You’re single (again) and frustrated by the seemingly endless quest of finding true love and establishing a happy, healthy and mutually satisfying long-term relationship or marriage.
For many people whose love life feels eternally lacking, the answer may lie in understanding the role of attachment styles in relationships, as well as in finding alternatives to the self-harming behaviors and patterns you’re unconsciously driven to repeat on your own.
According to attachment theory, the degree to which you felt secure or insecure in connection to your parents during infancy and childhood has a powerful effect on the quality and types of attachments your form in relationships as an adult.
Whichever of the four attachment styles you gravitate toward — secure, avoidant, ambivalent or disorganized — will influence the manner in which you show and receive love, as well as the way you process problems, disagreements, and even positive emotions like happiness.
This theory, originally developed by John Bowlby and later expanded upon by Mary Ainsworth, holds that individuals who form secure attachments were typically raised to handle their emotions and communicate their needs in healthy ways. Because of this, they tend to have the most successful relationships.
In contrast, men and women who have avoidant, ambivalent or disorganized attachment styles likely were not surrounded with healthy relationship examples when they were growing up. As a result, they’re more likely to encounter challenges when it comes to building and sustaining relationships.
And while someone with a tendency to form insecure attachments might find themselves involved in what truly is a healthy relationship, they are certainly more prone to engaging in some specific self-harming behaviors under stress that may intrude on their ability to relate from a securely attached space. That is why it’s so important to understand what secure attachment is, and to both learn and practice what I refer to as secure attachment skill savviness (SASS).
If you lean toward one of the insecure attachment styles, here’s how to stop 6 common self-harming behaviors that keep people from finding true love.
1. Isolating yourself
Everyone needs some down time to refuel or distract from problems, but spending too much time alone can be detrimental to your relationships.
People with avoidant attachment styles often choose to isolate themselves because they find being around even the people they love can be depleting or exhausting. For them, being alone may feel like relief.
But there’s no way to connect with your partner when you spend all of your time apart or turning to devices as distraction when you’re together. Your partner will feel like you’re doing this because you don’t want to be with them, even if you really do.
How to stop: Bonding is essential in relationships. On top of any alone time you schedule for yourself, be sure to spend time with your partner without phones, tablets, or other distractions. This will help ensure that technology doesn’t interfere with your intimacy and that you both have plenty of face-to-face and body-to-body contact. Lean into your discomfort a little bit and you might actually find that being with your partner is surprisingly nourishing, and that you may welcome it more and more in the future.
2. Focusing on the negative
If you feel a need to always consider negative outcome because you feel a need to be prepared for the “inevitable” worst, you might have an ambivalent attachment style.
It’s normal to worry at times, but focusing on what might potentially go wrong on a constant basis is unhealthy and gets in the way of you relaxing in the relational field of your partner.
When you have ongoing expectations of being disappointed by your partner, you undermine your relationship. You might find yourself hypersensitive to the normal ebb and flow of the relationship and see signals that your partner is distancing or leaving you, even when they are not.
Likewise, repeatedly complaining to your partner about what they do wrong while rarely recognizing their caring behaviors and rarely offering compliments or encouragement causes a great deal of damage in relationships. And doing this even when things seem to be going well is doubly confusing to a partner who really is trying to please you.
How to stop: Challenge yourself to see the ways that they are reliable and love you; this will help build trust. As a practice, notice your partner’s efforts to get closer. Try to be present to receive love and feel satisfaction more and more. And if they do something nice or unexpected, make sure you thank them and show your appreciation.
3. Practicing ‘magical thinking’
Magical thinking is defined as, “The belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world.”
In relationships, this may make take the form of believing your significant other should know exactly what you need and want, without requiring you to tell them directly.
This is often associated with an ambivalent attachment style, and is mostly like to harm your relationships in two ways:
You frequently feel upset with your partner for failing to meet you needs
Your partner frequently feels upset with you for so frequently feeling disappointed in or angry with them when I have no idea what they did wrong, or even what doing something right looks like to you
How to stop: Communication is the gateway to blissful relationship. Tell your truth with love and respect. If you need something from your partner, tell them what it is in as gentle and honest a way as you can. Be specific. Rather than simply telling them what they do wrong, try explaining what they could do that would be helpful to you. Be sure to pay attention to what works for your partner as well, and practice being clear about how you might be mutually supportive to them.
4. Being afraid to take risks
Relationships can be intimidating for people who have an insecure attachment styles and underlying anger issues caused by the way they were raised.
But choosing not to take risks, whether big or small, can lead the two of you to stop growing and discovering each other. You may make the mistake of thinking you already know everything there is to know about your partner and decide your partner has nothing new to offer.
Remember that novelty creates attraction, so do new and fun things together regularly.
This “thinking you know everything already” may result in a sense of stagnation that ultimately breaks down the connection and bond you share. This is not your fault, because the brain tends to automate, so you need to practice keeping your sense of curiosity and discovery alive!
Talking about your feelings and discussing your problems openly is a must in healthy relationships. When you allow the fear of taking risks to prevent you from communicating honestly, you cause significant damage to your relationship. You may find yourself feeling bored when one or both of you have just been sweeping too many things under the carpet.
Again, tell your tell your truth when you feel regulated, loving and respectful.
Your partner loves you, and when you hide your inner self from them, it feels personal to them, whether you mean it to or not. That kind of complacency kills any potential growth in the level of intimacy between the two of you.
How to stop: Try discussing your feelings. Ask for you partner’s understanding and patience as you learn to be more vulnerable. And don’t be afraid to take a few healthy risks now and again!
5. Holding grudges
If you hold onto resentment and contempt for your partner’s actions and inaction, you must learn to resolve the issues from your history or conflicts any relationship so you can let these things go.
This can be particularly difficult for people who tend toward an ambivalent attachment style.
For instance, if you prefer going to bed earlier than your partner most night, but you also like talking to him before going to sleep, you might feel hurt when he says a quick goodnight and turns back to his computer or continues watching a movie while you drift off alone.
Regardless of the circumstances, it’s important to identify any grudges or resentments you may be holding onto so you can talk about them openly and make a sincere effort to put your anger aside for good.
How to stop: Communicating your needs to each other clearly can help keep contempt in the relationship at bay, but you can also set rituals for each other that will help nurture your attachment bond and make sure everyone’s needs are met in a reasonable way. Looking at your partner with kind eyes, being affectionate in a safe way, stopping what you’re doing and reading your partner when they come home after being away, having your partners back, and being a couple with boundaries and respect for confidentiality are just a few ways you can enhance “gourmet contact nutrition” that feeds and stabilizes secure attachment behaviors and skillfulness.
6. Not respecting privacy or boundaries
Some people feel entitled to snoop through their partner’s private emails, texts, pictures, and call log for reassurance that nothing is going on behind their back.
This largely a fear-based reaction may be a sign that you tend toward ambivalent attachments.
If you frequently stomp on boundaries and have trouble respecting your partner’s need for and right to privacy, you will only end up hurting them and, ultimately, yourself.
How to stop: To deal with these kinds of worries, pinpoint whether they are driven by your unprovoked emotions or by something your partner has done that gives you justifiable reason to be suspicious. If there’s no clear reason for you to be concerned, make a commitment to respecting your partners boundaries and discuss your worries with them directly rather trying to playing private investigator. Set lines you both agree cannot be crossed, and don’t cross them.
If any of these self-sabotaging behaviors sound familiar, understanding their connection to your attachment style is an important first step toward overcoming them.
And no matter what your current attachment style is, remember that it is possible for you to form secure attachments and create a healthy relationship full of happiness and true love.