I remember the exact moment I knew my marriage was over. It was 11 pm and I had just arrived home from a 12 hour day. I went to the kitchen to make myself a hot drink before I headed to bed, and my ex-husband was incensed that I left the teaspoon on the wrong part of the kitchen side. I remember him hissing at me why are you so thoughtless as I moved the spoon back to its rightful place and apologised, having no energy to argue. My internal voice said loud and clear I’ve had enough, no more. It took me a couple more weeks to finally end things, but it was at that moment I hit my limit.
So why am I telling you this? Partly it is the time of year, Valentines Day, the most romantic day of the year supposedly (though perhaps slightly different as in the UK we are in lockdown for it this year!) where the media tell us that if we are without a significant other than we are somehow less than. The other part though is that I have been wanting to tell this story and help others for several years.
I was in, what I now see, was an emotionally abusive relationship for almost 12 years. It didn’t start that way of course, because I would never have entered it. I was the frog in the pot analogy. Put a frog in boiling water and it will jump out, but put the frog in cold water and very gradually heat it and the frog will boil before it notices. This was me. I remember thinking if I could only try harder, be more understanding, do more for him then he will be happy. Nothing worked, and at some point (after 11 years of trying!), I realised that no matter what I did, a relationship takes two parties to work.
I found myself at the age of 34 single for the first time as an adult and alone. It was both freeing and terrifying all at once. I consider myself an emotionally intelligent and strong person, and I became obsessed with why I would make these choices, and why unlike my professional life, I just couldn’t get it together romantically. So I started to explore different theories and engage in some inner work.
Quite quickly I fell upon the issue of attachment. I genuinely felt like a light bulb had gone off. Attachment styles were discovered by John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst who was studying the distress of infants when separated from their caregiver. From the work of Bowlby and his colleague Mary Ainsworth they found that most infants fell into three categories of attachment. These were secure, anxious, and avoidant.
Secure infants cried when separated but were easily soothed once their parents returned. Anxious infants were extremely distressed when separated, but when the parents returned they seemed torn between accepting comfort and wanting to punish their parents for leaving. Finally, the third group of infants called avoidants did not seem to be too distressed by their parents’ absence, and when they returned they did not go to them, preferring to play with a toy on the floor.
So why am I telling you this? Well as human’s we all have attachment styles that are created in our childhood and then later in life applied to our adult relationships. The majority of us will keep the same attachment style throughout our lives, but some of us due to life experiences (for example abuse in a relationship) will change our attachment style.
I discovered that for a myriad of reasons I am an anxious attachment style and my ex-partner was extremely avoidant. These two attachment styles are not a good mix and confirm each other’s worst fears. Being in a relationship with an avoidant for me only created further anxiety and made me feel like I was on a constant rollercoaster.
I strongly believe that understanding what attachment is, and learning our attachment styles is fundamental to relationship success, either with a partner or alone. For me, this is information that should be taught to everyone and I didn’t want others to go through the same painful process I had to get to this understanding. Thankfully with a lot of research, I have put together strategies to help anyone who is insecure in their attachment.
So if you feel like the relationship you want is always out of reach, if you are on dating apps but having no luck there may be some foundational blocks standing in your way. Dealing with your attachment issues is the first step in the journey for relationship success. I bet you think strategically about your career choices, so why not apply that to your relationships? I did and I am pleased to say that I am in the best relationship of my life, with someone who shares my values, meets my needs, and is emotionally available to me. It may not last forever, but I know how the knowledge and strategies to manage if something were to happen.
If you are struggling then I have good news. I am launching a training course this spring in attachment styles that is perfect for anyone who wants a deeper insight into how they relate to others, whether you are currently single or in a relationship. Please sign up for our pre-launch here and we will notify you as soon as our training is launched