Discover more from For Better Or Worse: Tales From A Married Man
you can change your attachment style
Guest Contributor: Maria Lata
The concept of attachment styles should not be limiting; it should liberate a person. After a string of bad relationships, it's hard not to limit yourself to the belief that you are somehow doomed, broken, or destined to repeat the same pattern. It's true that trauma, habits, and previous relationships all impact the direction of our relationships, but that doesn't mean we should feel stuck on a one-way path to self-destruction. The ability to reflect, pick yourself up, and, in the oh-so-cliché phrase, 'try again,' is part of self-care. You are entitled to happiness, no matter what form it takes. This is why I love Maria's contribution, and I hope the rest of you Lovebirds do too.
You Can Change Your Attachment Style By Maria Lata
The first boy I fell in love with was facing time. I was a senior in high school, and he was mentally preparing to leave his family and the comfort of his home. Plenty of good people get caught up in bad things, and I’m all for giving second chances, so I stayed with him through it. I kept the secret from his extended family. I smiled when his father texted me a thank you for staying with his son, acknowledging most people would have left. It was an armed robbery charge. I wanted to believe the person capable of committing such a crime differed from the one I fell for. He presented himself as honest, tender, and committed to improving his life. He told me he got mixed in with the wrong people and expressed remorse, making it easier to digest. He played the game so well. I couldn’t see through the facade. I wanted to believe he would never harm me. I gave him a pass until I realized I spent three years giving him passes, making excuses, and holding on to false hope that he would change. I fell in love with potential. He came home, and things got much worse. In essence, our relationship was nothing more than a game of cat and mouse; a Tom and Jerry episode playing over and over again. I’d state my needs that he could not meet, and I’d stay begging. The naïveness in my young self and my unwillingness to let go hindered my outlook on love.
My cries for closeness and intimacy were met with harsh criticism and emotional abuse. I’d demand reassurance, and he’d toy with me. At the time, I didn’t know that I was exhibiting anxious attachment behaviours.
Being a born and raised New Yorker mixed with a cocktail of childhood trauma; my brain was trained to be ten steps ahead. I constantly looked over my shoulder and moved with caution, knowing that anyone, at any moment, could strike. Seeing how the world could harm me and my general distrust in him influenced a bad habit of checking his phone. If you ever looked through your partner's phone intending to “catch them,” you already know the backflips my stomach was doing. No matter how sick it made me, I couldn’t stop. There was a sense of overwhelming urgency. I had to crack the case and find as much information as possible. And, of course, the behavior was only reinforced whenever I found the proof I sought.
In the book, Attached, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller scientifically explain adult attachment theory. They separate typical behaviors, thoughts, and emotions displayed in relationships into three categories: anxious, avoidant, and secure. Those with anxious attachment styles will worry excessively about their relationship and will doubt or question their partner’s love for them. Those with avoidant attachment styles will keep their partner’s at a distance; they feel uncomfortable with closeness and will naturally turn away from intimacy. Secure people have a much easier time expressing and receiving love, they can tend to their partners, and themselves — intimacy is not a threat.
There is a reason why anxiously attached people like me find themselves in relationships with avoidant people. The book Attachedeven has a chapter called The Anxious-Avoidant Trap. Levine and Heller write, “When the two people in a couple have colliding intimacy needs, their relationship is likely to become more of a storm-tossed voyage than a safe haven.” The avoidance is what fuels the anxiety, and the anxiety is what fuels the avoidant behavior. The differences in needs of the opposing attachment styles are bound to cause discrepancies.
Every time I built the courage to leave, the boy would give me just enough to stay. This cycle happened one too many times. The pain of leaving felt far worse than putting up with what I already knew. I was able to break away from that relationship when I was twenty. Unsurprisingly weeks later, I found myself in another exclusive relationship.
I never asked myself if I was ready to commit.
I never asked myself what I actually wanted.
I never properly vetted the people I’ve dated.
My second love made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. I felt the most comfortable in my skin around him. I never had to question his loyalty to me. Typically in an anxious-avoidant relationship, sex is an issue, but it wasn’t for us; our emotional detachment presented itself in other forms. Despite our love, I was too out of touch with reality to see how we were too incompatible to ever work. I’m an organ transplant recipient, and he’s against modern medicine. We often clashed over our opposing views, desperately trying to change the other, and felt heartbroken over the lost love.
Time and time again, I looked away as the information presented itself. The patterns repeated themselves. I attracted the same type of wounded, emotionally unavailable man and could not let go.
With the help of my therapist, I can pinpoint the moments in my childhood when I was alone to fend for myself. I hated the idea of giving up on someone, so I sacrificed my peace for the sake of someone else. My parents were never married. You couldn’t keep them in the same room for more than fifteen minutes. I had no actual marker for what healthy love was supposed to look and feel like.
I wasn’t choosing my partners with logic and conscious thinking. I made decisions based on how dysregulated my nervous system was. I associated fight-flight-freeze mode with passion and concluded that love had to be filled with highs and fiery moments to be real. Secure/healthy/quieter days started to feel boring. It turned into “lemme bring up some shit you did two weeks ago that upset me” as a means of picking fights.
Moving from an insecure place toward a secure attachment is difficult work. It is not an overnight process, and it may be a lifelong journey. The catalyst for change is my willingness to sit with discomfort. It’s much easier to ignore the messy and uncomfortable truths, but I had to sit with myself. I was embarrassed at the mistreatment I tolerated and ashamed of my behaviour, I knew I needed to take accountability for my part in it all. Why did I participate in such toxicity? Why did I keep seeking out those types of relationships? What was my role in them? I inquired within and asked why I couldn’t end things sooner.
Deep down, I always craved peace but never thought it was accessible to me. I left New York and the chaos that came with it to start creating a life I always dreamed of.
I’m now in a relationship with a man who inspires me and invites growth. I found a love for writing and photography, and I started running. I have a community I can lean on, a wonderful support system outside of my relationship.
My partner and I fight. We’re human. There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not like one day everything aligned, and there was no more work to do. I just don't get physically sick over communicating my needs and setting boundaries anymore. It’s not that deep. We talk it out and get to the root of the issue. We cry it out, hug it out, and move on with the rest of our day.
Self-awareness with the help of therapy, reading/educating myself, journaling, moving to a new city, and filling my cup with other things that bring me joy have all helped me.
If you struggle with an insecure attachment style, there’s no judgment on my side. I just hope you know you deserve healthy love and that getting to a secure place is possible.
With love, M 🦋
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If you would like to join the conversation please email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m looking for personal essays or insights on topics, including identity, home, relationships, and family. I love pieces that build community and help others feel less alone. Pieces should be between 1000-2000 words. Feel free to include any relevant resources or links that could help my readers.
Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached. The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find and keep love. TarcherPerigee an Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2023.
Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached.