Avoid This Attachment Style in Dating!

June 11, 2014

poohFor months now J 2.0 and other readers here have been saying great things about the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love I finally grabbed a copy and it was so good I went through it a second time and took notes. This is a book that will literally change the way you date!

Attached explains to the lay reader the science of human attachment. This is a relatively new field. Authors Levine and Heller reject the traditional therapy model that discourages dependency between individuals. Instead, they argue that dependency is natural and unavoidable:

“Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the level of hormones in our blood.

…Dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or preference.”

Attachment style is so important in human relationships that choosing a mate with a compatible style is essential to relationship success.

If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, find the right person to depend on and travel down it with that person.

…The ability to step into the world on our own often stems fro the knowledge that there is someone beside us whom we can count on – this is the “dependency paradox.”

What Are Attachment Styles?

There are three main attachment styles in romantic relationships:

Secure

  1. Warm
  2. Loving
  3. Feels comfortable with intimacy

Anxious

  1. Craves intimacy
  2. Preoccupied with relationships
  3. Worries about partner’s ability to love them back

Avoidant

  1. Equates intimacy with loss of independence
  2. Constantly tries to minimize closeness

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Not surprisingly, feeling secure in your relationship is the path to happiness:

“If we are unsure whether the person closest to us, our romantic partner, truly believes in us and supports us and will be there for us in times of need, we’ll find it much harder to maintain focus and engage in life.

When our partners are thoroughly dependable and make us feel safe, and especially if they know how to reassure us during the hard times, we can turn out attention to all the other respects of life that make our existence meaningful.”

How Did We Evolve Different Attachment Styles?

Different attachment styles most likely evolved due to variable environmental conditions. Throughout our history secure attachment has worked best because our ancestors lived predominantly in close knit groups where working together was by far the best way to secure their future and that of their offspring.

But for those born into hostile conditions, skills other than collaborative ones became more important in fending off hunger, disease, and natural disasters. Self-sufficiency and detachment increased odds of survival.

Levine and Heller observe that we are programmed to seek out emotional intelligence in the form of emotional availability when seeking a mate. For both men and women, emotional availability determines the potential strength of commitment, which is insurance against desertion or infidelity.

What Is My Attachment Style? What is My Partner’s/Date’s Attachment Style?

Take Heller and Levine’s compatibility quiz HERE!

The Characteristics of Each Style – a Cheat Sheet

 

SecureAvoidantAnxious
Reliable and consistent.Sends mixed signals.Wants a lot of closeness in the relationship.
Makes decisions with you.Values his/her independence greatly.Expresses insecurities – worries about rejection.
Flexible view of relationships.Has rigid views of relationships and uncompromising rules.Unhappy when not in a relationship.
Communicates relationship issues well.Has difficulty talking about what’s going on between you.Plays games to keep your attention/interest.
Can reach compromise during arguments.During a disagreement needs to “get away” or explodes.Has difficulty explaining what’s bothering him/her. Expects you to guess.
Not afraid of commitment or dependency.Has an unrealistically romantic view of how a relationship should be.Acts out.
Doesn’t view relationship as hard work.Mistrustful – fears being taken advantage of by partner.Has a hard time not making things about him/herself in the relationship.
Closeness creates further closeness.Uses distancing strategies – emotional or physical.Lets you set the tone of the relationship.
Introduces friends and family early on.  Emphasizes relationship boundaries.Is preoccupied with the relationship.
Naturally expresses feeling for you.Doesn’t make his/her intentions clear.Fears that small acts will ruin the relationship – believes she/he must work hard to keep your interest.
Doesn’t play games.Devalues you or previous partners.Suspicious that you may be unfaithful.
Healthy self-esteem.Inflated self-esteem.Low self-esteem.
Enjoys both physical and emotional components of sex.Focuses only on sexual act itself, does not enjoy holding and cuddling.Prefers strong emotions during sex, loves kissing and caressing. May use sex to as affirmation and to gauge mate’s level of attraction.

Filtering is King. How to Avoid the Avoidant.

As you can see, a relationship with an Avoidant will be fraught with difficulty. According to the authors, the basic desire to be close is missing in them.

“While they do have a need for attachment and love – they too possess a basic mechanism in the brain to get attached – they tend to feel suffocated when things get too close.”

Some of this is attributable to genetics, and some reflects life experience, especially poor bonding in early life.

Attachment styles can change:

  • ∗ 70-75% of adults keep the same attachment style
  • ∗ 25-30% report a change, often due to a powerful romantic relationship

But Avoidants are the least likely to change. For this and other reasons, they are overrepresented in the dating pool.

Why Avoidants are So Prevalent In the Dating Pool

  1. They end their relationships more frequently.
  2. They cheat more than other styles.
  3. Avoidants who divorce are more likely to divorce again.
  4. They suppress loving emotions, so they “get over” partners very quickly and start dating again immediately.
  5. Avoidants don’t date one another, because they lack the “glue” that keeps people together. As a result, more of them are single at any given time.

