Understanding and Harnessing the Power of Relationships and Attachment Styles.

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Relationships

According to Waldinger, “We cannot talk about a life of meaning without talking about relationships.

Our relationships are what make us human.

When it comes to living a happy life, relationships trump money, fame, social class, genes and everything we are told to strive for first and foremost.

Our relationships and how happy we are in them are not separate from our overall health. They are at the core of the equation.

Healthy relationships protect both our physical and mental health throughout our lives”.

This does not just mean life partners and marriage, but all our relationships.

Those with friends, family, children and our community.

This comes up in both the scientific data on various health measures and biological indicators, but also in the narratives of real people.

Among the top five regrets of the dying is “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”.

But you see,

Who we are and how we live our lives have a great influence on how long and happy we are.

There are no manual or set instructions on what we should be doing to make our relationships with others healthy.

We just start connecting with others and learning from those experiences from the moment we are born.

Build up templates for relationships from the very first relationships we have, with parents, siblings, extended family members and peers.

We have to learn these lessons at our most vulnerable age when we cannot choose our relationships but are wholly dependent on them for our survival.

Those patterns of behaviour that we learn to use early in life to manage our relationships can sometimes prove much less helpful to us in our adult relationships.

However, given that relationships are so crucial to a long and happy life, how can we start (even as adults) to work out how to improve them?

Misconceptions about relationships

  • Be as one.

In a relationship or friendship, it is perfectly OK to disagree.

You don’t have to be on the same page about everything all of the time.

You are two different people each with your sensitivities, background experiences, needs and coping mechanisms.

If you truly open up and connect with another person, you will undoubtedly discover parts of them that you need to tolerate and accept to nurture the relationship over a lifetime.

  • Be together always.

Whether it’s a friendship or an intimate relationship, it is OK to enjoy spending time apart.

You do not have to become two parts of the same person.

You are two separate and unique individuals and to nurture the aspects of yourself that make you different does not need to threaten the relationship.

This relationship myth compounds our fears of abandonment and prevents many people from allowing their partners or themselves to develop and grow as individuals within a relationship.

When we feel secure in a relationship, we can feel freer to be separate people and not feel threatened by the other aspects of our partner’s life.

  • Relationship success means staying together at all costs.

Relationships have a potent effect on our health and happiness, but merely having a relationship is not enough.

If relationships are to have a positive impact on our lives, then this means working to improve the quality of those connections and making careful, intentional choices about them too.

While we can take full responsibility for ourselves, we cannot force change upon another.

It is OK to end a relationship that causes harm to your physical or mental well-being.

  • Happily, ever after

From fairytales to movies, the story always ends as the relationship begins, as if the journey is only in finding the perfect person and after that is endless happiness.

A relationship is a journey that will naturally meet with many twists, turns and bumps in the road.

The strongest of relationships will have down days, periods of disconnection, and disagreement.

There will be times when one or both partners face failure huge loss, or illness and pain.

And also, there will be times when you have mixed emotions or you feel less passionate than before.

There will be times when one or both partners feel confused about what the other person wants or needs.

There will be times when we get it wrong and cause the other person pain.

If we buy into the myth of happily ever after we make ourselves vulnerable to assuming that this relationship just wasn’t meant to be and end it without realizing that all relationships hit bumps in the road.

When they knock you over, getting back up and coming back together is possible.

  • Love shouldn’t be hard.

The idea that if someone is right for you then the two of you drift off into the sunset and everything should be fine all of the time has no bearing on real life and leaves most people feeling dissatisfied with their relationships.

A long-lasting relationship is not a gentle boat ride that drifts downstream.

You have to pick up the oars and make values-based choices and actions about where you want to go with it.

Then you have to put the work in.

Those actions have to be repeated consistently.

If you spend more time drifting than purposefully choosing and working on it, things can get off.

How to get better at relationships

When we look after ourselves, we are looking after our relationships, and when we work on our relationships we are looking after ourselves.

Getting better at relationships does not mean learning how to get the other person to do or be what you want them to be.

In couples therapy, you can work on your relationship together.

But you can also work on your relationships by understanding your own needs and patterns and the cycles you tend to get stuck in.

When you build a better understanding of yourself and practise new ways of communicating and connecting with the people in your life (including you), you can make real shifts in the quality of your relationships.

That understanding of who you want to be, how you want to be there for the people in your life and how to hold boundaries and nurture yourself within those relationships can act as a compass.

So, when we feel lost and confused in the complexities of relationship ups and downs, we don’t have to look to others for our sense of direction.

We come back to the self. We step back from the painting and we see how our current choices fit with the bigger picture we are trying to create.

Attachment

According to Siegel &Hartzell,2004; our attachment styles are formed early in life.

They do not start as a choice. The brain is wired to attach to a caregiver to keep us safe.

It enables every child to seek closeness with a parent, go to that parent for safety and comfort when needed, and use that relationship to create a secure base.

When a child has that secure base, the child then feels safe to explore the world and form new relationships using what they have learned.

But when life happens and parents are not able to give the consistent connection and security that children need to develop that secure attachment, then we can carry those insecure internal processes into our adult relationships.

They impact the way we relate to others as adults because they are the template, we have formed for our concept of what to expect from and how to behave in relationships.

