This book is intended to be a practical guide to using the modern science of attachment and relationships to guide the questioning toward a more fulfilling life.
If you were brought up in the Western world, you’ve been trained on fairy tales of love and relationships that are misleading at best, and at worst have you making mistake after mistake in starting relationships with the wrong kinds of people who will waste your time and keep you from finding a loyal partner. Science has the answer! Or at least a guide to save you the time and effort of discovering for yourself how many wrong types of romantic partners there are.
Reading this book will help you recognize the signs of some of the syndromes that prevent people from being good partners. We’ll go through those syndromes and point out some of the signs. Those little red flags you sometimes notice when you are getting to know someone? Often they speak loud and clear once you understand the types, and you can decide immediately to run away or approach with caution those who show them.
If you’re young and just starting to look for a partner, good news—the world is swarming with well-adjusted, charming matches for you, if you know how to recognize them. The bad news: you are inexperienced and you may not recognize the right type of person when you date them. Many people expect to experience an immediate sense of excitement, an overwhelming rush of attraction, and to fall in love rapidly and equally with someone who feels the same. This rarely happens, and when it does it usually ends badly! And expecting it will cause you to let go of people who are steady, loving, and attentive, if you had given them a chance. So once you’ve identified someone who makes you laugh, answers your messages, and is there for you when you want them, don’t make the mistake of tossing them aside for the merely good-looking, sexy, or intriguing stranger. Many friends I have known coupled up with the wrong person and took up to twenty years to realize it before finally giving up and divorcing, because they didn’t know their dysfunctional relationship didn’t have to be that way, and so they stuck with it far longer than they should have, hoping it would get better.
If you’re older, bad news: while you were spending time and effort on relationships you were hoping would turn out better, or even happily nestled in a good relationship or two, most of the secure, reliable, sane people in your age group got paired off. They’re married or happily enfamilied, and most of the people your age in the dating pool are tragically unable to form a good long-term relationship. You should always ask yourself, “why is this one still available?”—there may be a good answer (recently widowed or left a long-term relationship), or it may be that this person has just been extraordinarily unlucky in having over twenty short relationships in twenty years (to cite one case!) But it’s far more likely you have met someone with a problematic attachment style. As you age past 40, the percentage of the dating pool that is able to form a secure, stable relationship drops to less than 30%; and since it can take months of dating to understand why Mr. or Ms. SeemsNice is really the future ex-partner from Hell, being able to recognize the difficult types will help you recognize them faster and move on to the next.
This book outlines the basics (which might be all you need), and points you toward more resources if you want to understand more about your problem partner. If you’re wondering if the guy or girl you’ve been hanging out with might not be quite right, this is the place to match those little red flags you’ve noticed with known bad types. And by getting out fast, you can avoid emotional damage and wasted time, and get going on finding someone who’s really right for you. Study all of the bad types and you’ll detect them before even getting involved. Or you could be one of the few people who recognizes their own problems in one of these types. There are study materials and plans of action for you, too. If you’ve had lots of relationships and they all seem to go wrong, the common factor is you! Your task is to make yourself into a better partner – a goal that even the most evolved of us can always work toward.
I promised you Science! And here’s some that is very good to know: Attachment Theory. Psychologists have noticed that children whose caregivers (generally, mothers) were either unresponsive to their needs or overly concerned by their needs tended to have children with problems relating to others in a secure way.
- If the child’s needs had been ignored or only grudgingly attended to, the child would be avoidant—meaning the child would stop seeking comfort, or ignore the caregiver.
- Children who are given a mix of comfort when needed and inattention or unwanted attention inconsistently often end up anxious-preoccupied—the child is afraid and needs constant reassurance to feel safe, often clinging to the caregiver and being too afraid to explore out of sight.
- A secure child, on the other hand, was used to having their cries met with comfort and assistance, but only when needed, and learned the language of love—messages of “I’m here if you need me,” and “You’re safe.” Secure children eventually feel safe enough to explore and leave the caregiver’s side without fear, since they know their cries will be heard and responded to even from a distance.
In the late 80s, this understanding of children’s attachment types was extended to adults. Early upbringing tends to set up the emotional mechanisms for handling all significant relationships, with an adult’s style of handling partner and even friendship relationships heavily influenced by the patterns learned in early childhood. And adults with secure patterns have more satisfying, lasting, and successful relationships than adults with other patterns. Later chapters describe each of the adult attachment types and how you can recognize them; your match with another’s type is critical to making a relationship work.
And aside from attachment types that are wrong for you, there are the truly hazardous — people with abnormal psychologies who are not crazy enough to be in jail or an institution, but who can be charming and lead apparently successful lives while still being dangerous to your mental health and wellbeing should you be so unlucky as to find yourself in a relationship with one. Remember that in normal life, we use politeness and social manners to avoid knowing too much about the hundreds of people we have to deal with; those with psychopathologies can pass for normal for long periods of time in common everyday interactions, and if careful can avoid detection by most people. So your psychopathic neighbor gets along reasonably well at school or church or business, while quietly hurting small animals, and no one’s the wiser — until you date him or her. Under this category of Really Bad Potential Partners we have psychopaths, sadists, those with histrionic personality disorder, and the extremely common abusive narcissist. Each of these gets their own chapter.
And if it turns out YOU are the problem—you recognize yourself in one of the case studies, you show the signs and mental habits of being a bad partner and you’ve failed in multiple relationships because something always seems to go wrong—there’s hope for you. Your task is to overcome these bad mental habits and make yourself into the kind of person whose feelings and loyalties can be relied on, who can be a good partner to someone else. And then you will find someone who deserves you.
This book is designed to give you the information you need to find your best partner. The field of attachment studies, and the science of human emotion, is growing rapidly and if you’d like to know more and are interested in even deeper readings, check out the references and bibliography. A General Theory of Love, by Thomas Lewis, M.D., et. al., is a great introduction.