I love you as I have been loved

The Attachment Theory provides us with a framework within which it is possible to understand the dynamics of a couple.

In fact, the ways in which we bond with our partner reflect the ways in which we related to our attachment figure as children, because it is on the basis of this primary relationship that we build our mental representations of ourselves, of others and of our relationships.

Moreover, it is precisely the quality of the experience we had as children with our attachment figure that defines our attachment style as adults. In fact, how we will think of our partner as a person to trust or not and ourselves as a person worthy or unworthy of love, depends on how that bond was formed in our childhood.

Specifically, there are various types of bonding: a secure attachment bond, an anxious bond, or an avoidant bond. Mariella told me: “I’m always afraid that sooner or later my husband will abandon me because I don’t think he can really love someone like me, who is not very attractive”. Sara said: “I am unable to trust my boyfriend, so I don’t get too involved in a relationship with him.”

Studies confirm that those who have a secure attachment bond, having experienced a stable and permanent image of their caregiver, will be able to have stable, intimate relationships, able to separate when necessary, and to manage loneliness positively. Those who have had a secure attachment style, in short, are able to respect the dimension and freedom of others, seeing their partner as a secure base on which to depend in a healthy way, but at the same time from which they can move away independently to enlarge their horizons.

In addition to secure attachment, there are two other types of attachment behaviours characterized by avoidance or anxiety. Those who have an avoidant attachment style see the other person as a threat from which to protect themselves. For these people, relationships are not a safe place to be in, which is why they tend to forge superficial bonds by channelling their energies into extra-affective activities such as work, sports, etc.

Highly avoidant people are afraid of being vulnerable in a relationship and gain strength through autonomy and independence in times of stress, they distance themselves from their partners, and seek comfort in loneliness. They have difficulty expressing emotions and in giving support. They may look for impossible and difficult relationships that can only confirm the difficulty of maintaining a bond or they will try not to get emotionally involved and almost adopt preventive measures against the risk of further disappointments caused by past experiences and eventual rejection.

If the secure partner sees the other as an asset and the avoidant partner sees the other as a threat, the anxious partner sees their significant other as their only source of security. The characteristics of this attachment style are fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, and tendency to co-dependency. People with anxious attachment are worried about being abandoned or unappreciated by their partners. They are people who constantly question the commitment of others because they feel unworthy of love and their tendency to cling often leads their partner to abandon them and this only reinforces their insecurities. A person with this type of attachment bond feels unable to endure any detachment and will be oriented towards the search for close and protective relationships.

But attachment style is not a curse, you can modify it. Although attachment styles develop within the first year of life, they can change slowly based on new relational experiences. An avoidant or anxious individual may gradually gain more trust from having a partner with secure attachment. How? The secure partner can provide the anxious partner with more reassurance and at the same time can learn not to invade the space of an avoidant partner, who needs time and space for themselves.

Simpson and Rholes call this process “partner buffering,” and it involves responding to the significant other in a way that fits their attachment style. By behaving so, their partner’s distress will decrease and the conflict in the relationship can be resolved. However, you might think that buffering your partner reinforces bad behaviour since you respond to your anxious partner’s need for attachment by reassuring them more than you would be normally inclined to do. Moreover, there is a doubt that partner buffering can promote emotional detachment, by offering the partner characterized by an avoidant style, more space. For it to be truly effective, partner buffering requires a great deal of self-awareness and introspection to understand one’s own and others’ attachment style and a certain ability to implement it, perhaps with the help of training and support at the beginning of this path by an expert in couple therapy.

Sergio wrote: “I feel loved by the fact that my wife doesn`t nag me any more about my going out.  Her nagging distanced me from her in the past. Now that she doesn’t make me feel imprisoned anymore, I come back earlier than usual, happy to come home.”

Martina comments: “I was afraid of being abandoned by my husband and I asked him for constant reassurance. When he started alerting me to his whereabouts before I asked, I felt reassured that my husband understood my anxiety and wanted to relieve it.”

Source: www.cittanuova.it – Lucia Coco-De Angelis