Primed for Attachment


Q I have been dating a guy for almost a year. When I suggest spending more time together (we rarely spend more than one day of the weekend and one evening during the work week together despite the fact that we live less than 20 minutes apart), he accuses me of suffocating him. His distant behavior scares me and I find myself saying things I later regret, which seems to push him further away. We broke up once because of all this, and then got back together. But now we seem to be falling into the same pattern and it’s making it hard for me to keep up with my work and friends—what should I do?

A My previous column partially addressed this situation. From the girlfriend’s descriptions, her boyfriend’s behavior appeared to be consistent with the “avoidant” attachment style; while she herself appeared to have an “anxious” style.

This month we look at how partners with “anxious” and/or “avoidant” attachment styles who wish to stay together can mitigate the naturally-occurring vicious-cycle by moving toward a “secure” attachment style.

A “secure” attachment style, as described in Amir Levine and Rachel Heller’s book, Attached, is characterized by effectively communicating one’s needs and feelings; reading one’s partner’s emotional cues and responding to them; enjoying intimacy and taking relationship issues in stride without becoming overly worried about the relationship.
The following are a few interrelated ways through which you can attain a “secure” attachment style:

• Priming. While avoidant tendencies are difficult for an “anxious” partner to reconcile, studies have found that “priming” (reminding people of security-enhancing experiences they’ve had) can actually help “anxious” people create their own greater sense of security unilaterally.

One way of priming for security is to identify and role-model people who exhibit the “secure” attachment style. You can role-model “secure” people by observing and adopting the ways they act in different situations.

• Inventory your own relationship history from an attachment perspective in order to identify debilitating patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions which serve as road blocks to becoming more secure.

• Implement “secure” conflict resolution principles. Attached sets forth the following five different principles to use during a disagreement with a partner:

a. Uphold the premise that your partner’s well-being is as important as your own by showing concern for his/her well-being;

b. Maintain your focus on the issue at hand, as opposed to veering off topic, for example making personal accusations;

c. Avoid making hurtful generalizations;

d. Remain willing to engage, as opposed to withdrawing or digging in your heels;

e. Effectively communicate your feelings and needs, as opposed to expecting your partner to read your mind.

Jasbina is the founder and president of Intersections Match, the only personalized matchmaking and dating coaching firm serving singles of South Asian descent in the United States. She is also the host of Intersections Talk Radio, a monthly lifestyle

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