Anxious Attachment and the “Plenty of Fish” Principle

plenty-of-fish
If you’ve discovered your relationship attachment style is anxious
, you already know how tough dating and relationships can be for you. You expect a lot, give even more, and are easily thrown off by a slight disagreement or change in your partner’s behavior. Unless you’re in a steady relationship you probably find this whole dating thing very difficult indeed.

Part of why people with the anxious attachment style find dating to be difficult is their tunnel vision perspective on potential partners. If you’re the anxious type, once you’ve found someone you think would make a good partner, you become fixated on them and convinced that they’re the only one for you. You don’t so much “date” as you “mate”. But by doing this you put yourself in a critical position when and if the situation doesn’t work out as you hoped.

The book Attached discusses what is called the Plenty of Fish Mentality as a specifically useful way of thinking for those with the anxious attachment style. This principle is not new, but simply the idea that there are plenty of worthy potential partners out there, and you don’t need to focus on just one. Many people already apply the Plenty of Fish Mentality principle in dating, but the thought that you don’t need to be hung up on one person is probably a new one to you if you have an anxious attachment style. In order to apply this method, you have to think and do things quite differently from what you normally would. Here are some tactics I’ve found useful:

1. Understand your needs and eliminate potential partners who don’t meet them

While you shouldn’t create a laundry list of standards for your dates to meet up to, you should make sure you understand what you require in a relationship. If someone does not have these traits, eliminate them as a potential immediately. Remember, there are plenty of other fish who will meet your basic requirements.

2. Date more than one person at a time

This may seem like it has the potential to backfire on you, but if you date more than one person, you’ll lessen the likelihood that you get too attached to just one. It also makes it easier to let go of dates who don’t meet your needs or wants.

3. Approach dating with a practical approach, vetting each potential partner

Instead of seeing what a partner could be like, judge each potential on what they currently are or are not. There’s no need to grade on a curve or ignore possible red flags when there are more people to choose from.

4. Increase the time period of the getting to know each other stage

The longer you wait to get to know the other person, the better you’ll know if they’re the right fit for you.

5. Don’t be too strict with your criteria for a good partner

The longer your list of requirements, the less people who will be able to meet them. Keep your list to basic but important traits your partner must have.
6. Don’t close yourself off to others who may be interested

Even if you think you’ve found a good potential partner, don’t dismiss others who may come along after. Unless you’ve made a solid commitment to one person, be open to new people.

Those are just some general guidelines of the Plenty of Fish mentality, can you think of any others? If you have an anxious attachment style what have you discovered works (or not) for you?

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Dating Survival Tips for the Anxiously Attached

anxious-heart

If you have an anxious attachment style you may find dating and relationships more difficult than others do. Because you need more reassurance and intimacy, you may feel unsatisfied with dating dynamics which encourage a large amount of self-sufficiency and independence.

As someone with an anxious attachment style, it seems clear to me that those with an anxious attachment style, more than any other relationship style, could benefit from understanding and acknowledging their unique approach to relationships. The anxiously attached simply can not afford to be unaware or dismissive of their needs in love and relationships. Doing so causes a great deal of heartache which could otherwise be avoided.

As such, I’ve created a few dating and relationship tips for those with an anxious attachment style. They are not rules but guidelines for the anxiously attached person to help create a happier and more secure atmosphere in love.

1. Know what you need from a partner, and express these needs from the beginning

Do you need a partner who will check in with you daily? One who will accept your desire for plenty of physical intimacy outside of the bedroom? Know your needs and express them to potential partners.

When you aren’t sure of what you need or, more commonly, when you fail to express your needs to your significant other, you both lose out. Your partner is unsure of what you need and may not automatically meet your needs. When you act out because your needs are going unmet, this creates tension and frustration in the relationship. Expressing your needs makes the relationship run more smoothly. This strategy also helps you to recognize who is willing and capable of meeting your needs and who isn’t.

2. Do not play the aloof, cool, or distant partner

Popular dating guidelines encourage people to play it cool at the outset of a relationship; never show that you have strong feelings for your partner and try to involve yourself in activities that don’t include them, even if you’d rather not. In other words, don’t be the needy, desperate, or anxious partner.

This approach is incompatible with the anxious relationship style. Anxious partners do become strongly attached to their significant others and want to be close to them. Trying to avoid these very real needs causes stress and worry. Instead, show your feelings in secure ways — let your partner clearly know that you want to be able to rely on them and be close to them. If your partner is put off by this then they likely aren’t the partner for you.

