There is a lot of talk in relationship literature these days about attachment styles and how important it is to understand yours if you want to have a happy love life.
Most of your problems stem from insecurities inherent in how you relate to others.
Authors in the field refer to “anxious” or “love addicted” attachment styles and their natural counterpart, the “avoidant” or “love avoidant” attachment style.
These are contrasted to “secure” or “healthy” attachment.
Nobody knows for sure how many people fall into these catagories but it is likely at least half the population are brandishing insecure attachment styles when relating to their partners.
I often say to my friends, “We are the walking wounded.”
I was definitely a love avoidant and naturally attracted a love addict into my life. These opposites attract like moths to the flame…literally.
The relationship challenges my partner and I faced were completely predictible if I’d understood things back then.
Sadly I only learned the lesson when it was too late to turn things around.
I’ll write about this subject of attachment in greater depth in future blog posts for sure.
What I want to do today though, is talk about how your attachment style and its corresponding insecurities influence the relationship options you prefer.
To see this you need to understand at the core what drives you as a love addict or love avoidant to behave the way you do.
To summarize, if you are a love addict or a love avoidant you have two basic fears. You fear being abandoned or alone and you fear being intimate.
If you are a love addict your fear of abandonment is a conscious fear.
You are always worried about whether you are truly loved in your relationships, and you are always testing your relationships in some way to assure yourself you are loved.
It probably surprises you to hear that you fear intimacy as well, since you believe intimacy is what you want more than anything else.
This is because for a love addict, fear of intimacy is an unconscious fear.
The truth is though, you actually are afraid of real intimacy, because what you think is intimacy isn’t.
Instead you seek an intensity in your relationships that healthy intimacy lacks.
People who are secure in their love don’t need it proven to them all the time by intense displays of emotion.
Their experience of love is calmer and more comfortable.
More like “home.”
Your felt need for this intensity is because of your insecurity.
Unless your partner is displaying demonstratively that they love you all the time, you are afraid they are not truly in love with you any more.
If you are a love avoidant your fear of intimacy is a conscious fear.
You don’t want anybody getting too close and you don’t want to become too emotionally dependent on anyone.
You feel suffocated when someone expresses intense emotional neediness and tend to pull away from them when that happens.
In many ways you prefer to be alone because then nobody can draw too much emotional energy from you.
It probably surprises you to hear that you fear being abandoned or alone too, since you experience being alone as energizing.
This is because for a love avoidant, fear of abandonment or being alone is an unconscious fear.
The truth is though, you actually are afraid of abandonment or being alone.
This is demonstrated by the fact you still choose to be in a relationship and seek one out when you are not in one.
In contrast to love addicts and love avoidants, people who are secure in their attachment style don’t need to be in a relationship and are truly okay with being alone.
They choose to be in a relationship because they want to, not because they need to.
They also don’t feel any need to avoid being intimate with their partner and don’t feel drained when their partner expresses emotional needs they want fulfilled.
In fact it is their joy in giving themselves to their partner that leads them to want to be together.
Maybe you see yourself in one of these attachment styles?
Now let’s see how your attachment style influences the relationship options you choose.
If you are a love addict with an anxious attachment style you will tend to be attracted to monogamy. Because your conscious fear is abandonment or being alone, you want to possess your lover and assure yourself they are all yours. You don’t want to “share” them with anyone else and you want them to make you the sole object of their affection too.
What is interesting about this is whenever you see this kind of behavior in non-romantic relationships, you consider it unhealthy and something to be corrected.
If a child wants his parents to give him all the attention and resents when his parents express their love to his siblings, you feel the child is being selfish and possessive and displaying clear signs of insecurity.
The same thing goes when a person tries to possess her friend and not “share her” with anyone else.
Despite how obvious it is to you that these are unhealthy attachment patterns, you rarely recognize how monogamy’s very structure displays all these signs of possessiveness and jealousy so characteristic of insecure attachment.
Secure people enjoy their relationships but also understand that part of what makes a person’s life fulfilling is the web of relationships they experience.
Monogamy goes directly against this wisdom and claims that where romantic love is concerned, suddenly all these insecure patterns are normal and expected.
I suspect if I asked you why normally insecure relationship patterns are appropriate for romantic love, you would likely draw a blank and be unable to provide an actual reason.
While for many of us the “urge” for monogamy is strong, its rationale and recommended motivational patterns remain inexplicably contradictory to clear relationship wisdom.
This might make us think polyamory is truer to our natural perception of healthy attachment patterns.
But there is a potential dark side here too.
If you are a love avoidant with the avoidant attachment style you will tend to be attracted to polyamory and be open to having more than one lover in your life. Because you fear intimacy you want to keep your lovers at a distance and not commit to any one of them too deeply. You want to experience love in your life but maintain control so you don’t become engulfed.
The way many people approach polyamory is just as unhealthy and insecure as the way many people approach monogamy.
