Updated: Feb 15, 2022
You may have heard of attachment theory and how it affects your ability to feel secure in relationships. The anxiously attached partner is hyper-vigilant to shifts in the relationship and preoccupied with their partner's satisfaction. The avoidantly attached partner is dismissive and notoriously deft at keeping their partner at arms-length. The dynamic is so familiar it has become a trope of the dating scene: the sweet and supplicative "wife-material" and the commitment phobic "bad-boy".
Attachment theory is good science that has it's roots in John Bowlby's work in the early 50's on caregiving relationships. The central theme of attachment theory is that "primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant's needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world."
It's only much latter that the theory begun to be applied to romantic relationships. The link being that our internalized patterns of relating are carried forward and become the framework for future relationships especially romantic ones. This appears to be true except that adult relationships are not meant to be attachment relationships.
Attachment relationships are defined by caregiving and dependence. In this dynamic, unconditional love is necessary for emotional regulation, safety, security and shelter(basic human needs). But adult relationships are in essence partnerships and our partners are not unconditionally responsible for us in these ways. Adult relationships are by nature, conditional.
Thankfully, as adults, we care for ourselves and are not powerlessly dependent. It is for the most part our responsibility to work, house, feed and regulate our own emotions. We are in the driver's seat. Our overall well-being is not dependent on our partner's ability to care for us: this is the difference between the powerlessness of childhood and the powerfulness of adulthood.
Our adult relationships can end if our partner is unsatisfied. We play a central role in the negotiation and creation of satisfaction in the relationship. The reality is, if we don't do our part, the relationship can and, sometimes, does end. Adult love is therefore insecure by definition. Satisfaction is the condition of our adult relationships, not caregiving. Many adult relationships are based on romance or sexuality (which unconsciously harkens to caregiving relationships) but healthy adult relationships are based on partnership.
Ultimately, the problem isn't the attachment style. It's the ongoing re-enactment of our early relationships in the context of our adult relationships. We often parentify our adult partners and unconsciously re-experience the fears and early traumas that unfolded in our attachment relationship.
The mission therefore, should we choose to accept it, becomes holding on to the power and independence that we have as adults and that we didn't have as children. To self-soothe and do our part in the partnership.