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Spotting the Secure Partner

secure-partnerThe secure partner in relationship attachment science is a partner who is comfortable with closeness and intimacy in relationships and is usually consistent in their feelings and actions concerning their relationship. A person with a secure attachment style may not be the most “exciting”, but their straightforward and open manner creates a comfortable atmosphere and is an asset to the health and stability of a relationship.

Secure partner are luckily fairly common in the population — one out of every two people has a secure relationship style. The bad news is that people with a secure style tend to find a partner early on and stay with them for a long time. So if you’re dating it may not be easy to find them. There are some out there though, and you may even be in a relationship with one. Here are some signs of a potential secure partner that you may want to look out for:

1. Discusses plans and makes decisions with you

The partner with a secure attachment style will rarely make important decisions about the relationship by themselves. Instead they wait and ask for your input, and make decisions that take your views into account.

2. Doesn’t believe relationships are hard work

Secure partners tend to be satisfied with their relationships, even during rough times. They don’t dwell on small problems or talk about how difficult relationships are. They are open to starting a relationship even when their life circumstances or potential partner aren’t “perfect”.

3. Trustworthy and reliable

When a person with a secure relationship style says they will do something for you, the chances are that they will. If they can’t follow through on a promise or plan they made, they will explain why, usually in advance.

4. Compromise

In disagreements secure partners like to reach compromise. They are less concerned with proving themselves right (and you wrong) than they are with understanding your point of view and coming to a mutually satisfying agreement.

5. Comfortable with commitment and intimacy

Secure partners don’t mind the closeness created by a long-term relationship. They don’t worry that you’re cutting down on their freedom or trying to trap them (as an avoidant partner might) or that you might find them inadequate or reject them (as an anxious partner might).

6. Effectively communicates

Partners with a secure relationship style share their feelings and opinion in a clear and straightforward way. They don’t expect you to guess what they are feeling or create a scene to get your attention. They are also clear about where the relationship is headed.

7. Flexible and open to adjustment

Secure partners aren’t looking for a certain kind of partner or relationship. They have a few basic requirements but they are open to various people and arrangements. In addition, they aren’t threatened by criticism and are willing to reconsider their actions.

The secure partner is not perfect — they have their flaws like everyone does. But a secure partner not only helps to create a healthy relationship but works to keep it that way for the long term.

Do you or your partner have a secure attachment style?

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Anxious + Avoidant — Making It Work

anxious-avoidant-loveWhat do you do when your partner’s relationship needs are the complete opposite of yours? Is there any hope of having a mutually satisfying relationship?

Relationship attachment science recognizes three main attachment styles which describe a person’s basic relationships needs and approach to love. Two of these styles, the anxious and the avoidant, are commonly attracted to each other and form relationships.  Unfortunately, a person with anxious attachment essentially desires to be as close to their partner as possible, while an avoidant has a fundamental need for independence. In other words, each has an entirely different approach to relationships and requirements which contradict each other.

When a person with an anxious style forms a relationship with an avoidant they bring out each other’s insecurities. What initially attracted them –their differences– causes constant discord and unhappiness as the two can rarely agree on how their relationship should be. This dynamic is known as the anxious-avoidant trap. Usually the relationship doesn’t last long as one or both sides grow weary of the never-ending disagreements.

However, things don’t always have to end that way. If you’re already in an anxious-avoidant relationship, there are steps you can take to increase happiness and fulfillment. There are no guarantees, but using some of these simple techniques can help:

1. Understand your differences

This can not be stated enough. Much of the unhappiness of the anxious-avoidant dynamic occurs because one or both partners can’t or don’t realize that their relationship needs are very different. Lots of time is spent resenting or criticizing the other’s approach to the relationship. Time that would be better spent trying to understand the partner’s unique needs and desires in a relationship.

2. Respect your differences

Don’t attempt to change your partner. This especially applies to you if you’re the anxious partner. Due to the anxious relationship orientation, an anxious partner is constantly thinking about their relationship and how to improve it. Which is okay, as long as you’re working on improving your relationship around your partner’s needs, not against them.

If you’re the avoidant partner, appreciate the strengths your anxious partner brings to the relationship. Try not to belittle or ignore their need for greater intimacy than you’d normally want.

3. Work towards greater security

Both the anxious and avoidant relationship styles are insecure relationship styles. This doesn’t mean their relationships are destined for failure, but it does mean they don’t express their relationship needs as well, and tend not to be comfortable with the state of their relationships at any given time.

Both partners could improve their happiness by simply stating their issues as they arise and communicating their needs directly and clearly. Even having regular discussions on the progress of your relationship could help. Nothing is too obvious to state outright or too simple to work on when you’re a part of the anxious-avoidant dynamic. Assuming your partner should be one way or should know what you need will only cause more confusion and resentment.

