We’ve talked in an earlier posting about how couples connect with each other. (http://drstoop.com/how-husbands-and-wives-connect-emotionally/) How we learn to connect emotionally is described as a part of attachment theory, which was first articulated by Sir John Bowlby in the middle of the last century. There are basically four attachment styles that we all learn during the first year of our lives, and which operate all through our lives and affect the way we relate to others.
Bowlby, and later others, described the healthiest style of attachment as being secure. When a toddler is secure in his or her relationship with the mother primarily, the toddler is going to be able to build healthier relationships throughout their life. It’s like the mother is the toddler’s safe fortress. The toddler goes out and explores the world, and when the exploration becomes a bit fearful, back he or she runs to the fortress and to safety.
But over half of all toddlers don’t have that secure attachment experience. They will experience one of the three insecure attachment styles:
1. The Avoidant Attachment. Here, for the toddler, mother isn’t a secure fortress. She may be preoccupied with her own world and pays little attention to her child. So the child creates his or her own sense of security within. The toddler seemingly doesn’t need anyone–he is self-sufficient! And often it is the young boy who grows up to be the self-sufficient man, like John Wayne as he walks into the sunset alone! Commitment to a woman is a big step–many men like this are what is called “commitment phobic.”
2. The Anxious Attachment. Here, the toddler is more worried about mother than about him or herself. The mother is too needy, and so her child is careful to take care of the mother. This child stays close to mother, seldom venturing out on their own. The child does not have confidence that his safe place would be there, if he or she ventures too far.
3. The Fearful Attachment. This toddler has a fear-based approach to all of life. He or she is afraid of the mother not knowing how the mother will respond. As a result, this toddler is afraid of the park, afraid of the other kids–just plain afraid at what life holds.
You can see the difficulty adults with any of these insecure attachment styles have and how they could easily slide into a cohabiting relationship. For starters, the anxiously attached, or the fearfully attached are going to prefer ambiguity as opposed to a clarifying conversation about the relationship which may drive their partner away.
The avoidently attached, especially if it is the man, out of his fear of commitment, could easily just slide into a living together arrangement. It feels very convenient without requiring much commitment.
It’s easy to see that insecure attachment styles become another major factor that adds to the prediction of trouble down the road for the cohabiting couple.
Question: What thoughts do you have regarding how the effects of one’s childhood experiences might affect how we approach commitment?