In contrast, Secures date a few people and then settle down early. They rarely reappear in the dating pool.

“When you meet someone new, the probability that they have an avoidant attachment style is high – much higher than their 25% share of the population.”

Secure attachers are not generally attracted to those with an avoidant style, and vice versa. Avoidants prefer anxiously attached people.

“[Avoidant and anxious] attachment styles complement each other. Each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships.

The avoidants’ defensive self-perception that they are strong and independent is confirmed, as is the belief that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with.

Avoidants need their partners to be needy and incapable so that they can feels independent and powerful.”

Anxious women are more likely to date avoidant men.

“Quite soon into the relationship you start to get mixed signals. He calls, but takes his time about it. He is interested in you, but lets you know that he is still playing the field. You are left guessing.

Every time you get mixed messages, your attachment system is activated and you become preoccupied with the relationship. His attention makes you feel cared for and elated. Then he pulls back and you live in suspense, waiting for the next positive reinforcement.

The anxious types find that their perception of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed, as is their anticipation of ultimately being let down by significant others. Each style is drawn to reenact a familiar script over and over again.”

Meanwhile, “Secures don’t activate the attachment system of anxious women, which feels like “no sparks.” They associate a calm attachment system with boredom and indifference.”

I’m really struck by this, as it explains a great deal. We know that women with low self-esteem are the most likely to be drawn to bad boys and to tolerate their disrespectful behavior. The Avoidant/Anxious pairing creates a vicious cycle of dysfunction that is hard to break.

Here’s how women get stuck in the bad boy rut:

“Research shows that after you live this way for a while, you start to do something interesting. You start to equate the anxiety, the preoccupation, the obsession, and those ever-so-short burst of joy with love.

You are equating an activated attachment system with passion…You become programmed to get attracted to those very individuals who are least likely to make you happy.”

It strikes me that a lot of the dating advice available online is offered by anxious women and avoidant men. People who purport to be good at attracting the opposite sex, but who are usually single themselves. Levine and Heller also warn about most dating advice:

“Common dating advice is usually to play hard to get – this attracts avoidants because you ignore your needs and let the other person determine the amounts of closeness or distance in the relationship.

By being someone  you’re not, you’re allowing another to be with you on his or her own terms and come and go as he pleases.

If Anxious attachers do get together with Secure attachers, they can be challenging at first, but often settle into secure behaviors with a loving partner:

“If you’re sensitive and nurturing enough to calm their fears – which is very doable – you will win a greatly loving and devoted partner.

Once you are receptive to their basic needs for warmth and security, their sensitivity can become an asset; they’ll be very much in tune with your wants and will be helpful and dedicated.

What’s more they will also gradually learn how to communicate their fears and emotional better and you will need to second-guess them less and less.”

Bottom line: 70% of the population has relationship potential, and attachment style is the most crucial compatibility factor.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

When you’re still getting to know someone, you don’t usually have the insight and information represented in the Cheat Sheet above. Heller and Levine helpfully specify behaviors that signal the Avoidant attachment style:

  1. Sends mixed messages, e.g. push-pull.
  2. Disregards your emotional well-being.
  3. Suggests that you are too needy, too sensitive or overreacting.
  4. Ignores things you say that inconvenience him – doesn’t respond or changes topic.
  5. Addresses your concerns in a “court of law”  – responds to the facts without taking feelings into account.
  6. Defensive argument style, threatened by criticism.
  7. Sets boundaries, keeps his distance.
  8. Separates sex from emotional intimacy.
  9. Uses Miranda Rights in dating: Warns you up front that he is a “bad boyfriend,”  not ready for commitment, etc. to absolve himself of emotional responsibility. But doesn’t walk away; “If you get hurt, it’s your own fault.”

The best way to attract a good relationship partner is to be authentic about your own wishes and needs:

5 Principles of Effective Communication

  1. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Emotional bravery.
  2. Focus on your needs, not on partner’s shortcomings.
  3. Be specific.
  4. Don’t blame – no judgment, anger, or accusations
  5. Be assertive and non apologetic

“Falling in love requires putting your soul in your partner’s hand for safekeeping.

True love, in the evolutionary sense, means peace of mind…A relationship should make you feel more self-confident and give you peace of mind. If it doesn’t, this is a wakeup call!”

For those of you who tend to be Anxious or even Avoidant, or are in relationships with these partners, the book has some helpful chapters on how to deal.

I can’t help picturing these Avoidants as Whitewalkers, stalking the 30-something dating scene with their dead eyes. This is perhaps the best reason of all to date with seriousness of purpose in your 20s.

Does this theory explain some of your past dating experiences?