The Benefits of a Secure Attachment Love

Excerpt from Falling in Love is Not Enough by Joseph Dragun, Ph.D.

The list of benefits to being in a secure attachment love relationship may
amaze you.

Independence and Uniqueness

Sometimes men, in particular, are afraid of being too dependent on their partners. My view of love challenges some North American views of dependency. We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists. I remember growing up watching those great old-time cowboy movies. The strong silent cowpoke overcame all adversity and then rode off into the sunset, alone.

It seems to me that men, in particular, tend to remain more aloof, more unemotional, more independent, and more likely to not seek support from others. We relax and lose ourselves in physical hobbies and sports, at best, and in alcohol and other drugs, at worst.

I remember being cautious about even being close to my significant others. I was afraid of being engulfed and of being too dependent upon her. I tended to remain vigilant about not getting too intimate or too emotional with my spouse. I kept my distance.

Yet the view of attachment love shown here presents a different picture.  Closeness and dependence is natural. It's not only OK; it's essential for greater success.

In order to be truly independent in the world a person needs to be dependent upon one's significant other, at least for a period of time. In a sense, dependence and independence are two sides of the same coin.  Each is in tension with each other. One side sometimes predominates, yet can't exist without the other.

Some people argue that there's no such thing as being overly dependent on someone. They believe that couples must find the "right" kind of dependence on each other. For them, the more securely and properly attached you are to your partner, the more separate and unique you can be. It's kind of a paradox. When you are properly attached to your significant other, you become more unique.

Greater Relationship Satisfaction

This is not merely a dream or a fantasy goal. It's real. The research in this area clearly shows that secure attachment love leads to higher levels of intimacy, trust, and satisfaction. People securely attached to their partners report better adjustment to each other and greater happiness.

Inner and Outer Worlds Become Manageable

When people have a connection with a significant other, their inner and outer worlds become manageable. Perhaps the best way to prove this is by illustrating the opposite. Imagine that one of your significant others has abruptly left you. (A significant other could be a close parent, a spouse, a friend, a boyfriend, a girlfriend - anyone who is close to you.)  Imagine that this person is gone. He or she died, abandoned you, had an affair, or went to Brazil with no intention of coming back.

How would you feel? Most people would feel devastated. They might be hurt, angry, depressed, or all of these in a whirlwind of emotions. People have told me that their world turned upside down. Often one feels intense anxiety. This person can't sleep at night. He or she can't seem to concentrate and may feel confusion about what happened, about themselves, about why one is even in the world. He or she goes to work and stares at the computer all day long, accomplishing next to nothing.

When my father died, even though I was expecting it for a few years (he had a heart condition), it was as if I walked into a fog. Things and events I would normally notice slipped past my awareness. I seemed preoccupied with something tugging at my mind; turning me away from the things I needed to do although I wasn't even sure what it was that was pulling me away. Nothing was clear or easy. My emotions would
capture me and run riot for awhile. No matter how small or insignificant, any additional stress that was placed on me easily overwhelmed me.

I remember almost yelling at a cashier one time because he had accidentally charged an item twice. It really was no big deal, because I caught it before I left; yet I could not deal with it calmly. During that time some new paperwork was introduced at work. I remember angrily reacting to it and complaining loudly to the management. Looking back, it actually made my work a little easier; but at that moment, it was just too much to deal with. Others have felt similar things after the discovery of a spouse's betrayal. We experience these things because we have lost our secure base that gives us a sense of security.

When this foundation is disrupted or crumbles, we react in the ways I described above. It becomes more difficult to lead our lives. Our inner, emotional lives become hectic and negatively emotional with turmoil and tumult. Our outer lives become tougher to manage. It's no longer possible, even for awhile, to function at an optimal level: our abilities to be parents and good spouses and to perform adequately at work all deteriorate. It can't be helped. Our secure base was disrupted or
eliminated, perhaps forever.  The secure base gives us a platform upon which we build our lives.

Secure base and exploring and learning in the world

When you have a secure base, it's easier to explore and engage in the world. One study found that there is a relationship between adult attachment love and one's life and success in the world. People who have a secure attachment love enjoy their work more, are more successful, even take more enjoyable vacations. Healthy and secure love attachments help people to function optimally in the world.

Jeff, a client, told me that he could not have given up the job he hated without knowing that is wife was there, supporting him. She was his secure base and this helped him tackle new things in the world. When our attachments are good, our significant others allow us to engage in the world in creative and satisfying ways.

Secure base and meaning in life, self, and others

When people are secure in their relationships, they tend to have predictable and more positive views of themselves and of others. They tend to see others as dependable and trustworthy. More importantly, they tend to see themselves as loveable and deserving of care and good relationships. These persons are more upbeat about themselves and others. Being, and having been, in a secure relationship, one feels better about oneself. An optimistic self-image is an important benefit.