Are you involving in an anxious-avoidant relationship? Do you have  experience or any more tips on making the relationship work?

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Why People Become Attached After Intimacy

after-sex-attachmentYou’re in love?

Oh, really?

It has been widely observed that people in relationships –or, more problematically, people who aren’t in relationships– become attached after physical intimacy. Suddenly, after sex, proclamations of love and living happily ever after become commonplace. Two people become more attached to each other than they ever were before (and one person may become more attached than the other). What is happening? Does sex create love or increase feelings of love? Not exactly, but it can certainly give rise to feelings that mimic true love.

The Biological Reasons

So why do these feelings of “love” and attachment occur? Biologically, a major influence are the release of hormones and neurochemicals, especially oxytocin (also known as “the love or cuddle hormone”), dopamine, and vasopressin.

Oxytocin is released upon intimate touch and greatly increases feelings of love, trust, security, and bonding. It also decreases feelings of stress. When you cuddle, kiss, or engage in other forms of significant physical contact with another person, oxytocin is released and bonding occurs.

In both sexes, oxytocin levels rise dramatically during orgasm. At the same time, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Dopamine creates a strong sense of pleasure, excitement, and well-being. Dopamine is addictive — we want more and more of whatever brings us that pleasurable feeling.

The combined effects of oxytocin and dopamine cause you to not only feel attached to your partner, but to associate your sexual partner with a sense of pleasure, trust, and happiness. In men, vasopressin acts similarly to oxytocin to increase feelings of attachment and love.

attached-huggingDo these loving feelings last?

In a word, no.

Oxytocin and dopamine levels drop after orgasm. How steep these drop are and when they happen depends on the person and their unique biochemistry. Oxytocin, however, can be kept at high enough levels to sustain feelings of bonding if two people remain in contact. The problem is with dopamine and an associated hormone called prolactin.

At first, due to the action of oxytocin and dopamine, physical intimacy causes you to want more physical contact — you want that high that comes with the person you are attached to. But with a drop in dopamine levels comes a sense of irritability and depression. Over time, these highs and lows may become associated with your sexual partner.

Prolactin adds to these negative feelings. Prolactin levels increase after orgasm and work to curb sexual desire. But such high levels of prolactin eventually cause moodiness and feelings of anxiety and depression. In combination with the “downs” involved in a decrease in dopamine, you begin to see your “love” for what it is — a biochemical high.

So you’re not in love?

Sex is not love and the feelings created by sex can not sustain a relationship. What you feel post-coital is not love, but a very  strong sense of attachment created by the action of molecules in the body. It would be helpful to keep this in mind before you declare your love for someone you barely know, begin shopping for wedding rings and a new home, or otherwise commit yourself to a sexual partner.

What are your experiences with this phenomenon? Have you ever become attached after physical intimacy?

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Your Partner Might Be Anxious If…

anxious-attachment

I, like an estimated fourth of the population, have an anxious attachment style (also known as a preoccupied style). What does this mean? Essentially, if you have an anxious attachment style you want, better yet, need to have a large amount of closeness and intimacy with your partner in a relationship. You live for the hugs, kisses, and long private discussions of a devoted relationship.

While anxious people can make the best and most committed partners, they are sensitive and demanding — their style of loving is not for everyone. They have certain needs in relationships that others may not. If your partner is anxious, it would help to recognize their unique approach to relationships. But how do you know you’re dealing with an anxious person? Your partner might be anxious if they..

7. Follow your lead

An anxious partner will let you set the pace of the relationship. They do this so they don’t get hurt by taking actions that are not reciprocated. For example, they will say I love after you say it (or hint at it) and agree to take the relationship to the next level if you suggest so.

6. Need to be reassured of your love and their place in the relationship

Anxious people are often worried about where they stand in relation to their partner — how important they are in their partner’s life, if their partner (still) feels the same way about them. They need physical or verbal reassurance of your feelings.

5. Try to keep you guessing/on your toes

At times a person with an anxious love style will play games or use extreme behavior to gain your attention if they feel neglected. They may pretend to be too busy to spend time with you or act uninterested and nonchalant. This is their way of expressing hurt (if in an established relationship) or of keeping their true anxious nature undercover (if dating or in a new relationship). They don’t simply tell you that they are feeling abandoned because they fear being seen as oversensitive or needy.

anxious-attachment-closeness4. Are unhappy when not in a relationship

Anxious people usually long to find a loving mate and be part of a relationship. In moments of closeness they may talk about how your relationship makes them or how they’ve always wished for someone like you. You can tell they feel incomplete when not in a relationship.

