Think back to when you were a kid. Your earliest memories are of your parents or primary caregivers. You observed them looking , touching, hugging, laughing , fighting and playing with each other – or completely avoiding each other. And in turn either being affectionate or distant with you .
This was the beginning of your lessons in love and attachment. It is these childhood behaviours and consequent feelings, that today form your ability to love and attach to another person, and attain sexual satisfaction, in a healthy adult manner.
I ask you to think of attachment as a connection, a feeling of being emotionally engaged or disengaged from someone. Even if it’s for a hook up, a short time hanging out together or a forever after, you feel a sense of attachment of sorts . In a long term significant relationship, attachment is the bedrock needed for survival. Healthy adult attachments are necessary for loving, sexual relationships. You may ask: what really is a healthy, loving relationship?
After my many years as a couple and sex therapist, I had to gain understanding (and tolerance) of people’s perceptions of “love”. At the end of an hour therapy session in which the person has described in bloody vivid details the verbal, emotional, physical , sexual abuse she/he experiences, the final sentence is “but I love him/her.” I was confounded and determined to better understand this paradox. I found answers in Attachment Theory.
In 1970 John Bowlby , the founder of Attachment Theory, proposed that infants performed behaviours such as crying, crawling, to get closer to their caregivers. When the caregiver was consistently attentive, the infant felt secure and confident. When the caregiver was not attentive, the infant experienced distress and anxiety.
It is this experience that you take into your intimate relationships . You either love happily, healthily and sexually or feel dismal, detached or anxious in every relationship. You question why you have no sexual satisfaction and how come you keep choosing the same kind of partner.
Lets linger in love a little. Healthy love has a few common traits:
- Lust, that driver of chemical attraction;
- Romantic/Passionate love which is infatuation , honeymoon phase of love;
- Attachment based on intimate disclosures mutually made, and a joint commitment to a relationship.
Love sounds so natural and enchanting . Until you bring in your particular style of attachment. Then love becomes challenging and sexually complicated.
I’m reminded of a couple with whom I worked. John’s mom was an alcoholic and his dad worked hard and was physically and emotionally absent. He never saw nor received affection from his parents. Their relationship was volatile. He learnt that love was unpredictable, unsafe, and no one had his back. From an early age he was anxious, had low self esteem and poor self confidence. As an adult he was jealous, possessive and always wanted joined-at-the hip relationships. He had an anxious attachment style that did not lend itself to healthy loving.
They consulted with me as he developed erection difficulties. She constantly felt on eggshells around him, absorbed his rudeness and criticism of her. She grew up in a home in which her parents were overly-protective of her. She believed she could love John out of his neediness. Her secure attachment made her endure emotional abuse way too long.
I invite you to rate your own attachment style. See how it relates to the way you love . Perhaps you will be inspired to gulp, have a conversation with your partner and get professional assistance to learn new ways of attaching and loving in a healthier manner. See this as an empathetic tool. Once you better understand your and your partner’s style of attachment, you can move away from the blame and shame of failure in love and sexual satisfaction ,and concretely and consciously learn new skills of engagement.
These are the three categories of attachment styles: secure, anxious -resistant; anxious- avoidant.
- I have reliable safe relationships;
- My partner can be counted upon for security and protection;
- I feel trust in my sexual and romantic relationships;
- I prefer long term intimate relationships over casual dating situations;
- I’m comfortable with sexual intimacy;
- I have positive emotions during sexual activity;
- I have high levels of sexual satisfaction;
- I have low levels of sexual dysfunction;
- I am motivated to engage in sexuality by positive healthy goals, which include to express my love for my partner and to enhance our erotic connection through mutual pleasure.
Anxious – Avoidance
- People feel unreliable;
- I am overly self reliant;
- I emotionally detach from others;
- I have a fear of intimacy;
- I have low levels of trust;
- I have little sexual satisfaction;
- I don’t like physical affection such as hugging and kissing;
- I prefer sexual positions that minimise intimacy;
- I have negative emotions around sexuality;
- I am interested in casual sex;
- I cheat;
- I keep myself distant and detached from my partner.
Anxious – Resistant:
- I have poor self confidence;
- My self worth is dependent on approval of others;
- I feel distress, anxious, vulnerable in intimate relationships;
- I “obsess ” over my partners;
- I cling to my partners;
- I try control my partner;
- I’m jealous;
- I am unfaithful;
- I have sex for reassurance, approval, security, and to avoid abandonment;
- Sexuality is not very rewarding for me;
- I have negative thoughts about sexuality;
- I don’t believe I am that sexually attractive;
- I engage in unsafe sexual practices.
Contact me if you wish to learn more about your Attachment Style .