Wouldn’t it be great if we could really learn about relationships from sitcoms? Life is a touch more challenging. Problems aren’t often solved in 90 minutes. Instead of witty banter, we sometimes have to deal with harsh words. Figuring out what does and doesn’t work is, well… work. But it’s some of the most important and gratifying work you’ll ever do. Relationships can feel like a riddle at times. This does not mean you can’t and won’t crack the code. Below are some guidelines to help with that process. Pro tip: It helps to learn about attachment styles!
Understanding Attachment Styles
Each of us has an attachment style that was initially shaped in childhood. It’s like an internal compass navigating us through our relations and interactions with others. Generally speaking, there are four attachment styles (adaptations):
- Secure: You easily love and allow yourself to be loved. You can move between feeling good when you are alone and feeling in balance when you are with another. Dancing between autonomy and interdependence is easy.
- Ambivalent: You may feel insecure in your relationship and anxious about being rejected. Often you over-focus on others and forget your own needs. You might even feel quite panicky when you sense your partner pulling away, even if they are just needing a bit of space.
- Avoidant: You maintain your distance and fear intimacy. You feel more emotionally regulated when you are alone and find maintaining closeness stressful. You are confident that you can take care of yourself but have difficulty opening up to others or even asking for support.
- Disorganized: You might send mixed messages — craving closeness but running from it when it arrives. Disorganized attachment often arises when your primary caregivers, the ones you look to support you and care for you were also a source of threat or fear.
You might notice that three of the four styles are insecure connections. Your adult attachment style initially is an adaptation to the dynamics with childhood caregivers. It is also impacted by our intimate relationships as we go through life. Fortunately, these styles are not permanent.
Are you in a healthy partnership? To follow is a list of signs of healthy relationships so you can assess your own.
Signs of a Healthy Relationship
The Root Word of Kindness is “Kin”
Kindness is a big sign! Healthy couples are kind to one another. We all want satisfaction and stability. Kindness is believed to be one of the most important predictor of both. (Conversely, contempt is a big sign of trouble.)
Be the Pair That Repairs
Individuals in a healthy relationship do repair work when they have hurt one another or made a mistake. They give and receive when it comes to patching up the holes. And those repairs are best done as soon as possible. People in a healthy relationship drop their defensiveness and say “I’m sorry.” Repair prevents the painful moments from becoming long-term memories.
1 + 1 = 2
The problem with talking about being “soul mates” is that it rarely contains discussions about independence. Healthy couples exist as strong, secure individuals. They have different opinions and different friend groups. They are different but integrated and they feel safe in expressing their independence. This empowers them to manage outside relationships in an open, honest, and healthy manner.
Hearing and Validating
Renowned relationship counselor John Gottman talks about “bids for connection.” In everyday life, this presents itself as those times when one of the partners in the couple seeks the attention of the other. A healthy couple recognizes these bids and responds with respect and urgency. Studies have found that the practice of responding to bids is present in couples who stay together. Responding to each other’s bids can:
- Make both people feel safe in their relationship — and in the world
- Create an environment in which each feels their needs will be met
- Forms a secure base for your attachment
- Keeps partners in sync with one another
- Eases the strain of negotiations during a disagreement
Curiosity Saved the Relationship
As time passes, some partners start to take each other for granted. They believe they already know what they need to know about each other. A healthier approach is evolving interactions. In a healthy relationship, there is a willingness to learn about each other. Curiosity and approaching their loved one with fresh eyes is key.
A Few More Basics:
- Practice transparency (don’t keep secrets from one another)
- When something big happens (i.e., you got that promotion), they tell their partner first
- They never threaten the relationship. They don’t say they want a divorce or separation in the middle of an argument unless they are 100% sure that that is what you want. Threatening to leave plays havoc on a partners attachment system.
- Always find time to play and laugh together
Healthy relationships also involve asking for help when you need it. Working with a relationship therapist puts you in the position to identify what work is required. I’d love to talk with you in a confidential consultation and get your relationship counseling process started.