Confused About Love? Get Clear. Be Wise. Feel Secure
By Carista Luminare, Ph.D.
Many of us are confused about love. Your own parents and grandparents were probably not great role models how to love —due to differences in cultural beliefs and values between generations. They may have had no clue how to love you – or each other – with mutual care and respect.
This misunderstanding – about what love is and what love does – can lead to irrational behaviors, uncomfortable feelings, and reactivity in your relationships. It can impact your ability to make or keep your commitments.
Lack of wisdom how to love can result in anxiety, withdrawal, abandonment, or betrayal. It creates unhappiness in families, marriages, and partnerships.
You can learn to love wisely, which requires you to rewire some of your behaviors and habits how you relate to yourself and others.
But what does healthy love look like? And how can you create it?
Our deepest instinctual need, from the time we’re born, is to feel safe and loved. All infants need to be held, seen, and nurtured. When cared for this way, a child can relax and feel secure in the love-bond they have with their primary caregivers.
If your mother, father, or preferred attachment figure responded quickly to your needs, and treated you as a priority, you learned that you could depend on someone to keep you safe and nurtured. This was your first experience of being loved. It is called “secure attachment.”
Through decades of research and thousands of studies with both children and adults, it has become clear that we never outgrow the need to feel safe and secure in our relationships.
Research on the neuroscience of relationships shows that “secure functioning” is the key to successful partnerships. Even as adults in a complex world, we benefit if there is a
dependable person in our lives who cares for our concerns and needs as a priority.
Secure love feels positive and empowering. It allows us to quickly repair when one person triggers the other. Feeling cared for can open us up to more confidence, peace and passion.
In infancy, we are totally dependent on an adult to care for us. As we grow into adulthood, we develop two important capacities:
1) The ability to care for ourselves
2) The ability to care for others’ needs
The first capacity allows us to become independent. The second allows us to grow up and develop mutually inter-dependent relationships with others. This is the foundation for mature and sustainable intimacy in a primary partnership.
Unfortunately, as children, many of us did not get our primal needs fulfilled by our parents. In response to this lack of care, we formed an adaptive defense strategy to keep ourselves safe with limited ability to do so.
Attachment theory provides many benefits to couples by identifying four basic bonding patterns – commonly called “Attachment Styles,” which I call the LoveStyles™.
Understanding the four LoveStyles – and how your childhood wounds affect your adult relationship dynamics – can create a powerful path toward deeper affection.
Identifying your LoveStyle helps you:
- Understand the source of your reactions
- Learn how to interrupt triggered reactions
- Resolve endless cycles of arguments
- Create mutual understanding with your partner (even with different LoveStyles)
The Four Types of LoveStyles:
1. Secure Lovestyle types are confident in their ability to love and need less reassurance than Insecure Lovestyle types. They feel at ease with giving and receiving love in real time. Like everyone else, they need positive interactions that remind them that they are loved and appreciated. When they are triggered, they are usually able to contain their reaction,
because they focus on keeping the connection positive.
It’s natural for them to say, “Your distress matters to me. I am here to help us both feel more secure and peaceful.”
2. Insecure-Anxious types often feel fearful and uncertain when they feel threatened by the behavior of the other. They’re afraid of being abandoned, leaving them reluctant to freely express their feelings. They need consistent connection and reassurance from their partner. If their partner feels overwhelmed and needs space, they need to know when they can expect to be re-connected.
Their partner informs them, “I’m going to take a break so I can re-center myself. I’ll be back in 30 minutes. I am not going anywhere.”
3. Insecure-Avoidant types often fear being flooded or invaded, so they need space, understanding, and patience from their partner. They withdraw when feeling threatened, and rely on self-regulation rather than connection or co-regulation. They may feel hopeless when they’re caught up in arguments or processing cycles with their partner. They feel that their feelings aren’t valued, so why bother to connect?
If their partner sees them getting overwhelmed, they can say, “I care about your feelings. Take some space and settle yourself. How much time do you think you need before we can re-connect, so we can listen to each other in a more loving way?”
4. Insecure-Traumatized types (sometimes called Insecure-Disorganized) fear a repeat of their original relationship trauma, and they can trigger easily when something mimics their traumatic past. They need lots of reassurance that they are safe in this moment to connect. Their caring partner must learn to avoid behaviors that put them into a reactive state.
They might say, “I’m here with you and I’m not going away. You’re safe with me to share your feelings. I’ve got you.”
You may see your LoveStyle express itself in other relationships, such as with your children, friends, parents, or professional colleagues. We flourish when we feel appreciated, accepted, and connected. When we feel rejected or devalued, we’re likely to feel hurt, sad, or ashamed.
All relationships have challenges and fights. Everyone gets triggered. Partners who feel secure may get upset, but they can return to loving feelings within minutes because relieving each other’s distress is a high priority.
It takes intentional effort to reprogram and release outdated behavior patterns you learned from your family and culture. While dealing with the stresses and difficulties of daily life, healthy, secure relationships focus on each person feeling supported and loved.
Carista Luminare, Ph.D., is an Attachment Specialist helping individuals and couples rewire each other from insecure to secure love. Take her free Lovestyle Profile Quiz at: www.lovestyleprofile.com