Those of us who suffered emotional trauma as children (OK, we all did, but at different degrees), developed attachment issues. For the healthier child, mom walks out of the room, child feels a moderate amount of stress, mom reenters, child experiences joy, and child learns that simple separation is OK. For the rest of us, we may become clingy, insecure, avoidant, confused and/or disoriented. We make fundamental decisions at an early age and develop patterns of reaction which we carry into adulthood.
Then we grow up and get into relationships. There, many of us do a dance with our partners, which tends to exacerbate, rather than heal, the attachment issues.
The opportunity is to identify the dance and name it. So the dance, and not the partner, becomes the common enemy, if you will, around which the partners can unite. And by understanding that my partner has attachment issues, I can cut her more slack. I realize she’s avoiding or clinging, say, because of her trauma, not because I did something bad or wrong. And by being gracious with my partner, and giving her space, I’m more likely to bring about healing for her attachment issues, whereby she’ll ultimately be less clingy, avoidant or whatever. And, of course, vice versa.
But first you have to recognize the dance. One of us has to be big enough to say something. For example, “I just noticed we are in one of our downward spiraling arguments and I don’t want us to do that and I’ll bet you don’t either. I love you. I’m not committed to defeating you, I’m committed loving you. The dance has got us. Let’s not let it win. What do you say?” The more you can recognize and defeat the dance, the easier it gets to recognize it and nip it in the bud before you go off to the races.
It helps to recognize your, and your partner’s, type of attachment, and call yourself (and your partner, however gently) on it when you realize it, and communicate responsibly and request anything you need. For example, I might say, “I just noticed when you rolled over, that I felt kind of rejected. Would you mind coming over here, or just reminding me that you love me?”
It’s important to note that healing does not come quickly, like a cure. It’s more like rehabilitating a bad knee injury, where you have to do the right things for a long period of time before the joint can heal. JoAnn and I spent a few years exacerbating each other’s wounds before we got on a path of healing. Today, we’re both responsible for our own attachment issues, and, moreover, these issues have vastly been lessened over the years. In the first few years of our relationship, if I didn’t call JoAnn eight or more times a day at work, she would have a pretty severe reaction. And her reaction would trigger my fear of abandonment, and we would both suffer mightily.
These days, if we’re both busy at work, we might not speak all day, and it doesn’t raise any reactions for either of us. Compared to where we started, this feels like nothing short of a miracle.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your
heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you
want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your
heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully
round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all
entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of
your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark,
motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it
will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.