Love is, without a doubt, one of the subjects that have fascinated us most (and tortured us, in equal parts) since the beginning of civilization, but also one of the great scientific questions: how does love work and, above all, why do we fall in love with whom we fall in love? In psychology, one of the theories seeking explanations, investigating, and solving, in part, these enigmas is the attachment theory.

The beauty of this theory is that if we know our attachment style, we can also resolve some of the love contradictions we fall into and make better romantic decisions. For example, «Why is it that if, in general, I consider myself a confident person, the moment the guy I like behaves distantly with me, I feel terrible and like I’m worthless?». Perhaps someone else is wondering: «I normally have no problem falling in love, but why is it that when the relationship becomes steady, I start to find they have too many flaws and decide to break up quickly?»

First, let’s put this theory in context: Initially, the study of attachment was not related to romantic relationships but to the bond that arises between infants and their parents or affectionate caregivers. In 1958, Bowlby, an English psychiatrist working in a hospital with children, coined this term when studying the effects of the mother-child relationship on the infant’s cognitive, emotional, and social development. Even if their physical and nutritional needs were met, the babies who had been prematurely separated from their mothers (because, for example, they were orphans during the Second World War) suffered serious consequences in their cognitive development due to the absence of contact with their attachment figure.

Thanks to this theory, we learned that when we are born, we need the protection of an adult to meet our physical needs – such as food and shelter – but, above all, we need the bond to feel loved, cared for, and comforted when our nervous system and stress response are activated.

It was not until much later, in the late 1980s, that Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver helped us understand that the need for attachment is not unique to children. The security we feel or don’t feel in our romantic relationship also awakens our attachment styles. To put it simply, the bond created in our relationship with our parents functions as the blueprint for understanding our expectations in our future intimate and social relationships.

In this book, ‘Attached’ by Levine and Heller (2010), they take an in-depth look at how our attachment style influences the romantic decisions we make.

As children, people with a secure attachment style learned that the world was a stable, predictable place. They felt they could trust the people around them to be available whenever they needed them. That is why they tend not to feel much doubt in their romantic relationships. They feel comfortable showing themselves vulnerable to the person they love. In general, they feel deserving of such affection.

In contrast, people with an anxious attachment style grew up in an environment in which their physical and emotional needs were met ambivalently or intermittently: at times, they were there to care for them, and their affectionate caregivers understood what they needed, and at other times, they were not there or did not feel available to them. As we know, infants’ primary goal is to ensure their proximity to their attachment figure. That’s why children with an insecure-anxious attachment developed a very adaptive strategy to achieve this: to get even closer to their attachment figure especially when their caregiver moved away. As an adult, if you identify with this style, you probably criticize yourself a lot. When the person you like is distant or ambivalent, their attitude generates a lot of anxiety within you. To calm yourself down, you seek to get even closer to them. Please do not criticize yourself or call yourself «desperate» remember, in the past; this was an adaptive way to survive.

People with an avoidant attachment style learned that their caregivers might reject them or be distant from them. Therefore, they learned to rely only on themselves and not count on anyone else because if they were too trusting, they were afraid of being hurt later on. In their romantic relationships, they say they want intimacy and closeness, fall in love easily, and have no difficulty having intimate sexual relations. However, as soon as they deepen a relationship, they are afraid of losing their independence and become distant.

This book helps us identify our attachment styles and, from that knowledge, to take steps to find relationships that «heal» us. Specifically, it explores in depth the affective needs that each style possesses. For example, people with an anxious attachment style will need frequent contact, stability, clarity about what the other person feels, etc. Having these needs is valid, and more than that, it is essential to be aware of them and seek romantic relationships that are aligned with those needs. If we validate our own needs and communicate them openly, we will observe how our partner reacts and if they are ready to meet our needs (or not). From there, it will be easier to decide to prioritize relationships with people who offer us a secure base and transmit the affection and trust we need so much.

In ‘Attached’, we can have a first approach to attachment theory and how it influences our romantic relationships. But, in this book, several issues are left out; for example, the book does not reflect examples of LGTBQ+ relationships. Nor does it attempt to explain how attachment styles would influence polyamorous or non-monogamous relationships.

In any case, I think this book is an excellent start to reflect on your romantic choices and catch yourself on toxic patterns before they happen.

Good luck on this journey finding healthier relationships!

Lucía Largo
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Lucía Largo
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
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