“My husband is emotionally reserved, and that’s always been the case. But as far as I know, he’s completely invested and, especially when we were first dating, wanted to be around me 24/7. Now, he’s dismissive whenever I ask his advice (especially with the kids), or he totally avoids confrontation when I need to talk about a problem. Whenever I try to explain that I’d like more feedback and intimacy, he says he doesn’t understand why I’m so needy, and at that at this point in our relationship, we shouldn’t have to talk about ‘stuff’ so much. What’s the disconnect here?”
You’ve heard the Paula Abdul song: Opposites attract, and this is never more true than with attachment styles. Your hubby is the “avoidant attacher,” you are the “anxious attacher” and your relationship is the archetypical “anxious-avoidant trap,” perfectly outlined in Amir Levine and Rachel Heller’s Attached. (This book is one of countless amazing resources on attachment theory—which will blow your mind, help you figure out your husband’s needs and help you get your needs met.)
But what does this all mean? Well…
An avoidant attacher is someone who desires a lot of freedom, and often sees romantic relationships as a barrier to their own independence. Sounds like your guy, right?
An anxious attacher is someone who desires a ton of intimacy, and typically worries about their partner’s availability and ability to give them the kind of attention they require. Does that resonate?
Avoidant types and anxious types are often attracted to each other early on, because they complement each other so well. One is steely, reserved and calm; the other expressive, emotive and driven to connect. In some ways, you and your husband have what the other wants and needs. You can grow closer because of this... or, without proper self-awareness, apart.
To be clear: There is nothing wrong with either of you, or your attachment styles. In fact, only 50 percent of the population is what Levine and Heller would call “secure” in their relationship. Plus, you and your husband likely developed your styles when you were children, so it’s hardly something that manifested as a result of knowing one another. (When parents are not fully available to children, avoidant kids will adapt by building up tons of confidence and independence, whereas anxious types will engage in “protest” behaviors like crying and screaming to be seen. Those skills you learned as kids eventually turned into the adult romantic attachment styles you are currently playing out.)
But, we’ve all got needs, and you just need more awareness on how to mesh your styles. This revolves around acting more secure, until you feel more secure in the relationship. Here’s how the two of you can start.
- Don’t make assumptions. If you’re wondering about your husband’s feelings or needs, directly ask him.
- Don’t interfere too much with his friend time, work time or solo time, unless he’s truly been out of touch—in which case you need to go back to clear, direct communication. He needs time without you in order to recharge for intimacy.
- Don’t be passive-aggressive, punish him or drag up old beefs. No “protest” behaviors. No games.
- Recognize that you play a role in your partner’s happiness, which means allowing him to have time to be independent; in doing this, he’ll likely come back around quicker and more often.
- Allow for a “timeout” when an argument is not resolved.
- Must make an effort to be more consistently available. If you call, he answers or calls back in a timely manner. He responds to texts and emails, and he answers when you have questions.
- Should focus on being present while with you and your kids.
- Will make a consistent effort to meet your intimacy needs or meet you halfway. Will look for compromise, not “all or nothing” mentality (i.e., “I’m either independent or I’m tied down”).
- Will make an effort to state feelings and articulate needs, even if it’s a need for freedom.
- Will not shut down or stonewall you during disagreements. Will not walk away from an argument.
- Recognizes that he plays a role in your happiness, and tries to provide more availability and intimacy when you ask for it.
This is your contract, so commit to these terms for one month, then two, until it’s just a new set of routines you do without thinking. Want to make the contract more concrete? Maybe he gets “a weekend off” each month to do whatever he feels will recharge his battery. But you get to hire a sitter and plan a date night for just the two of you, alone. As long as you guys can learn to identify your own coping mechanisms and respect one another’s, I promise you’ll be fine.
And while you’re at it, learn as much as you can about romantic attachment styles. It’ll change your life and the way you love. (It certainly did for me.)
Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a dating and relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.