People with the other attachment styles tend to have more negative self-images. The person with an anxious attachment style is more preoccupied with his or her partner. This person idealizes the relationship and is more dependent on the relationship.

People with avoidant styles tend to avoid intimacy. One is either so afraid of others that he or she pulls back and refuses to interact, or one denies the need to interact. Avoidant and anxious attachment styles tend to be associated with loneliness, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-consciousness, anger, resentment, suspiciousness and fear of negative evaluation by others. Avoidant styles are also related to excessive alcohol consumption. Since such individuals are poorly equipped to handle these problems, anxious and avoidant attachment styles place people at risk for a variety of problems.

Solving problems and argument

Couples in a secure attachment love relationship are able to solve problems more easily. When a couple has long-term and serious difficulties, there is a tendency for great emotion to arise. Anger and pain rule the day. These powerful emotions interfere with the couple's ability to solve even minor, insignificant day-to-day problems. They end up arguing over seemingly stupid things.

Couples with secure attachment styles tend to use strategies such as bargaining, reasoning, and talking. Not least, they trust each other. The couple tends to respond more openly; each avoids trying to coerce or force the other partner to an agreement. One doesn't readily reject the other and is more open to collaborating in seeking a good resolution.  There is a high probability of a productive and satisfying solution.

Those with an avoidant style of attachment have a tendency to react to arguments in one of two ways. Sometimes this individual simply refuses to talk and may sulk or leave. Or he or she may ignore one's partner and simply do whatever one wishes.

Secure base and communication

Partners in secure relationships are comfortable about communicating directly and openly with their partners. They are more readily able to tell their partners about themselves, their points of view and their problems.  They are able to do this in a way which doesn't shut their partner out.

Secure people can openly admit their distress and fear and turn to their spouse for support. It makes them more resilient in a crisis. It also makes them less likely to be depressed when relationships are not going too well.

In distressed relationships, it's not unusual for a spouse to attack one's mate while complaining. In secure relationships, this is not common. The complaint is handled directly and without difficulty.

In secure relationships, even when complaint is made the partner is less likely to respond with anger and defensiveness. Couples are able to respond creatively to the partner's concerns, thoughts, and feelings.  A sense of confidence is built up between the couple. There is a conviction that one's partner will listen and respond in a reasonable, productive way. There is a secure knowledge that one's partner will not overreact if he or she shares what is actually on one's mind.

Secure base and processing information effectively

In all relationships there are times when people say and do things which irritate their spouses. Sometimes, for example, I have been known (I confess, it's true) to come home in a cranky mood and start getting down on my family.

A spouse in an insecure relationship might immediately respond in a negative way to the situation above. She will take the anger in a personal way, feeling hurt and possibly reacting angrily or defensively. Perhaps she will think that he is purposefully trying to hurt her. She may think that her spouse is a total idiot for his actions.

A spouse in a more secure relationship will process this information differently. She will think that he is tired and grouchy from a bad day at work. She will avoid any temptation to think that he is doing it on purpose to irritate her or demean her.

People in secure relationships also tend to be better able to consider differing perspectives. Thus even when one's spouse has what at first seems like an idiotic idea, the partner is more likely to seriously consider it.

Actually, couples rarely have the same points of view. This can cause much hardship, difficulty, and fighting. A couple in a secure relationship is better able to see and appreciate each other's point of view. In general, insecure relationships seem to be associated with more difficulty processing new information, greater difficulty taking in new cognitions and difficulty dealing with emotions.  Businessmen and women sometimes talk about "thinking outside the box." Secure attachment relationships promote this kind of thinking and processing in couples.

Safe Haven and Stress

Infants and adults became calmer when they are in close physical proximity with the significant other, one's attachment figure. (Of course, this is only true if your wife is not mad at you.)

But seriously, when things are going well, we are genetically programmed to calm down when we are with our attachment love. Our brain literally changes in our partner's presence.

Maybe this is why some people sleep better when their spouse is present.   My wife says it's as if she had a security blanket. She finds it easier to calm down and go to sleep. Maybe this is why some people are more relaxed when they sleep with their spouse or why they feel more anxious when the spouse is away. The core of adult love is based upon having a partner who is a secure base and a safe haven for you. It may include a good sexual relationship, but it's more than that. It generally includes mutual sharing between adult partners.

When this attachment love is mutual and is truly safe and secure, it
creates many benefits in the couple's life. These include:

  1. More easily managing and controlling one's emotions
  2. More easily functioning in and managing one's outer world,
    including work
  3. Dealing more easily with stress
  4. More easily exploring the world and trying new things
  5. Having a more positive self-image
  6. Having a more positive image of others
  7. More easily solving problems with a spouse
  8. More easily working out arguments
  9. Communicating more easily
  10. Processing information more effectively and quickly
  11. Increased marital satisfaction
  12. The decreased probability of divorce
Why wouldn't anybody want these things?