In romantic love, your relationship is built a lot on chemical reactions and surface-level compatibility. Your first assessment of a romantic partner is going to be brief: are you attracted to them, and do you have enough in common that you could spend some period of time together? Beyond that, you’ll also likely become interested in one valuable part of them: maybe it’s their good looks, maybe it’s the music they play, maybe it’s how they socialize with others. Whatever it is, there will be something they have that you see as “high stock,” something you want to have as part of your life.
The other trick of romantic love is that it often fills a void. There’s a reason that some people become addicted to certain types of relationships: the chemical reaction that happens in their head is similar to that of taking drugs or other stimulants. On top of this, there are the expectations. We expect our romantic partners to give us purpose, security and meaning in life.
However, romantic love is not the kind of love on which you build a lifelong partnership.
After about one year together — though it can vary — romantic love should start to settle into attachment love. That word, “attachment,” tends to have a negative connotation, but that is not what this is. Attachment love is the love you’re actually looking for. It is the love you experience when your partner is your best friend, confidante, and friend. It is the love that you experience when you feel completely comfortable and at ease in your partner’s presence.
Romantic love is common, attachment love is rare.
Romantic love is temporary, attachment love is long-term.
Romantic love is based on what you don’t have, attachment love is based on what you do.
Louis de Bernières describes this well:
Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and, when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.
Many people make lifelong commitments based on romantic love, and have a hard time when it settles and they discover that attachment love is not as strong as they’d hoped.
While both types of love are important, and each serve their own purpose, it is important that you wait to see that you and your partner have each.
So, here are 3 ways to honor all attachment styles whether you are anxious, avoidant, or secure.
1. Ask for what you need:
It doesn’t matter if it’s closeness or space. Being able to identify when you have an activated or deactivated attachment system gives you the opportunity to recognize what your needs are. This is an occasion to say what it is that you need.
For me, this might look like asking for a phone call or some time together where we are genuinely connecting and not distracted. This could also look like me honoring my partner’s need for some space.
2. Be aware/ thoughtful to ourselves and our partners:
Asking ourselves if what feels like suffocation/ or detachment is just that or an activated/ deactivated attachment system can put all of us at a little ease. But, also, being observant of our partners can help. This means asking questions like “Do you need a little space?” or “Hey, I’ve been a little distant lately, want to cuddle and watch a movie?” can help close the barrier. Once we understand our partners it can be much easier to help meet their needs too.
3. Let Them Be:
Finding a happy middle ground can be a lot of work. Sometimes it pays off, but in potentially unhealthy attachments or cycles of unhealthy behavior can become abusive and traumatic. We can potentially compromise too much of ourselves trying to make someone else happy. Sometimes it’s important to understand we have to let people be who they are. This can mean letting go, even when we don’t want to.
While most of these addresses anxious or avoidant attachment, it’s important to recognize most people in healthy secure relationships already feel safe doing these things. Compromise shouldn’t feel like self-sacrifice when you’re with the right partner.
It’s important to not only have healthy boundaries but have a healthy outlook on the relationship. You are partnered. This means you are a team, and not pitted against the other. Though I’ll openly admit that a lot of my adult romantic relationships have felt that way.