Attached

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“Anyone who has been plagued by that age-old question—‘What is his deal?’—could benefit from a crash course in attachment theory.” That’s one of the back cover credits from Elle magazine.

Another back cover credit from a more scholarly source reads: “Cinderella’s prince passionately turned his kingdom upside down simply to find her perfectly shaped foot, and they lived happily ever after. This book is for the rest of us. In Attached, Levine and Heller distill years of attachment theory research on the nature of human relationships into a practical, highly readable guide, allowing its users to prevent or untangle doomed relationships and to predict and enhance those that will well and fit for a lifetime.” – John B. Herman, M.D. associate chief of psychiatry and distinguished scholar of medical psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, and associate professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.

A third back cover credit from one of the primary researchers in adult attachment research—Phillip R. Shaver, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology, University of California, Davis—reads: “Based on twenty-five years of research, laced with vivid and instructive examples, and enriched with interesting and well-designed exercises, this book provides deep insights and invaluable skills that will benefit every readers.”

My personal credit contribution—for what it’s worth—might read: “Currently, in my clinical work with couples, there are two primary reads that I try and get into the hands of every twosome. One of those ‘must-reads’ is Attached; The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—And Keep—Love (2010) by Amir Levine, M.D. & Rachel Heller, M.A. The feedback I receive from couples has been 100% ‘Thank You!’ Not only does attachment theory guide my in-session practice of couple therapy, I refer to the reading of Attached as ‘therapy outside of therapy.’ ‘Read it and discuss it as a couple’ is the commitment I try and secure from new clients.” (By the way, the other ‘must-read’ for me is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, 1999; 2015, by John Gottman, Ph.D.; see my August, 2014 blog post).

Attached (2010) is organized into four sections. In the remainder of this blog, I’ll include a few excerpts and headings from each section to give you a kind of SparkNotes feel for this exceptionally helpful resource.

Introduction

“Adult attachment designates three main ‘attachment styles,’ or manners in which people perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships, which parallel those found in children: Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant. Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving; anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back; avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness….All people in our society, whether they have just started dating someone or have been married for forty years, fall into one of these categories, or, more rarely, into a combination of the latter two (anxious and avoidant).” (p. 8) By the way, “intimacy” often connotes “sexual intimacy,” but should not be defined so narrowly. Think of intimacy as multifaceted; “closeness,” whatever the nature of the closeness.

“It was John Bowlby’s stroke of genius that brought him to the realization (that)….We’ve been bred to be dependent on a significant other. The need starts in the womb and ends when we die….This mechanism, called the attachment system, consists of emotions and behaviors that ensure that we remain safe and protected by staying close to loved ones. The mechanism explains why a child parted from his or her mother becomes frantic, searches wildly, or cries uncontrollably until he or she reestablishes contact with her. These reactions are coined ‘protest behavior,’ and we all exhibit them as grown-ups.” (p. 12)

“While the teachings of the codependency movement remain immensely helpful in dealing with family members who suffer from substance abuse (as was the initial intention), they can be misleading and even damaging when applied indiscriminately to all relationships….The emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today’s popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective. Dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or a preference.” (p. 26)

Your Relationship Toolkit: Deciphering Attachment Styles (Part One)

“Step One: What is My Attachment Style…Following is a questionnaire designed to measure your attachment style – the way you relate to others in the context of intimate relationships. The questionnaire is based on the Experience in Close Relationships (ECR) questionnaire….The ECR allowed for specific short questions that targeted particular aspects of adult attachment based on two main categories: anxiety in the relationship and avoidance. Later, Chris Fraley from the University of Illinois (and colleagues) revised the questionnaire to create the ECR-R….For a fully validated adult attachment questionnaire, you can log on to Dr. Chris Fraley’s website at: htttp://www.web-research-design.net./cgi-bin-crq-crq.pl.” (pp. 39-40)  I often ask couples to take this online questionnaire and bring back the results to the next therapy session. It only takes a few minutes.

“Step Two: Cracking the Code – What is My Partner’s Style?”…Figuring out other people’s attachment styles is usually trickier than identifying your own….Luckily, without knowing it, most people give away almost all the information you need to determine their attachment style in their natural, day-to-day actions and words….Following is a questionnaire designed to help you establish your partner’s or date’s attachment style.” (pp. 49; 51; see chapter for questionnaire)

The Three Attachment Styles in Everyday Life (Part Two)

“Living with a Sixth Sense for Danger: The ANXIOUS Attachment Style” (p. 77)

“Keeping Love at Arm’s Length: The AVOIDANT Attachment Style” (p. 109)

“Getting Comfortably Close: The SECURE Attachment Style” (p. 131)

When Attachment Styles Clash (Part Three)

“All three cases we’ve described have one thing in common: While one partner truly wants intimacy, the other feels very uncomfortable when things become too close. This is often the case when one of the partners in a bond is avoidant and the other is either anxious or secure – but it’s most pronounced when one partner is avoidant and the other is anxious. Research on attachment repeatedly shows that when your need for intimacy is met and reciprocated by your partner, your satisfaction level will rise. Incongruent intimacy needs, on the other hand, usually translate into substantially lower satisfaction. When couples disagree about the degree of closeness and intimacy desired in a relationship, the issue eventually threatens to dominate all of their dialogue.  We call this situation the ‘anxious-avoidant trap…” (pp. 156-157)

“Perhaps one of the most intriguing findings in adult attachment research is that attachment styles are stable but plastic. This means they tend to stay consistent over time, but they can also change….Here we want to offer couples a chance to work together to become more secure.” (p. 163) You’ll definitely want to read Chapter 9 (“Escaping the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: How the Anxious-Avoidant Couple Can Find Security”). Included is a “Relationship Inventory” which “will walk you through your past and present relationships from an attachment perspective.” (p. 166)

The Secure Way: Sharpening Your Relationship Skills (Part Four)

“Effective communication works on the understanding that we all have specific needs in relationships, many of which are determined by your attachment style. They aren’t good or bad, they simply are what they are. If you’re anxious, you have a strong need for closeness and have to be reassured at all times that your partner loves and respects you. If you’re avoidant, you need to be able to maintain some distance, either emotional or physical, from your partner and preserve a large degree of separateness. In order to be happy in a relationship, we need to find a way to communicate our attachment needs clearly without resorting to attacks or defensiveness.” (p. 222)

Epilogue

“We (have) allowed some deeply ingrained misconceptions to influence our thinking. The first misconception is that everyone has the same capacity for intimacy….It’s tempting to forget that, in fact, people have very different capacities for intimacy….The second common misconception…is that marriage is the be-all and end-all….that the decision to marry means they’re now ready for true closeness and emotional partnership….In this book, however, we’ve shown how mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in marriage, even for people who love each other greatly….The third hard-to-shed misconception we fell for is that we alone are responsible for our emotional needs; they are not our partner’s responsibility….Again, we must constantly remind ourselves: In a true partnership, both partners view it as their responsibility to ensure the other’s emotional well-being.” (pp. 269-271)

Bill Bray, Colorado Springs, CO

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