Couples:  The Attachment Dance

1…2…3… One…2…3…  ONE…2…3… Ever taken a spin around the dance floor?  Much like the choreographed moves of a dance, couples often demonstrate a learned pattern of interactions that are as predictable and responsive as any Waltz ever danced.  

And like all great dancers… we started taking lessons when we were young.

John Bowlby, among others, was a psychoanalyst who studied human behavior through infants and their Attachment Styles with their caretakers.   Attachment theorists believe Attachment Styles developed in childhood are predictive of Attachment Styles in adulthood.  

A glance over the variety of dance partners out on the dance floor might look like this…

Attachment Type:  Secure

As a Child

  • Able to separate from parent
  • Seek comfort from parents when frightened
  • Return to parents met with positive emotions
  • Prefers parents to strangers

As an Adult

  • Have trusting, lasting, relationship
  • Tend to have good self-esteem
  • Comfortable with sharing feelings with friends and partners
  • Seeks out social support

Attachment Type:  Avoidant

As a Child

  • May avoid parents
  • Does not seek comfort or contact from parents
  • Shows little or no preference between parent and stranger

As an Adult

  • May have problems with intimacy
  • Invests little emotion in social and romantic relationships
  • Unable or unwilling to share thoughts and feelings

Attachment Type:  Ambivalent (or Anxious)

As a Child

  • May be wary of strangers
  • Becomes greatly distressed when the parent leaves them
  • Does not appear to be comforted when parent returns

As an Adult

  • Reluctant to become close to others
  • Worries their partner does not love them
  • Becomes very distraught when a relationship ends

Bowlby defined Attachment as:

An enduring emotional bond characterized by a tendency to seek and maintain proximity to specific figure(s) particularly when under stress.

Been dancing for a while? Tired of getting your feet stepped on?  Or chasing your dance partner across the floor?  Maybe a deeper look at your Attachment Style can help you be a more sensitive dance partner in the relationships of life.

As an Anxious Attachment Individual, consider asking about your partner’s needs and wishes rather than anticipating them.  In other words, let him or her speak for his self or her self and initiate his or her own path of connection with you rather than you predicting every dip and sway of the dance.  Seek friendships and activities outside of the relationship to maintain a healthy balance. And have confidence in the strength of your relationship by believing your partner feels valued and appreciated by the attention you pay to him or her.

As an Avoidant Attachment Individual, examine and question your tendency to pull back when it feels as though a dance partner is trying to get close.  Take a break from the business of life to consider how your partner might be feeling or experiencing the dance on the other side of your Fred Astaire moves.   Take pride in your capacity to remain steady and on beat with your partner during more troubled or stressful parts of the dance.

As a Secure Attachment Individual, enjoy your connection capacity when seeking out partners, but stay curious about what your partner is expecting from the dance and their level of commitment to the relationship.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your partner’s motives and intentions for the relationship so you have an equal level of investment and mutual satisfaction in the outcome of the dance.

Whether you prefer a Two-Step, Jitterbug, or Waltz… learning more about the Attachment Style of you and your partner can create more attunement–being in harmony or aware and responsive to your dance partner’s needs.

Floating around the dance floor may look effortless, but in reality it is the result of each partner in a couple working hard on his or her side of the dance.  Self examination and even time with a therapist can help you become more self-aware of your own Attachment Style and set you up to “wow” them all in the dance of life.