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I believe “Attached” by Amir Levine, M.D. & Rachel Heller is a “must read” book for those interested in pursuing healthy, loving relationships (see my review). I am excited to be able to present the following e-Interview with the authors.

At RatedGRomance.com and on my Twitter feed I discuss romantic gestures (specifically beyond the bedroom). Can you comment on how romantic gestures might play out for/be perceived by people of the three types of attachment styles?

Romantic gestures are super important. They solidify our secure base and form the foundation for our emotional and physiological well-being. It’s easy to take our secure base for granted with our busy schedules but by doing so we undermine our very foundations (for more about the secure base, one of the most important concepts for understanding romantic relationships, see chapter 2 in ATTACHED). Romantic gestures don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. In fact, simple gestures can often be more rewarding. Each couple has to find the gestures they’re most comfortable with. If, for example, one of the partners has an avoidant attachment style, a fun and less overtly romantic joint activity might work best.

If I am understanding the book, you posit that the origin of the three attachment styles is rooted in evolution. To me this implies a genetic component. But then you also state that the three styles are “plastic” and can change over time. Can you comment on the nature vs. nurture aspect of the theory? I tested out “anxious”. Is there hope for me to become truly secure? Or is it more like a short person training to increase their vertical leap in basketball to be “taller?” i.e. An anxious person can learn to layer the “secure” traits onto an underlying anxious style?

People are sold on a somewhat outdated idea that our early relationships with our parents determine our adult relationships. Attachment science has a much more sophisticated and promising view of the topic. We are extremely social beings with a remarkable ability to adapt. Our basic biology plays a role but is greatly influenced by our environment.

One experiment comes to mind: It is known that rat moms that were licked and groomed a lot as pups become mothers who are high in licking and grooming and are more gregarious and less anxious. Rats that are licked and groomed less as pups become low licking and grooming mothers, are less social and more prone to anxiety.

But take a low licking and grooming adult female and house her in an enriched environment, with lots of toys and other friendly females and within several weeks something remarkable happens: She changes to a high licking and grooming mother. The opposite is also true — take a high licking and grooming adult female and expose her to a lot of stress and she becomes a low licking and grooming mother. These behaviors have been shown to have direct effect on turning on and off certain genes in our brains.

As humans we have even more complex social skills. We can change a lot as adults. In ATTACHED we carved out a way to better guide our relationships to a more secure place—whether we’re dating or already in a relationship. We give strategies for creating something similar to the enriched environment in this experiment and warn you against interactions that can be deleterious to you.

I love your comments I’ve read elsewhere about the term “needy.” Can you mention that here?

You’re referring to the dependency paradox. It’s one of the most profound insights of the field of attachment. For some people it’s counterintuitive at first.
In our society, we stigmatize dependence and put emphasis on independence. But dependence is a biological fact. Once we become attached, we’re dependent whether we want to be or not. The interesting thing is that the more our needs for closeness, support and reassurance are taken care, the less needy we become. We’re then able to turn our attention outwards, be more creative and pursue our dreams.

If there is one negative to the book in my mind, it is that it could be used as justification/ammunition for dissolution of a marriage (e.g. “We are in an Anxious/Avoidant relationship and we have no hope of success. Let’s split.”) instead of working on it (vis a vis a book like “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson). Is that your intent? Can you address this?

Many books and approaches help couples who come to therapy to mend their relationships. We took a broader view and emphasized attachment styles as an important finding people can use in their daily life regardless of their relationship status.

For people who are dating, there is an opportunity to find a more suitable mate by figuring out their own attachment style and that of their date.

For those with mismatching attachment styles, we guide them, based on their specific attachment style, towards greater security. We’ve received many responses from readers who’ve used the “relationship inventory” to see destructive patterns in their relationship and change them.

Even when faced with trying times and difficult moments in our lives, we are strong believers in the power of attachment to heal. The closeness created by caring for a loved one in times of need and being by their side can be immense.

It’s also not as simple it sounds to “give permission to leave”. Attachment is stronger than that. And when given the choice, we believe people will want to make their relationship better and stay. That’s just the power of attachment. It’s very difficult and excruciatingly painful to leave.

We did, however, also have another group in mind, those who are in abusive relationships — whose physical and emotional integrity is threatened by the person who’s closest them — and they can’t muster the strength to leave. By teaching them more about attachment and why they get cold feet every time they want to leave and by giving them hope, we tried to help them.

For more information, including an online attachment style quiz, see: http://www.attachedthebook.com/

The authors tweet at: http://www.twitter.com/attachedthebook .