3. Are sensitive to any signs of rejection/easily hurt

The anxious person is sensitive to their partner’s moods and takes any perceived slights as a rejection of themselves. When the anxious person feels a threat they may act out, usually by acting out or withdrawing.

2. Want a lot of closeness

A hallmark of the anxious love style is the great need for a high amount of intimacy. This means spending a good part of your time together, lots of physical contact, and a desire to rearrange your lives around the relationship.

1. Are preoccupied with the relationship

Another name for the anxious love style is “preoccupied”. Your partner most likely has an anxious style if they spend a great deal of time and energy on your relationship. If your partner is always planning things to do together, talking about or thinking about the relationship when you two are apart, or constantly wanting to talk with you about the relationship, there is a near perfect chance they have an anxious attachment style.

Does your partner have an anxious love style? Do you?

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Top Ten Signs Your Partner is Avoidant

avoidant-partner

Avoidant is one of the three main relationship attachment styles. Avoidants are people who wish to keep their distance and minimize closeness in romantic relationships. They are the least happy in relationships, and tend to blame their unhappiness on their partners.

Avoidants tend not to date other avoidants. Two people with this attachment style lack the “togetherness” that a relationship requires. In addition, avoidants end relationships more quickly. So you are likely to have dated an avoidant in the past or may be now involved with one. If you aren’t sure or need confirmation that you are dealing with a person who has an avoidant attachment style, here are the top ten signs your partner is avoidant (in increasing order of importance):

10. Stresses boundaries

To make sure that their space is not being invaded, avoidants create strict boundaries between themselves and their partners. These boundaries may be physical or emotional — sleeping in a separate room or home or keeping insignificant (or important) information from their partner.

9. Uncomfortable sharing deep feelings

Avoidants don’t like to share their deepest feelings with their partners; withholding feelings allows them to keep their emotional distance and remain self-reliant. Sharing would bring them closer to their partner — exactly what they want to avoid.

Don’t confuse this sign with the anxious partner’s apprehension. It’s integral to understand why the person is withholding feelings. The anxious person keeps feelings because they fear their partner will not feel the same way as them, or their partner will feel stifled and distance themselves. For the avoidant it’s done to keep distance via an emotional boundary.

8. Prefers casual sex

Some avoidants use casual sex as a way to avoid intimacy. They prefer casual sex to sex with an intimate partner because their physical needs are fulfilled but they don’t have to worry about caring for their partner’s feelings afterward or during. They can also avoid the greater intimacy that results from physical contact.

7. Disregards your feelings

Avoidants believe people are solely responsible for their own well-being and happiness. In relationships they tend to treat their romantic partner like a business partner — they ignore their feelings and respond only to the facts. When confronted they make their partner out to be “sensitive”, “overreacting”, or “needy”.

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The Anxious-Avoidant Trap

anxious-avoidant-attachmentWhy are people who long for closeness in relationships attracted to their complete opposites: people who prefer their independence and distance? And why are the resulting relationships unsatisfying and prone to failure?

Attachment science defines a person with a strong desire for intimacy and preoccupation with their relationships as anxious. Anxious people are sensitive to perceived threats to the intimacy of their relationships. On the opposite end of the spectrum are avoidant people. Avoidants wish to reduce closeness and intimacy in order to maintain their autonomy. They are less aware of the needs of their partner.

It would seem people with such differing needs would avoid each other, but the opposite happens. Studies have shown that in a classic case of “opposites attract”, there is a mutual attraction between avoidant and anxious people. Each has particular reasons for attraction, as outlined in the book Attached:

Why the Avoidant is Attracted to the Anxious:

  • The avoidant has built up an idea of themselves as being more capable and self-sufficient than other people. They believe that people want to “trap” them and create more intimacy than they are comfortable with. With an anxious partner their beliefs are confirmed.
  • Due to their defense mechanism of self-sufficiency, the avoidant likes to feel psychologically stronger than their partner. They can not feel stronger than another avoidant or a secure partner who would not be bothered by their behavior. They can only feel this way with an anxious partner.

Why the Anxious is Attracted to the Avoidant:

  • The anxious person’s defense mechanism is likewise supported. The anxious person believes that they want more closeness than their partner is capable of. In addition, they believe they will be let down or hurt by their partner; this is the inevitable result when they pair with an avoidant.
  • The anxious person tends to idolize avoidant tendencies. Self-sufficiency, independence, less need for another person — these are the qualities the anxious person wishes they had.
  • The anxious person, being addicted to passion, mistakes the mixed signals sent by the avoidant for sparks of love. They think the avoidant might be coming around to loving them as they feel they should be, but the avoidant is just unsure what to do: they want to be in a relationship, yet they want to keep their independence.

