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Attachment Issues

Question:

I’ve just left a woman i love. i miss her and love her and she is my best friend. I know its the right thing to do although not being totally sure as to why. i feel the we both have attachment issues and to really be with each other we need to learn to not need each other. I’m having difficulty actually separating myself from her and yet know that things cant go on as they are. i don’t know how to have that sense of detachment required in a relationship yet still be with someone. is it possible? how is it done? Any insights?

This Disclaimer applies to the Answer Below
  • ‘Anne’ is the pseudonym for the individual who writes this relationship advice column.
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Answer:

Relationships are defined by interaction between two people. When two people create a committed relationship with one another, they start using words like “we” and “us”, indicating that they now consider themselves a pair. In joining this pair, each participant gives up something of their independent identity. They are now a part of something bigger than themselves, and to one extend or another, come to depend on that other being there in order to feel normal. This can be terrifying (because to the extent you need another person to feel you are whole, you are dependent on that person), and also thrilling (because merging your sense of identity in with others to form a group or pair can be really reinforcing; meaning that new opportunities for stimulation and meaning are created that aren’t possible if you remain alone).

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p> It’s hard being part of a pair, however. People want different things at different times, and understand the meaning of things differently. Partners must adjust to the needs of their partners, and must find ways to compromise with each other or the partnership won’t work. This adjustment process requires that a sort of ongoing balancing act take place between each individual’s needs and the needs of their partner; between “What is best for me” and “What is best for us”; between an independent sense of self, and a dependent sense of self. People who are able to pull off this balancing act can be said to be inter-dependent; to have kept the best of both independent and dependent identities alive. This balance requires assertiveness and resolve as well as humbleness and perspective. It can be very hard to make happen, but a number of people do pull it off. It is quite possible, if not necessarily easy.

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p> Many partners fail to maintain inter-dependence, and instead fall into either dependence (sometimes called enmeshment) or independence (sometimes called detachment). Too much dependence can leave you at the literal mercy of the partner (a very bad position to be in if the partner is at all unstable); it can burn you out and leave you feeling resentful. Too much independence and the relationship falls apart too (there being nothing to hold it together).

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p> I can’t tell you how to find the balance; it is really a very personal thing that each person has to figure out for themselves. I can point out a few ingredients that seem to be more or less necessary to help the balance process work out, however.

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p> Self-confidence – You have to go into the relationship feeling comfortable in your own skin. Without this being the case, you’re setting yourself up for feeling dependent. You gain in self-confidence by taking reasonable risks and accepting life challenges and then learning over time that you are capable of recovering from the inevitable failures that result.

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p> Assertiveness – You have to understand what you need for yourself, and be willing to defend yourself when your partner steps on you, however inadvertently. In doing so, however, you go only so far as is necessary to defend yourself. You do not go on the offensive attack.

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p> Empathy – You need to understand that your partner is as fully human and hurtable as yourself, and to therefore treat them according to the golden rule (doing to others as you would have them do to you). You need to have a basic respect for their worth as an individual rather than as an object. You need to be able to respond to their emotions when they happen.

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p> Humbleness – you need to understand that you are not more special than your partner. Additionally, you need to understand that your partner is not any more special than you.

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p> There are other components, I’m sure, but I think these summarize the things to shoot for. I hope this helps.

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Comments
  • CeeGee

    Anne's response did nothing to resolve the issues this man is having. I don't even think it answered his problem with "attachment" issues. Anne, you just defined what a relationship is, or, what being in a relationship entails. You didn't address why this man feels the way he does or how he should deal...

  • inProcess

    Actually, I think Anne took the right course. You can't understand attachment issues unless you understand the definition of 'relationship' and difference between relationship styles. I am currently in therapy and I found this site because I was curious after today's session.

    My attachment issues are primal - unfulfilled from early childhood. My inner child is looking for someone to provide that deep connection with - partly because it needs to be fed, and partly because the adult in me knows that my coping skills/self-protections are no longer working for me. I want a healthy relationship. I need to understand what one is to understand where mine went wrong....which causes me to have attachment issues now.

    To the original poster of the question: It took a lot of courage to make that move. You knew something wasn't right - and you want to understand why...so you can either make it right with your partner or find someone new. Either way, I think it's important for you to seek help for your journey. I am really just at the beginning of mine, but the weeks and months that have passed have provided me with new insights as to why I am in this place at all.

    A piece of advice: someone said to me "Be willing to show your therapist your worst self." That one statement gave me freedom to go deeper - to feel what I felt...and to let myself feel what came next. Scary, but really, the best decision I ever made. I am on the road to healthier relationships already.

    Good luck.

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