If monogamy is guilty of possessiveness and the attempt to become enmeshed with one’s lover, polyamory if often guilty of just the opposite.
It can become an attempt to have love in your life while not getting too close.
With polyamory too, when you see these behavior patterns displayed in non-romantic relationships the warning bells ring immediately.
If a child keeps trying to “collect friends” without ever developing any deep bonds with anyone, you become concerned.
People in adult life who keep moving from friendship to friendship but never get close, you consider asocial and in need of transformation.
The signs of unhealthy polyamory are obvious.
This raises the question then, what type of relationship option do healthy people with a secure attachment style tend towards? You would think this would be an easy question to answer but actually it isn’t. The reason is because both biological and societal programming influences our understanding of what relationship options seem appropriate to us.
For many years now monogamy has seemed the obvious choice because of its natural fit with having families and raising children, and the traditional roles of father as bread winner and mother as homemaker.
But this has not always been the case nor is it the case now in many cultures.
Polyamory in one form or another has always been present throughout history.
It is only in western culture since the time of Rome that monogamy has dominated, and only because of its conduciveness to these traditional societal patterns.
But these patterns have nothing to do with romantic love.
In fact they are inherently conducive to its demise. I’ll have much more to say about this in future blog posts.
Biology favors reproductive patterns conducive to the birth and nurturing of children.
Society favors patterns conducive to society’s survival as opposed to the happiness of the individual.
Clearly the traditional roles of bread winner and home maker have fallen out of vogue in the west, with the advent of feminism.
They are less relevant yet for people who have no current motivation to raise a family.
So monogamy is a much less obvious choice today, but it is still the one most programmed into our psyche.
Which is why even securely attached individuals often prefer it.
This does not mean its inherent structure is truly consistent with a securely attached style.
I have advocated romantic friendships as the relationship option most conducive to romantic love. This form of polyamory also lines up nicely with what we know about healthy secure attachment styles in non-romantic contexts.
Romantic friends are open to experiencing romantic love with anyone.
They do not seek to avoid intimacy but instead embrace it wherever they find it.
In finding it though, they do not seek to possess their lovers.
They are not threatened by the fact their romantic friends are open to and actually experience romantic friendships with people other than themselves.
They take joy in knowing their partners experience intimacy with others too, since this adds to their partner’s fulfillment, and they desire to see their partners happy.
Clearly if you approach your love life this way you are functioning in a secure manner.
None of the insecurities characteristic of love addiction or love avoidance are present.
Does this mean you should prefer romantic friendships over monogamy if you have a healthy, secure attachment style?
As a securely attached person you may still prefer to put your energies into a single relationship and give that relationship all your attention.
You may value one partner and wish to focus your attention solely on him or her.
This is a giving attitude and is clearly commendable.
It shows nothing of the possessiveness and desire be the sole object of your partner’s attention, so characteristic of the love addict’s insecure motivation for monogamy.
It shows nothing of the love avoidant’s desire to withhold intimacy either.
But this is because it has to do with your decision to be monogamous with your partner, not any requirement on your partner’s part that you be monogamous with them.
If they require monogamy from you they have shifted to a mindset that seems difficult to justify from a securely attached perspective.
As long as both you and your partner choose monogamy voluntarily without requiring it of each other, this is an expression of secure attachment.
A secure person has no need to require love from anyone.
Instead secure partners love their partners with an open hand.
As Sting sang, “If you love someone, set them free.”
This is the only way you can truly have each other’s love.
It is the only way you can truly keep it.
You are with each other because you choose to be, not because you are required to be.
In many ways what this means is the best person to be in a monogamous relationship with is a person who is comfortable with being polyamorous. Only when this is the case is the level of security necessary for healthy monogamy present. Any sense of requiring monogamy indicates insecurity on the part of you or your partner.
I know what I’m suggesting flies in the face of everything you likely believe.
I have had countless conversations seeking a clear, secure motivation for requiring monogamy and have yet to hear one.
Instead people only say monogamy is their preference and they don’t want to be with someone who is not monogamous with them too.
That is fine.
Your partner requiring you to be with them when they are polyamorous is as insecure motivationally as you requiring your partner to be monogamous with you.
And I’m not suggesting that if you are insecure about any of this, that you should act in a way that makes you uncomfortable.
As I said many of us are “the walking wounded.” And societal programming is strong.
Really though what this all suggests is that if you are a securely attached individual, you will approach your relationships not from the standpoint of monogamy versus polyamory, but solely from the standpoint of love.
If you truly love someone you will desire to be with them.
You will desire to experience sexual fulfillment and emotional connection that is mutually shared and enjoyed.
Whether or not either of you do or should experience this with anyone else doesn’t even enter the picture.
It is in no way relevant to the love you feel for each other.
You love each other with an open hand. There is no other way to truly love.
How about you? Are your insecurities impacting your relationship choices?