In a recent post, I wrote about the attachment journey that young parents naturally embark on as they have children. With parenthood, attachment becomes a focal point. But attachment needs aren’t just for babies! It’s important for all adults – married people, single people, adult siblings, adult children or parents of adult children – to understand their attachment needs. Assessing where our needs are met or unmet can help us understand and enhance our relationships.
In the last decade or more, extensive research has been conducted on adult attachment theory. Numerous studies* have brought clarity to the reality that the more securely we bond with and attach to those closest to us, the more autonomous and successful we are in other aspects of our lives. We have fewer health problems, excel academically and vocationally, are happier, less depressed, anxious and addicted.
In her book, Love Sense, Sue Johnson (page 38) provides one of my favorite descriptions of attachment:
- “We seek out, monitor, and try to maintain emotional and physical connection with our loved ones. Throughout life, we rely on them to be emotionally accessible, responsive and engaged with us.
- “We reach out for our loved ones particularly when we are uncertain, threatened, anxious or upset. Contact with them gives us a sense of having a safe haven, where we will find comfort and emotional support; this sense of safety teaches us how to regulate our own emotions and how to connect with and trust others.
- “We miss our loved ones and become extremely upset when they are physically or emotionally remote; this separation anxiety can become intense and incapacitating. Isolation is inherently traumatizing for human beings.
- “We depend on our loved ones to support us emotionally and be a secure base as we venture into the world and learn and explore. The more we sense that we are effectively connected, the more autonomous and separate we can be.
Try to think of specific moments when you notice these attachment needs rising to the surface. I notice them when my husband leaves for work. The very last thing I want him to do before he heads out the door is give me a kiss and a hug. If it isn’t a clear deliberate hug and kiss I feel a little sad. I didn’t become fully conscious of this feeling until one day he was dropping me off at work and my kids were in the car. I was in a hurry so I jumped out without taking a minute to stick my head in the window of each kids’ door and kiss them like I normally do. My 5 year old instantly went into a panic, scrambling to unbuckle his seatbelt saying “I need Mom, I need Mom.” Since I was rushing, Jeff just called out the window to me without knowing what he needed me for. He just knew it was serious. I ran back to the car to meet Jack’s tears and he said “I didn’t get a hug and a kiss.” How could I forget? In that moment it came together for me, he acted out what I feel when I don’t get my hug and kiss from my husband.
I try to finish each post with a personal challenge and a conversation challenge, or in other words, a conversation to have with your partner or another close relation.
Personal Challenge: Take some time to reflect on the 4 aspects of attachment listed above and identify moments when and how they become apparent in your closest relationships.
Conversation Challenge: Share the list above with your partner or someone significant to you. Share with them moments that you have identified in the personal challenge.
Stay tuned for additional posts on how to understand and strengthen your relationships. If you’d like to receive them by email you may subscribe here.