“He’s just like all the others–distant, only texting me when he feels like it, but then he says he loves me and I just feel so good.”
While the people we date may be different, we often find ourselves dating similar patterns. What’s funny is that we perceive the ‘bad boy syndrome’ is generalized to the public population. Why do all the women go for the bad boy? It may actually be more complex than that. Over the course of our adult lifetimes, including the time as children, we’ve developed styles of attachment to other human beings because at some points it was most beneficial for our survival (physically or emotionally) to do so. For instance, as a child we may have imprinted on our brain that our needs may or may not be met, so keep quiet and take care of it yourself and your mom will acknowledge “what a good girl you are. You’re so easy.” Now in moving forward, we try to apply similar strategies when we have emotional/physical and may not actually be to our benefit for creating healthy, long-term, relationships. As an adult maybe we downplayed our needs in order to ensure the person stayed or maybe it was the opposite and we got our needs met by creating screaming fits about how he/she is never there for us—which brought them to be there with us and pay attention to us.
GAH! So what do we do about this?
Here’s where power in the insight is the first step. In adult attachment there are 4 different styles of attachment across a spectrum of secure and insecure (avoidant, anxious, disorganized), and it’s not so black and white, as in, “I belong fully to this category.” I find it most beneficial to identify with the behaviors rather than the label. That way you are empowering yourself to be able to change patterns rather than embodying a fixed identity.
We can engage in activating strategies, which are thoughts and feelings that compel you to get close, physically or emotionally, to your partner. If not checked, these can lead to protest behaviors: actions to reestablish contact with your partner and get their attention.
These are actions like excessively calling and texting many times, waiting for them to respond; setting yourself up in a location where you know you’ll ‘run into them’; silently sitting and stewing on the matter while in the same room as your partner; making threats to end the relationship and hoping they will step in to stop you; pretending to be busy; actions to make them jealous.
You know what I’m talking about.
Another pattern we can find ourselves in are deactivating strategies, which are actions we take to create space/distance when we perceive closeness occurring. Like the child from the example above, we do this to turn off our attachment needs and squelch intimacy.
These are actions like saying you’re not ready to commit but staying together; focusing on the flaws of the other person so you slowly detach yourself from them emotionally; flirting with others, pulling away when things are getting close and going well; checking out mentally or ignoring texts/calls for extended period of time; strong belief in independence and not wanting to ‘lose themselves’ in a relationship.
You feel the distance.
We don’t have to play this game; however, and fall victim to the same patterning that got us here again and again. We can show up in secure action, meaning that we are able to voice what we fear, desire, need to our partners. We value who we are and acknowledge that we are separate people form our partnership, as well as a part of a unit. We can allow ourselves to interdepend—asking for what we need and letting our partner to do the same—knowing that this is to the benefit of our well-being and the well-being of the unit. Even if we get triggered and have emotions, as all humans do, we are able to speak from a place that is open, calm, clear, non-blaming, present, space.
To be able to participate as a partner from this space, accept your true relationship needs for intimacy, availability, comfort, and security as valid and to know that you have a right to be able to ask for it CLEARLY and CALMLY. Self-reliance can be confused with independence; however, self-reliance reduces your ability to be close to someone and is not necessarily to the betterment of either of your well-being. Instead, focus on mutual support. Do reach out to your partner when you are activated and/or need comfort; however, also practice self-soothing and calming the inner critic or chatter. It’s a balance, my love. Remind yourself that you need intimacy despite your discomfort with it and move forward knowing that you are breaking the patterns that have kept you prisoner for too long.
I’ll be sharing more about Attachment theory in future articles and highlight specific actions you can take to make your shift; however, if you just can’t wait, check out my podcast episode with George Haas on Eat Play Sex podcast or my interview on Tuff Love with Robert Kandell