Q&A: How the New Science of Adult Attachment Can Improve Your Love Life

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Do two avoidant people ever get together?

We looked through the literature. It hardly ever happens, obviously. They can get together, but they tend to lack the glue that keeps people together.

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You write that avoidant people are overrepresented in the dating pool.

When you go to a therapist and your relationships haven’t worked out, they may tell you that you have a pattern of always finding the wrong person. That may be right — some people do get addicted to the highs and lows of tumultuous anxious/avoidant relationships — but [the problem may not be] all about them.

There are some social forces. What happens with someone avoidant is that they tend to stay in relationships less. They are more likely to divorce. They tend to circulate back into the dating pool more often than anxious or secure people.

Anxious attachment sounds stereotypically female: is it more common in women or is this a myth?

The good news is that the majority of men and women are secure. But there are some stereotypes we have about men and women — Mars and Venus. The idea that men don’t like to communicate, for example — that’s more descriptive of avoidant men. The majority of men can be close and communicate; they want to get married and have kids. They’re the silent majority. We don’t hear much about them because there’s very little drama.

There is a slight excess of men who are avoidant, but a lot of women are avoidant, too. [The same is true with a slight excess of anxious women, but the majority are secure.]

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The original tests of attachment were done in very young children, looking at how they responded when they were left alone by their mothers. Does your infant attachment style stay with you into adulthood?

If there is a correlation, it’s weak at best, which is good news because it means that we can change our attachment style. Adult attachment styles are stable but plastic. When [researchers] looked at a group over four years, 25% had changed their attachment style. It can happen in several ways, for example when someone anxious or avoidant gets into a relationship with someone secure.

So what can you do to change your attachment style if you are not secure?

First of all, by understanding your relationship from an attachment perspective, you can work to identify insecure patterns and learn how you can change them to become more secure.

We have examples in the book. One couple moved in together. One of them was very avoidant; he had a hard time and got to the point where he was thinking about breaking up. But he was also able to say how he was having hard time letting her in, and to think about how lonely he was before and how he really longed to share his life. A transition occurred when he was able to see his role in what was going on and take step back and not feel like he was being pushed into a corner.

[I also worked with a] 40-year-old woman. She was dating and was sick of it and wanted a man and kids. She started to just say, I want to get married and have kids as soon as possible. She was able to do two things there, express that need and be authentic, which correlates very highly with satisfaction and happy relationships. A lot of people were scared off, but that way she didn’t waste her time. And the way she did it, it can come from place of strength, it doesn’t have to come from place of weakness.

See more of Healthland’s ‘Mind Reading’ series.

Related Links:

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