Science says: No! But around 25% of the population who has an avoidant attachment style may think the opposite. If you find yourself resonating with the fear that becoming attached to a romantic partner equates to loosing your independence than you could be part of the 25% with an avoidant attachment style. With rapidly changing societal norms, the pressure to establish one’s career seems to have gained increasing importance and the idea of simultaneous pursing a romantic relationship could seem like a distraction. In the day and age of being a #girlboss* it can feel like there is a choice to be made: career or love - but why not both?
*For the sake of this article, #girlboss is a non-binary term referring to anyone who may find themselves worried that romantic dependency could interfere with career independency. Often popular culture equates avoidance with masculinity however research shows that both men and women can show both anxious and avoidant attachment styles.
Numerous studies have found that whether we resist it or not, once we become attached to someone, we form one physiological unit. Meaning our partners will regulate our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and levels of hormones in our blood. So, the notion that codependency with your partner is a negative trait and that your happiness should come from within holds no grounds biologically. Dependency is a fact, not a choice. Dependency as a member of the romantic vernacular is often misunderstood as a sign of weakness. But according to the dependency paradox the opposite is in fact true. The more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become. So, to all the #girlbosses out there; you can have your cake and eat it too!
By resisting the urge to distance yourself emotionally when your partner acts in a way that undermines your sense of security you are in fact providing the very foundation on which to stand in order to achieve your goals outside the relationship. To help demonstrate this, consider the following: In stressful situations the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus becomes activated, however in a study of women who held their husband’s hands while being exposed to a stressful stimulus the results showed an almost undetectable amount of activity in the hypothalamus compared to when they were exposed to the stimulus on their own. All this to say, when two people form an intimate relationship, they regulate each other’s psychological and emotional well-being. Of course, after spending a lifetime operating with the idea that dependency is bad it can be difficult to break old habits. Lets looks at some common habits also known as deactivating strategies used by those with avoidant attachment styles to help keep independence in their relationships.
Deactivating Strategies are any behaviours known to squelch intimacy. They actually work against the biological mechanisms in our brain that tells us to seek closeness with a preferred partner by suppressing our attachment system. Pretty powerful stuff! Below are some common deactivating strategies that may feel familiar if you have an avoidant attachment style:
Feeling like you aren’t ready to commit but staying in a relationship anyway.
Letting your partner’s small imperfections (the way they dress, chew, brush their teeth) get in the way of your romantic feelings.
Pining after an ex lover or flirting with others as a means of introducing insecurity into the relationship.
Pulling away when things are going well, for example not calling/texting back after a successful or especially intimate date.
Starting a relationship with someone who is logistically unavailable such as someone who is married.
‘Checking out’ mentally when your partner is talking to you.
Keeping secrets or not divulging the full truth as a means to secure your independence.
Avoiding physical closeness in ways such as not wanting to share a bed with your partner, have sex with your partner or even walk next to your partner.
If you find yourself rigorously nodding your head when reading the above deactivating strategies then chances are you fall into the 25% who hold avoidant attachment styles. As such, you may come to realize that your avoidance in relationships is less about being self-sufficient and more about suppressing your attachment system. Well, worry not! These behaviours, thoughts and feelings are not impossible to uproot and change. Below are six things you can start doing to help reduce your avoidance in romantic relationships:
Learn to identify deactivating strategies (and challenge them!)
De-emphasize self-reliance and focus on mutual support.
Be aware of your tendency to misinterpret behaviours (re: the second deactivating strategy of letting your partner’s small imperfections get in the way of your romantic feelings).
Make a relationship gratitude list.
Stop fantasizing about your ex.
Let go of the idea that there is one perfect person to be your match.
If the avoidance attachment style doesn’t resonate with you it’s quite possible you fall into the 20% who have an anxious attachment style, the 3-5% who are both anxious and avoidant or the 50% who are secure. If attachment styles excite you (which they should!) and you’d like to learn more, the book ‘Attached’ by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller is an excellent resource.