In the January/February edition of Scientific American Mind there was an interesting article about ‘Attachment Styles’. Apparently getting married and living under the same roof means that things like your heart rate, breathing rate and hormone levels all come to be regulated by your partner. The two ‘form one physiological unit’. That’s what the Church has been saying for centuries: “And the two shall become one flesh”.
The premise of the article is that we all fall into one of three attachment styles; patterns of behaviour in our relationship with our spouse. The compatibility of these styles is a big determinant of how successful and happy a marriage is. Here is an excerpt defining the three styles:
SECURE Attachment Style
I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.
AVOIDANT Attachment Style
I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others: I find it difficult to trust them completely and difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often romantic partners want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.
ANXIOUS Attachment Style
I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or won’t want to stay with me. I want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away.
Imagine then, ‘Mary’, with an Anxious style marrying ‘John’, who has an Avoidant style. Can you see the potential for problems in that relationship? They are likely to spend their lives with Mary constantly feeling rejected, unfulfilled and unloved, and John feeling stifled, trapped and looking for a way to escape. Not a good foundation for lifelong marriage!
So evaluating your styles is a good way to assess the suitability of a prospective partner. A person with a Secure style is the one most likely to get along with the other two styles. It is not necessary to have the same attachment style, but it is crucial to know whether or not you can understand each other’s attachment style, and whether or not you are both sympathetic and willing to accommodate the style of the other.
The authors also suggest that if you are already married you can dramatically improve the success and happiness of your relationship by first identifying your own attachment style; second, indentifying that of your spouse; and third, communicating together about those styles. Understanding why your spouse behaves in certain way can go a long way towards alleviating the hurt and disappointment that some behaviours can cause. It’s almost always nothing personal – just that men and women handle things in different ways.
These principles can also be applied to other relationships in one’s life. We often just take our relationships as they come, without putting a lot of thought into them, just reacting to things as they happen. But relationships need to be cared for and nourished. They need to be healed when they are sick and exercised when they are well.
I have found other systems of categorising our relationship styles to be extremely helpful and effective in real life situations. For example, Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages are an extremely powerful tool for understanding what makes both yourself and the significant others in your life happy. And I always recommend highly John Gray’s Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus to prospective and married couples. It is a biological fact that men and women are just built differently and they approach life in very different ways. Understanding each other’s ‘planetary’ mindset can remove so many of the obstacles to happiness in a marriage.
So, what’s your attachment style?