Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about my problem getting attached and involved with an appropriate woman for marriage. Somehow I always end up picking women who are ambivalent or avoid getting involved in a serious relationship. I know that I had a difficult relationship with my mother whom I unfortunately lost young, in a sudden car accident. While I seem to understand that the choices that I am making are hurting me and may be connected to my childhood, I cannot seem to break this negative pattern. Please help!
It’s possible that your difficulty with choosing an appropriate partner is connected to your attachment. According to a ground-breaking book, Attached, by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, our genetic make-up induces us to share our lives. That need to share is not related with how fulfilled we feel in our own lives or how much we love ourselves. Do we need to be dependent on someone in order to be happy in a relationship? Paradoxically, by knowing there is someone we can deeply depend on we can act more independently in life.
Attachment theory contains three attachment styles: 1) Secure 2) Anxious 3) Avoidant. In the secure attachment style, you are warm and loving in a relationship. You enjoy intimacy. You effectively communicate your needs and wants to your partner and you are good at responding to your partner’s emotional cues. You feel loved and romantic with your partner. When a person has a secure attachment style, they feel confident in their relationship and in their partner. They feel connected, trusting, and comfortable with having independence and letting their partner have independence and they are able to openly express love. Securely attached individuals reach out for support when they need it and offer support when their partner is distressed.
1) A secure attachment style begins when, early in life, a child feels that their parent is a secure base, so that even though they enjoy being with their mother and/or father, they also feel confident enough to explore the world on their own. Generally, children are raised this way when their parents are also securely attached people, and when they use an authoritative parenting style, which means that they are involved with their children, enforce logical rules, are warm and loving, and allow their children to be independent.
2) Anxious attachment style consists of yearning for closeness with your partner yet fearing that your partner does not want to be as close as you want to be. You may even be accurate in your assessment, but you feel uptight, take things very personally and blow things out of proportion. People with this attachment style tend to crave and pursue emotional intimacy, even when their partner is not yet ready or it is inappropriate for the situation at hand. Individuals with an anxious attachment style appear to need a lot of approval, responsiveness, and reassurance from their partners and they can get very anxious when they don’t get it (even if the relationship is not in the appropriate stage for this approval, responsiveness, and/or reassurance, the anxiously attached individual will seek this and get upset if they cannot get it). Often, people with an anxious attachment style will feel dependent on others for approval and doubt their self-worth. This is often reinforced when the target of their clinginess never seems to be as interested as they are.
An anxious attachment style is usually due to a parent being misattuned to their child’s needs. These parents give to their children in a way that is intrusive or more about themselves. These parents may care more about the appearance of being a good parent and may not actually tune into what their children need or be sensitive to what their children may want in the moment. For example, a child with an anxious attachment style may have gotten hugged when their parents needed love or security, but may have been ignored when they needed love or security because their parents were busy with their own needs or wants at the time.
3) Being independent is key in the avoidant attachment style. You are cautious about getting too close. You don’t worry about romantic attachment. Your main focus is to not be controlled. People who have the avoidant attachment style tend to be very emotionally independent because they find it uncomfortable to get too emotionally close to others or to trust them fully. In fact, people may describe them as actively trying to avoid closeness as they seem to pride themselves on not needing emotional intimacy. When someone who has an avoidant attachment style is rejected or hurt, they tend to pull away or sabotage their relationship.
An avoidant attachment style is associated with having had negligent or absent parents and generally having experienced rejection in childhood (from family, friends, classmates, early romantic relationships, etc.).
From your letter it appears that you are attracted to women with an avoidant attachment style. You may want to consider if this attraction then enables you to blame the women for your unsuccessful relationships when, in fact, you may be afraid of committing to an intimate relationship. This may be how your own avoidant attachment style plays out. Losing your mother young and having unresolved issues in your relationship with your mother may contribute greatly to explain why you yourself are afraid to get into a secure relationship that would lead to a healthy marriage. Please seek professional help to work through your attachment issues and help you find a person who will make you feel secure and happy. Hatzlocha!