The influence of childhood relationships in love choices
We often ask ourselves what are the factors affecting choosing a partner rather than another; the attachment paradigm offers an interesting perspective to explain the reasons for the difficulties in forming and maintaining satisfactory bonds in a couple's relationship.
Origins of relationship bonds
Attachment scholars observe an extraordinarily strong "behavioral system" in children and is directed towards the primary caregiver, activated in situations of distress / fear and aimed at seeking protection.
A attachment relationship can be defined by the presence of three characteristics:
- Search for closeness to a favorite figure;
- The "safe base" effect, created by the attachment figure. A secure base allows and encourages the child's curiosity and exploration, while in the presence of threats it allows the child to take refuge and confidently seek comfort;
- Protest for separation.
MOIs and attachment styles
The attachment system develops in the first three years of life starting from the repeated interactions between the child and the caregiver (the one who takes care of the child). Subsequently attachment patterns become more and more properties of the child himself rather than real interactions, i.e. the child - and later the adult - resorts to his Internal Operating Models (MOI) of himself and others to read and interpret the reality that surrounds him. MOIs can be understood as unconscious expectations that we have about ourselves and others, which will lead us to interact in one way rather than another. Important new experiences can modify and update the MOIs, even if they tend to remain relatively stable.
The research allowed to highlight 4 types of attachment, having a very different MOI base:
- Safe attachment: the children are distressed about the separation from the caregiver, but they console themselves on his return and then serenely return to play.
- Insecure-avoidant attachment: children show no anguish about separation and ignore the parent when he returns. They are inhibited in the game.
- Insecure-ambivalent attachment: children are very distressed about separation and appear inconsolable at the time of meeting with the parent. Exploratory play is inhibited.
- Insecure-disorganized attachment: children exhibit confused behavior, such as "paralyzing" or making stereotypical movements when the parent returns.
From infant attachment to adult attachment
Adult sentimental relationships can be understood as "attachments", in that they contain the qualities of providing a secure base - allowing work and exploration - and a protective refuge in case of need. In any long-lasting relationship the qualities of attachment will be gradually acquired, so that the "safe base" function will be the last one satisfied by the partner.
- adult attachment styles recall those children and depend on the MOI:
- Safe style: the person has confidence in himself and in relationships, therefore he manages to live relationships with serenity and at the same time feel at ease both with autonomy and with intimacy.
- Avoidant style: the person is afraid of intimacy and avoids it; he hardly trusts the other and reacts to problems by detaching himself, while the self-image is more positive.
- Anxious-ambivalent style: the person does not trust the other, but there is a strong desire to merge with the partner, for which the relational style is continually in demand. The self-image is negative and one would like to control the other.
How can attachment influence partner choice?
The MOI would also let us select the environments that best fit the opinions we have of ourselves and others, entering the game in the choice of partner. For example, a person with an "ambivalent attachment" likely to obtain reassurance from a person judged to be uninterested and available is likely to choose a partner with an "avoidant attachment" as partner, who denies his dependency needs in the belief that the other would never want to satisfy them.
Among the various possible combinations of the mentioned styles, the ones that are most encountered are:
- Safe couple attachment, in which both partners manage both to express their needs and to satisfy those of the other.
- Avoidant / anxious couple attachment, in which the anxious partner feels constantly deprived and abandoned, while the avoidant partner is annoyed by the other's dependency needs.
- Safe / insecure couple attachment, where the presence of a secure partner can provide the insecure partner with an opportunity to review and update his mental models.
So while i subjects secure they tend to join other safe subjects, i subjects insecure they tend to join other insecure subjects, but with a different attachment style from theirs. It is unlikely, for example, that a relationship between an "avoidant" and an "anxious" person is truly satisfactory, but it is very likely that it will last, precisely because each of the partners would confirm the other's expectations.
* Notes on the author:
Arianna Mohamoud is a psychodynamic psychologist and psychotherapist. He carries out the psychotherapist activity privately by carrying out counseling and psychotherapy courses aimed at children, adolescents and adults. He has gained decades of experience in schools of all levels and degrees, implementing educational projects for students with psycho-physical disabilities. Since 2013 she has been an ordinary member of Psy + Onlus, with whom she collaborates mainly as a designer and psychologist in the School Area.