I’m not going to point out each of my six relationships that helped me grow enough to find my current “healthier” partner. But I will say that I attached much to quickly to several of them. And in some ways, I’m still detaching from three of them. It’s an ongoing process. You know, a moment happens and you recall that one time… Nope, I’m working to cut those threads.
Secure vs Insecure Attachment
Maybe I should’ve slowed my roll a bit on a couple of the lesson LTRs I passed through. Or, maybe it was in the absolute commitment that I was able to experience and feel all the joy and then all the insecurities that began to creep in.
One partner was ravenous about alcohol and running. One partner was a sexual acrobat. One partner was a hyper-helicopter parent. Still, I allowed, I flew, I lept into a relationship with them, before really understanding the hardships that were ahead. I could see the red flags, I just chose to ignore them and attach anyway.
Earlier in my relationship journey, with my wife, I tried to imagine that my happiness, my wholeness, my support would facilitate her becoming a more self-satisfied partner. It never happened. I began telling myself, “If you’re waiting for the other person to change, you need to get out.” I did, “get out” with varying degrees of difficulty and pain. And for those three lovers, I’m still unpacking some of the loss, some of the memories, and some of the dreams we shared.
Pulling Back the Mystery of Attachment
Most of us had less-than-ideal childhoods and less-than-ideal parenting. In my case, raised by two self-absorbed parents, I learned that love was conditional. If I obeyed the rules I would be loved. If I disappointed them, I would get the two deadly two scoops of shame and anger. I wanted to be loved by my dad, but his alcoholism and work stress never allowed that to happen. I wanted to be loved by my mom, but some insecurity within her childhood made her incapable of unconditional loving support.
Let me give you an example. My mom was a painter. She loved music, art, poetry, and literature. But when I began playing music, she was always nonplussed. No matter how I approached her with my musical endeavors there was no moment when I felt seen or heard by her. Later in her life (her in her 80’s me in my 50’s) I asked her why it was so hard for her to have anything positive to say about my music. She didn’t really have an answer, except how she associated my music with drugs. Sex and drugs and rock n roll.
But, at the same time period as I was exploring my connection with my mom and each of our artistic passions, my nephew began performing with the middle school choir. My mom came alive with enthusiasm and support. She gifted him, at 16, with her baby grand piano. The same piano she gifted to me ten years earlier. When I asked her about the piano and how I had lost it, she said, “Well, you don’t have any place to put it.”
In the same way, I’m still a bit tender on my mom and my music, I’m a bit tender on the past relationships that showed so much promise and hope. There was deep love in all three of the examples I gave above, but for one ingredient. I attached prematurely, to women who were emotionally unavailable. One was more passionate about her monthly Virgin Wine deliveries than anything about our partnership. One was unhinged sexually in a way that covered over some unexplored trauma and past relationship abuse. And finally, the uber-mom, was so good at loving her son that I began to feel loved as well. But there was not really enough to go around. He eclipsed even her own dreams for herself. I never entered the equation for consideration, other than a nice to have a lover around.
How It Feels to Be Loved
In a secure attachment, there is very little doubt or fear. I believe my girlfriend when she expresses appreciation for me. I am not sharing this adoration with any other person on the planet, and this feels good, solid, and safe to me. In an insecure attachment, you can never be certain if your lover is telling the truth or placating your fears. I believe uber-mom loved me, but she did not have any examples from her past of what a healthy relationship looked like. She never considered me when making plans for her and her son. I was a nice to have for her, while she was essential for me.
I have learned to listen more acutely to what my heart is telling me. I can delay my attachment until the underlying structure of the relationship emerges. And most importantly, I can make a choice toward secure attachment, and leave if earlier indications prove false. None of these women were bad or trying to be deceitful. However, none of them were self-aware enough to hear my requests or adjust their behaviors to include me.
When you’re exploring a new love relationship make sure you understand your own patterns of attachment. Learn from your mistakes. Let go of your misses. Try again with better awareness and data.
*image: tale of two pups, right dog is very secure, left dog is hyper-vigilant in protection and defense.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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- Re-learning to Love In the Present Moment: Love’s Intoxication
- Wayfinding In Love: Listening to What Is Emerging In Your Relationship
- What I Learned About Sex: It’s Almost All In Your Mind
- Healing a Broken Heart: Spirit Rising
- Finding Peace w/ Unsettled, Unresolved, and Incomplete: Surrender
Here are a few of my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End
- Dating 2.0: Aiming for the Love of Your Life