John Bowlby had researched how attachment styles can be consistent over a lifetime.
Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A. went further in their research studying how attachment styles impact romantic relationships in adults. They wrote a thought-provoking book, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find and Keep Love. They studied how “who we get involved with” has an incredible impact on how we function in work, relationships and as parents. There is a “buffering” effect that being involved with a secure individual has on our physical and mental health as adults.
Adults feel more secure with a dependable partner. We take more risks, expand ourselves more, and feel more grounded. If the opposite is true and we are unsure of how our partner feels about us, we are worried, preoccupied and insecure. We will be anxious, engaging less in life.
Brian Baker, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Toronto, studied the way in which marital discord and tension can affect heart disease and hyper- tension—and how marital discord and job strain affect blood pressure. He found being in a satisfying marriage is beneficial — that if you have a mild form of hypertension, spending time with your partner actually lowered blood pressure. “If on the other hand you are not satisfied with your marriage, contact with your partner will actually raise your blood pressure, which will remain raised as long as you are in physical proximity!”
So emotional and physical health are impacted by a healthy partnership as well as negatively impacted by an unhealthy partnership. Amir Levine concurs, noting that “our partners powerfully affect our ability to thrive in the world.”
Who we get involved with impacts our life, there are three “attachment styles:” Secure, Anxious and Avoidant. Secure individuals navigate relationships with kindness, availability, steadiness and commitment. They feel that they are loveable and treat their partners the same. Secure individuals bring these solid attributes into the relationships they are involved in. They are “reliable, consistent, and trustworthy.” They do not embark in game-playing or distancing tactics as other personality styles do. These individuals are not “single” for long because they commit and are dedicated in their relationships.
The less secure types (avoidant and anxious) are more regularly in the dating pool because they tend to have less stability in their relationships (unless they get involved with someone “secure” which will help them achieve better relationship skills).
“Secure” individuals were noted to be the “supermates” of evolution—they are emotionally giving, perceptive and keep the emotional stability of their entire family in check!
Some attributes that were listed in their book describing secure individuals were:
- Great conflict busters—secure individuals often keep fights from escalating.
- Mentally flexible—they are not threatened by criticism
- Quick to forgive
- Effective communicators—expressing feelings freely and naturally
- Not game players—they want closeness and believe their partners want the same.
- Inclined to view sex and emotional intimacy as one—they do not separate emotional and sexual intimacy
- Treat their partners like royalty—when you are part of their inner circle they treat you with love and respect
- Secure in their power to improve the relationship.
- Responsible for their partners well being. (secure fathers tend to help buffer new mothers from the strain of caring for a newborn—so they impact the security of their offspring).
“The secure individual engulfs his or her partner in an emotionally protective shield that makes facing the outside world an easier task. The reverse is true if you are involved with a distancing, game-playing avoidant partner—you will feel more vulnerable in the world.”
The book offers “Five Principles of Effective Communication.” They are:
- Wear your heart on your sleeve—be genuine, honest and emotionally brave!
- Focus on your needs—not your partner’s shortcomings.
- Be specific. State precisely what is bothering you, i.e. “when you said we would go out to dinner and we did not…”
- Don’t blame. Effective communication is not about highlighting the other person’s shortcomings. Fight when you are calm enough to discuss things.
- Be assertive and non-apologetic. Your relationship needs are valid—period.
Gail Grace, LCSW
Got thoughts or opinions on this topic? A helpful anecdote you want to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.
PARC © 2012. PARC (Park Avenue Relationship Consultants) is a group of highly skilled and experienced New York relationship therapists with private offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Riverdale and Long Island. Each PARC therapist is fully licensed and certified by New York State, and has extensive clinical training and experience working with couples, families and individuals. Privacy and confidentiality are guaranteed. Out-of-network only. For more information, please call PARC at (917) 340-7592 or visit parkavenuerelationshiptherapy.com.
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