 

AttachedAt RatedGRomance, I hear from a lot of women who ache to find a romantic heartmate. They are looking for the kind of guy who craves intimacy; a man who is super attentive – the kind of lover who seems to have a freaky hyper-sense of a woman’s emotional state; a heartmate who believes they must work hard to keep their lover’s interest and are committed to doing so; a mate so tuned into her that he lets her set the tone of the relationship.

When asked, these same women probably would tell you that they don’t want a man who plays games to get their attention; a guy hypersensitive to even the possibility of rejection; someone who clearly has the ability to be “needy.”

I am that guy – both of them – or at least I have the potential to be and I never truly understood why until I read Attached. In their book, Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller use findings from the field of attachment theory to help decode how people interact with those they are closest too.

Attachment theory traces its roots back to researcher John Bowlby.  As stated in the book, Bowlby posited that we’ve been programmed “to single out a few specific individuals in our lives and make them precious to us” and that “from a biological perspective [] dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or a preference.”

For me, this was a big “duh.” However, it is actually a very counter-cultural notion as it puts the authors squarely at odds with the codependency movement and many other popular self-help approaches to relationships. As the authors put it, most current works encourage us to “ ‘keep the focus on yourself,’ and stay on an even keel. If you can’t do that, there might be something wrong with you. You might be too enmeshed with the other person, or “codependent,” and you must learn to set better “boundaries.” ”

Levine and Heller argue that research in the field of Attachment Theory tells us that this one-sided approach to relationship success is deeply flawed. (I’ve seen it described elsewhere as the equivalent to old notions of separating young children from their parents and sending them off to boarding school so that they could become independent & well adjusted.) Instead, they point out that the research shows that it is the quality of our attachments that is at the root of our happiness and relationship success. “Getting attached means that our brain becomes wired to seek the support of our partner by ensuring their psychological and physical proximity.” We need each other. “Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities.” Ironically, this means, “If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, first find the right person to depend on.”

If, like me, you grew up with marriage described as “two becoming one flesh,” the notion that we are wired this way is not really news. However, what I didn’t know before reading the book was that, not only are were designed to be attached, we are also predisposed to be attached in one of three major ways:  “Secure [~ 50%], Anxious [~20%], and Avoidant [~25%]. Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving; anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back; avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.” None of these attachment styles is pathologically good or bad, but rather, they just are.

Grace & Bubbles by Bill Blevins (sailorbill @ Flikr)It’s not a perfect metaphor, but when describing the concept to others, I’ve been using the analogy of the “attachment” dogs. Imagine three dogs in the backyard that find the door to the house has been shut on them. The “secure” Labrador lays down at the door and patiently waits to be let in. The “anxious” Border Collie is hyper-alert, notices the door closing before it is even all the way shut, runs at it and barks to be let in. Once let in, it calms back down in happy contentment at the feet of its attachment figure. The “avoidant” Pomeranian sees the closed door, has an epiphany and says to itself “I didn’t want all that attention anyway. Why should only cats be free spirits,” and escapes by digging under the fence. Each dog is just behaving according to its nature.

It turns out that I am that Border Collie. Vigilant, loyal, high strung. As described in my intro, I am overtly romantic & attentive but it turns out I also have the potential to be very needy. However, given that I am surrounded by so many “secure” people and I am married to an amazing secure woman, I didn’t really know that I was “anxious” until very recently. As the authors state, “Attachment principles teach us that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs.” Protected in my “secure” bubble, I had no idea I even had a needy side.

However, it turns out problems can arise when people with different attachment styles interact. In my metaphor above, imagine what would happen if the “Anxious” Border Collie tried to maintain its attachment to the avoidant Pomeranian by herding it and pulling at its coat to keep it in the yard. You can just imagine the fur flying. In the book, this exact phenomenon is described in the chapter called “The Anxious-Avoidant Trap” and sadly, it described to the letter a relationship implosion I recently experienced with an “avoidant” friend. The more I tried to mend the relationship and seek out face-time to resolve things I perceived as problems, the more my friend distanced. The cycle spun out of control and ate at my soul. In the end, we parted ways. My friend couldn’t handle my neediness; I couldn’t handle the perceived shunning. Had I read the book earlier, I could have identified the avoidant behavior, made the decision to part ways much sooner or (more likely) could have prepared myself to “settle” for a more distant, acquaintance level relationship without inciting all the drama.

This is where “Attached” has the potential to be such a life-changing book. It will help you understand your own attachment needs and identify the attachment styles of those closest to you and, in so doing, it will enable you to make decisions about your relationships that are beneficial to everyone involved. In challenging our pathological North American obsession with independence, Levine & Heller have created a book that I believe will literally transform the relationship landscape of our day.

Related: Q & A with @attachedthebook