Having a particular attachment style is not a life sentence that sets in stone how you are destined to relate to others.

But it can be a helpful way to understand some of the cycles we feel stuck in as adults.

Our brains are adaptable, so understanding those patterns and making conscious choices to repeatedly do something different, eventually can become our new norm.

Forms of Attachments.

  • Anxious attachment

An anxious attachment style may present itself as the need for frequent reassurance that you are loved and that the other person is not about to abandon you.

Those with an anxious attachment style may have grown up in an environment in which they did not feel safe that their caregivers would return, or one where they did not have access to consistent affection or responsiveness and availability was inconsistent.

Anxious attachment can show up in people-pleasing behaviours; struggles in expressing personal needs or avoidance of confrontation and conflict, a focus on meeting the needs of the partner to the detriment of one’s own needs.

The constant focus on preventing abandonment can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the relentless need for reassurance can feel controlling to those who may have an avoidant attachment style and may lead to conflict.

The anxiously attached partner may build up resentment towards a partner who does not consistently provide that reassurance but may also feel unable to fully express their needs for fear of conflict.

The answer in these situations is neither a constant flow of reassurance, nor dismissing the needs and hoping they go away.

Instead, the anxiously attached partners can practise creating a sense of safety independently from their partner by building their sense of self and learning to soothe themselves.

The partner can help this by providing a more consistent connection without waiting for the other person to ask for it.

So, these are things we can work on both individually and as a couple.

  • Disorganized attachment

If parents are unable to provide care and emotional support that is reliable and consistent, or if that relationship is abusive, then these kinds of interactions may create a disorganized attachment.

As a child, that might be seen as avoidant or resistant responses to caregivers because the mix of experiences is confusing and disorienting.

The person they need for safety can also be frightening and dangerous.

Later on, in adulthood, this attachment style might show up as difficulties in dealing with emotions and a vulnerability towards dissociation in response to stress, intense fear of abandonment and difficulties in relationships.

  • Avoidant attachment

This attachment style can appear almost opposite to an anxious attachment style.

Closeness and intimacy can feel threatening and unsafe, despite still having that human need for connection.

Self-reliance feels safe, giving just enough of oneself to keep a relationship but experiencing discomfort, vulnerability and fear in those connections and struggling with urges to shut down emotionally and avoid intimacy or confrontation.

These behaviours can often be mistaken for a lack of love or care.

But they can be understood as something that once made good sense for the individual.

Those with avoidant style attachments may have experienced a childhood in which parents weren’t available either physically or emotionally to connect and respond to their needs.

Dependence may have led to rejection or caregivers may have been unresponsive.

There is a misconception that those with an avoidant attachment style do not want or need a connection.

They are just as human as anyone else, but miss out on deep connection in the struggle to let down the protective guards that were put up much earlier in life to protect them.

While the anxiously attached person must work on tolerating the vulnerability of self-reliance, the avoidantly attached must build up tolerance of the vulnerability involved in opening up to close connection.

A partner can help with that by developing an understanding of why intimacy feels unsafe or uncomfortable and working alongside them to gradually nurture closeness.

  • Secure attachment

When parents can reliably respond to their child’s emotional and physical needs, that child can learn over time that what she feels can be communicated and responded to.

She feels safe to express needs and learns that she can go into the world to get those needs met.

This does not mean parenting was perfect, but it was reliable enough to generate that secure base and was repaired when mistakes were made so that trust continued.

The securely attached child is not constantly happy, with every need anticipated before a cry.

They will feel safe enough to show their distress when a parent leaves but will rekindle that connection when reunite.

As they continue into adulthood they will enjoy closeness, and feel able to express their needs and feelings, while maintaining the capacity for some independence.

A secure attachment is a solid foundation for managing healthy relationships as an adult but is not a guarantee of ideal relationship choices or behaviours.

Those with a secure attachment style navigating a relationship with someone who has a different attachment style can improve their relationship by working hard to understand and show compassion to their partner who had a different experience in their early years.

From the Above Knowledge and insights we can conclude that;

While the experiences we had in early life can be highly potent in how we express ourselves in adult relationships, they do not have to be a life sentence.

Learning about ourselves and those we are closest to is the work of relationships.

Recognizing and building an understanding around our patterns of relating, as well as those of the people we may be in a relationship with, is a big step towards improving our relationships.

It increases our chances of being able to step back from personalizing the behaviour of others and making conscious choices that can help you both build a close and trusting connection that enhances both of your lives.

Relationships researcher John Gottman (Gottman $ Silver, 1999) suggests that for both men and women, the overriding factor that determines how satisfied they feel in their relationship (by 70 per cent) is the quality of their friendship.

So actively focusing on how to develop friendship and working on what it takes to be a better friend is a good idea.

When we work on building the quality of friendship, we might do that by regularly enjoying each other’s company and working hard to maintain mutual compassion and respect for each other, getting to know each other in the finest detail, finding ways to express appreciation and care in everyday life.

The more of life we can fill with closeness and experiences that strengthen friendship, the more protection the relationship has against the inevitable hurdles that come in the form of disagreements, stressful life events and losses.

It is much easier to ride the waves of life’s ups and downs if we are well-practise at pulling together and have built up deep respect and gratitude for each other.


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