Love & Attachment

Love and attachment are central to the human experience. So the stakes are high in relationships. As a result, the fear, anger, jealousy, and regret can be high too.

For many people, their defense mechanisms come out in full force once they get attached to someone. This causes them to struggle in the realm of intimacy. As Leonard Cohen once said: “The most challenging activity that human get into is love”.

The two most common “intimacy issues” that people seek therapy for (although there are many others) are: anxious attachment, and avoidant attachment.

Anxious Attachment

A person with an anxious attachment style, deep down, doesn’t feel good enough for their partner. This causes them to be hypersensitive to perceived threats to their relationship. For example, if their partner goes a couple hours without responding to their text, their anxiety will likely be triggered, and they may begin questioning the stability of their relationship.

For a person with an anxious attachment style, it feels as though it’s just a matter of time before their partner loses interest in them and leaves. As a result, they tend to sacrifice their self respect (in a variety of ways) to try and prevent this from happening.

Avoidant Attachment

A person with an avoidant attachment style desires intimacy, but resists it at the same time. They tend to seek “flings” and “situationships” to appease this internal contradiction. For a person with an avoidant attachment style, it never feels like quite the right time to be in a serious relationship. They’re too busy focusing on their career, or still have “work” to do on themselves, or something along those lines.

When they do find themselves in one, they tend to send their partner mixed messages (“Come close, stay away!”), and maintain emotional distance in a variety of ways. Internally, it’s as if they’re being pulled in two different directions (towards love and away from it), which often leaves their partner confused and wondering how important they actually are to them.

When a person with an avoidant attachment style dates a person with an anxious attachment style, they tend to engage in a toxic cycle which reinforces both of their attachment patterns:

The Avoidant feels smothered by the relationship and pushes the Anxious away to maintain a sense of emotional distance; this can be done in a subtle or not so subtle way. The Anxious panics and immediately attempts to re-establish connection (i.e. to gain assurance that the relationship is safe and alleviate their anxiety). But this “neediness”causes the Avoidant to feel even more smothered, and have a greater urge to push the Anxious away.

And around and around they go…

The extent to which one is conscious of their intimacy issues varies for each person. We are usually somewhat conscious and somewhat unconscious of the patterns we’re acting out, and gain self-awareness with each “failed” relationship we go through.

Therapy provides the opportunity to enhance our self-awareness and practicing viewing ourselves more objectively. In doing so, we can begin to transcend our intimacy issues, rather than project them onto our partner.