their negative relational dances, become aware that their ongoing patterns of arguing are ignited by archetypal forces bigger than themselves, they are a step closer to finding win-win solutions. Such couples may greatly benefit from a book like this one, and/or the help of a qualified professional. With proper support and expertise, these couples can; develop greater insights on their own interpersonal attachment styles and that of their beloved; learn how each person’s attachment style affects his/her partner in daily life; learn to more accurately read each other’s physiology; develop better skills to short-circuit the escalation of their negative bonding patterns, which only further damages their relationship; and learn to communicate more efficiently and lovingly.
Lastly, while working on our couple’s dynamic requires consistent and steady work, and a genuine desire to learn a different way of being in a relationship, such work is quite transformative for both partners. While we can’t change our partners but only ourselves, when each person is committed and dedicated to become an updated version of him/herself, in time a new couple dynamic emerges. A “couple’s bubble” is created where each person knows he/she is safe because s/he is both dependent on, and independent of his/her partner. A “couple’s bubble” within which it is safe to be inter-dependent!
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©