Some signs that you are in the anxious-avoidant trap are extreme highs and lows in the relationship, a feeling that your relationship is uncertain, and if you’re the anxious partner, a feeling that things get worse the closer you become to your partner.

Relationships between anxious and avoidant people tend to be very unstable. Even if the relationship lasts, it is stormy and unsatisfying for both partners. The avoidant person has little desire to resolve issues — doing so would create more intimacy. So the anxious person ends up conceding to the avoidant in the Anxious-Avoidant Tug of War. Any hope for a better relationship is never realized.

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The Codependency Myth

codependencyPopular self-help books, articles, and TV shows tell us over and over that dependency in relationships is a bad thing. You should aim to be self-sufficient and maintain clear boundaries between yourself and your partner, they teach. You should never become too involved with a person to the extent that you need them. That would make you codependent and deficient in some way — work on gaining a “better sense of self”.

That idea is all wrong. As outlined in the book  Attached, adult attachment science explains that it is not only normal, but inevitable to be dependent on a partner.

Dependency Is Not a Choice

Studies show that when two people form an intimate relationship they regulate each other’s psychological and emotional health. You and your partner become one unit. Our partners help control our blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and even our hormone levels. How can you keep clear-cut boundaries between yourself and your partner if you affect each other on such an internal level?

A True Partnership Involves Two

A partnership involves two or more people working together towards a common goal. In a true partnership both partners have a responsibility to each other. Neither partner can sustain the partnership alone or it would not be a partnership. In a romantic partnership each partner is responsible for the others comfort and well-being in the relationship.

The Dependency Paradox

Regardless of how independent we believe we are, and no matter how we consciously try to be self-sufficient, we are all dependent. Feelings of vulnerability, attachment, and fear of loss are a part of any relationship. But this does not mean we need to be with our partner at all times or ignore other aspects of life. Quite the opposite: the more thoroughly dependent we are on our partners, the more independent we come. This is known as the dependency paradox.

Our ability to independently step out into the world depends on the knowledge that we have someone to support us in this — a secure base. If we feel secure we can take risks and become more self-sufficient.

Relationship Attachment: The Attachment Styles in Love

love-attachment-stylesChildren respond to their primary caregivers in specific ways that are well-known to most people, and particularly to those in the field of attachment science. But did you know that adults also become attached to their loved ones in specific ways? Adult attachment theory– the most advanced relationship science— fits these ways into three main attachment styles, or manners in which people perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships. These three attachment types are secure, anxious, and avoidant.

1. Secure

The secure attachment style is the most common attachment style — just over 50 percent of the world’s population have a secure love style. If you are secure, you are comfortable with intimacy. You are effective at communicating your needs and feelings to your partner; you have an innate understanding of the give-and-take of romantic relationships. You aren’t bothered by small issues.

Being reliable and consistent, secures may seem boring at first to those with other styles because there is little drama in their love lives. But secure people have a stabilizing effect on those with less secure styles and they report the highest level of satisfaction in their relationships.

2. Anxious (Preoccupied)

Anxious people, who make up about 20 percent of the population, crave intimacy and are often overly concerned with their relationship and partner. Anxious individuals worry that their partner does not want to be as close as they do and at times experience negative emotions. If you are an anxious type, you are sensitive to your partner’s moods and actions, and take these personally. On the upside, you are good at understanding your partner’s emotions.

attachment-stylesThose who are anxious do well with secure people. But they are often attracted to people who make their anxious tendencies worse: avoidants.

3. Avoidant (Dismissive)

People with an avoidant love style make up a quarter of society. Avoidants equate intimacy with a loss of independence and autonomy. Because of this they try to minimize closeness and partners often complain that they are emotionally distant. As an avoidant you have the basic human need for attachment and love but tend to feel suffocated with too much intimacy.

Avoidants do not easily understand their partner’s mental and emotional states. But if you are not an avoidant, you are likely to meet them while dating — they are often on the dating scene due to having short relationships Avoidants do not usually date other avoidants.

A rare 3 to 5 percent of the population have a fourth style: anxious-avoidant. If you have an anxious-avoidant style you are uncomfortable with a lot of intimacy but are still concerned with the availability of your partner and the progress of your relationship.

A large number of studies have confirmed these types to exist across cultures. Knowing your type and the type of your partner or potential partners can help you to understand tendencies and motives in relationships.

What’s your attachment style?

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