The last couple of days have been eye-opening.
There are probably a couple of good reasons for this. #1 being I’m in a place in my life where I am taking advantage of opportunity to think. I feel like I’m in a space where I can observe my thoughts and be more clear about the decisions I’m making and what may be driving them.
While I was visiting the west coast, me and my siblings had a long dinner + great family discussion about our childhood and where we are currently, in some of the different (less discussed areas of life).
From that discussion, one of the things I’ve been digging into recently is attachment theory. (listened to a Podcast, reading articles, re-listening to books)
Attachment theory is a psychological model attempting to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans. “Attachment theory is not formulated as a general theory of relationships; it addresses only a specific facet”: how human beings respond in relationships when hurt, separated from loved ones, or perceiving a threat.
I first stumbled across this theory of relationship when I was reading/listening to the book – Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find- And Keep – Love. The behaviors described in the book and the questions they posed led me to the conclusion that I might have an Avoidant attachment style. I felt so seen and like someone had opened the closet with the monster in it, that I had always known existed but couldn’t put words around.
A quick paragraph about the avoidant frame of reference might read:
I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.
This theory (summarized HERE) gave me a framework for understanding the way that I operate in my romantic relationships. In my mid-thirties I’ve been in enough relationships to be able to note the behaviors that pop up periodically in my romantic relationships with others.
One problematic behavior is something that (several) ex’s have called “Hot and Cold-ness / fickleness”. I can go weeks absolutely adoring someone, but a minor disagreement or maybe a push for more commitment (or contemplating more responsibility) may trigger a tendency to emotionally shut down around that person. I usually become slightly passive-aggressive and have lower energy levels around them. I may become muted, or start to think deeply about whether this person “fulfills” the deepest longings of my soul. These thoughts become the bricks that build the case against staying in the relationship.
There are other tendencies I see in myself, such as:
- Past relationships or the imaginary “perfect relationship” can get put on a pedestal. It makes it easier to find the shortcomings of the current one, thus avoiding getting too attached.
- They’ll seek out faults. Every little thing can add up to create an undesirable picture of their prospective partner (or actual partner). As in the above point, they may think they’re better off with someone else.
- Commitment is off the cards. Or at least, it’s a lot trickier to broach. Avoidants often see it as an infringement of personal boundaries and a challenge to their independence.
None of this is very helpful or healthy.
Especially if the goal is to build a successful long-term relationship.
I’m currently in a long-term relationship, with the hope of making it a super-long-term.
My practiced patterns in past relationships, makes its difficult to ascertain whether the emotions of ennui, unhappiness, or frustration are the result of true, real, problems inside the fabric of the relationship; Or the triggered remains and patterns of behaviors that exist inside of my brain and nowhere else in reality.
I’ve been in my current relationship about a year.
How have I made it this far?
One method I found is to first, distrust negative thought patterns. Whenever I get into a pattern of negative thoughts about my partner or my relationships, I don’t express it or bring it into the world (at least in full form). My partner, (luckily or unluckily) can tell when I get into these emotional tailspins. And usually she tries to keep a brave face while I try to work out these emotional knots. I try not to spew my negative thoughts at my partner as I try to figure out if my grievance is real or imagined.
My next step is usually to Talk to trusted friends. Ideally, friends who are in places I want to be. So I talk with my married friends and share my current emotional speed bump. I share my concerns audibly and sometimes just the act of speaking aloud my concerns helps me to realize that the phantoms I feared were ephemeral.
Usually these discussions help me to also hear what healthy thought patterns around relationships sound like. An added bonus is that I’m training myself to strengthen the friendships and intimate relationships in another sphere of my life. My friends feel closer to me and I feel closer to them as we navigate life and our struggles together.
After these discussions, I usually feel clearer and better able to see my partner without the added baggage of unhealthy emotional reflexes.
For now, that’s been enough. I know there will come a time when I have to be more aggressive in figuring out how to continually build positive regard and positive internal dialogue about my partner in order to not do damage to her and to force her to not have to suffer through my periods of negativity/avoidance. Or figure out ways to better control the passive aggressive display of my fear of intimacy.
Here’s to living in the present.