You’re in love … and it’s a beautiful thing. You’ve never felt so alive, so excited, so hopeful about the future. You feel so lucky: you’ve found the yin to your yang, the sugar to your tea, the jelly to your peanut butter.
Do you ever wonder what made you choose each other?
According to attachment theory, the answer lies in your early childhood. It’s a hot topic, thanks to a best-selling book with the cumbersome title Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love. Authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller apply the theories developed by British psychologist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, which are a mainstay in early childhood psychology, to our adult relationships.
Attachment theory found that our behavior in relationships is formed by our perception of safety and security with our parents. Researchers put a child and a parent in a room full of toys. At one point, the parent was asked to leave the room for a short time. The researchers watched the child’s reaction. Even more importantly, they saw three very different reactions when the parent returned.
Some children grew anxious when they realized they were alone, but quickly calmed down upon the parent’s return. Those children had an attachment style the researchers called “secure.”
Another group cried inconsolably, even when the parent returned. Their play time was ruined. Their entire focus became the need to cling to a parent who’d disappeared. They were labeled as “insecurely” attached. Their style was called “anxious.”
A final group seemed entirely unconcerned. In fact, those children pushed their parents away when they returned. This, the researchers concluded, was an avoidant attachment style.
Let’s get beyond what seems like a rather mean exercise, and talk about what this might mean for you, young lover.
According to adult attachment theory, there’s a very good chance that your adult relationship style hasn’t changed much since you were a little tyke. Neither has your beloved’s. The key to making your relationship work is to understand what each of you needs.
First, attachment theory says we have a genetic need to be in a close relationship — maybe more than one. So you’ve got that going for you.
The next step, if you don’t already know it, is to figure out your relationship styles. How? There are a couple of options.
You can pay attention. Do you tend to be insecure? Do you worry a lot? Are you constantly wondering what people think of you? After an argument, do you question your entire relationship?
If you do, you just might be anxious.
Does your beloved behave like a steady ship through any storm? Is she or he calm and reasonable, able to weather relationship and life crises without thinking the world is falling apart? She sounds secure.