Man sitting reflectively on the beach

I was wondering… if you’re attached

The human heart, who can know its mysterious ways? Perhaps you thought when you met The One (who definitely exists) everything would fall effortlessly into place. That you’d just know, and doubts, baggage, issues, fears, jumping in too fast, all of the icky stuff that had hindered previous encounters would fade out in a fanfare of bluebirds and confetti. Fire up the organ (so to speak) and get that wedding underway.

And yet… here we are.

Despite best efforts, things haven’t gone to plan. Somehow that dreamweaver who seemed so promising on paper turned out to be a regular, ol’ flawed humanoid and that would never do. Or it was all going so well until suddenly the prospect of commitment began to feel suffocating. Maybe you were sure from the start and announced your undying love on date two. Or the only people who seem attractive are unavailable or a fantasy.

So many reasons. And none of it can be helped, right?

Except, what if there was more to it than that? (Clue: there is). Invasive personal suggestion of the week: why not take a few minutes and see if there might be anything holding you back? There may be emotional things – hurts from previous relationships – or practical things, like giving up deodorant for Lent. But there may also be some less visible factors, such as your attachment style. Attachment theory suggests we learn in our early years how to connect, or not, with people – initially parents or caregivers, later with potential partners. These styles range from ‘secure’ to ‘preoccupied / anxious’ to ‘avoidant / dismissive’ to ‘fearful-avoidant’ in varying degrees, captured neatly in a matrix displaying our bewildering and contradictory behaviours in black and white.

You could learn more about your attachment style through a quick quiz online (a few options here, here and here). And though – amazingly – quick quizzes may not provide a detailed insight to your inner workings, or instant solutions, the questions themselves could be enlightening. You might reflect on your answers and the implications: Do I find it hard to rely on a romantic partner? Do I stay distant in relationships? Do I jump in very quickly? Do I want to be closer than my partner?

It may be that you haven’t been in a relationship where these things have been put to the test. You might idealise the perfect partner in whom you would confide and trust, and yet not actually meet that person in real life. Or you may only see those qualities in someone already happily coupled elsewhere or not interested for other reasons. If that is the case, may I be so forward as to suggest there may be a disconnect? If you think “Yes, all of these things will be true of my wonderful soulmate when we finally meet” and yet don’t form relationships, a little reflection might be helpful.

That perfect person hasn’t come along because they don’t exist. Even those perfect-from-a-distance loved-up people aren’t. Ask their partner – even if they are happy together, they will work to maintain that. They may have had their own attachment issues to deal with. One definition of attachment describes it as “a special emotional relationship that involves an exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure and… is an important part of romantic love”. An exchange. An active, mutual, participation. Not an automatic state bestowed when God ticks a box.

So, is it worth taking a few minutes to answer some questions? Think about whether that panic when we suddenly want to run from someone who seemed wonderful has a root in our attachment style. Or whether there’s a deeper reason we never quite fall in love. Or why we regularly become infatuated with someone we’ve just met. Or feel overwhelmed by choice, and freeze. We may also start to see times when someone else’s behaviour had nothing to do with us and a lot to do with their attachment style.

If delving into attachment styles brings up some scary stuff, don’t panic. This is just a starting point. Change is possible, and understanding yourself is the first step. Have a look at how faith can work with your feelings to create better emotional health. Consider praying with or talking to someone who can help you work through your experiences (some good advice here). Start catching yourself in patterns you’d like to break and ask friends to challenge you. Read more about changing habits. Think of this as just another step towards a happy, healthy relationship and a happier, emotionally healthier you.

Photo by Chris Ford, licensed under Creative Commons.

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