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Q&A with authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

Why did you write ATTACHED?

ATTACHED is the manual we wish we had when we were dating. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about dating and relationships—and myths that simply aren’t true. However, an incredible body of knowledge does exist about relationships, and it’s called Attachment science. For this book, we took the information from those studies, distilled it and made it accessible for readers.

What is the basic idea behind Adult Attachment?

The science of adult attachment predicts, with a great deal of accuracy, how people will behave in romantic relationships and whether they will be well matched—on the basis of their “attachment style”: Anxious, Avoidant or Secure.

  • People with a Secure attachment style (just over 50% of the population) are warm and loving, and relationships come naturally to them. They are great at communicating their needs and feelings.
  • People with an Anxious attachment style (about 21% of the population) love to be very close to their partner and have the capacity for a lot of intimacy. However, they often fear that their partner does not want to be as close as they would like and can be very sensitive to small fluctuations in their partner’s moods.
  • People with an Avoidant attachment style (25%) feel the need to maintain their independence. Even though they want to be in a relationship, they tend to keep their partner at arm’s length.

If you’re single and looking for the right partner, this information can set you on the right track from the very get go since you can learn how to figure out a potential partner’s attachment style early on and find the right match. But, importantly, it is also useful for those who are already in a “mismatched” relationship because we can learn to become more secure.

One of the dating myths you discuss is game-playing. You say that playing games will attract the exact wrong type of person. How so? And is laying all your cards on the table up front really practical?

When out on a date, expressing your needs early on is key to finding the right match. Game-playing is something that many avoidants resort to naturally as a way to keep you at a distance. If you go along with this strategy even though what you truly crave is consistency and stability, you may end up attracting someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with being too close.

There’s nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve by saying “I need someone who’s there for me and that I can rely on” or “my parents were always very close to each other. That’s what I’m looking for in a relationship.” The response will speak volumes as to your partner’s ability to address your needs now and in the future.

Think about it: if you were interviewing people to fill in a position at work, would you ask indirect questions and avoid asking crucial ones just so they will take the job? Now think about this position that you’re trying to fill. It’s probably the most crucial one in your life.

What are a few “smoke signals” that people can be on the lookout for when they’re dating that may indicate whether a person has an Avoidant or Anxious attachment style?

We think the most important thing to look out for is this: Is this person able to make my well-being a priority? If the answer is yes, you’re home free. If not, check for other tell-tale signs that you’re dating someone with an avoidant attachment style. Does he or she send mixed signals? Does she or he say intimate things like “when we move in together” and later act as though you don’t have a future together? Does he or she have a history of not being able to maintain a long-term relationship? People usually say everything about themselves early on—you just need to know what to listen for and keep your eyes open.

Can people’s attachment styles change? That is, can you really “change him or her”?

The short answer is “yes”. The longer answer is—”But not necessarily when you most desperately want to.” People’s attachment styles change over time. Research shows that one in four people will change their attachment style over a four-year period. Change occurs mostly when you get into a relationship that really shakes your beliefs about love. If, for example, you expect people to let you down or reject you once they get to know “the real” you and you meet someone who’s supportive and loving no matter what—over time, you’ll probably become more secure. So, yes, if you’re secure and dating someone anxious or avoidant, you have a good chance of “changing” them.

It’s much more tricky if you are anxious and want to change someone avoidant (or vice versa). What usually happens in these relationships is that you exacerbate each other’s tendencies. In this case, you’ll need to work together to get on track. It takes two for this particular tango so make sure your partner wants to change.

The book highlights the impact that attachment can have not just on our emotional well-being but our physical health. How can attachment impact us physically and why does it work this way?

If you’re in a good relationship, you’ve really lucked out—not just emotionally, but also health-wise. That’s yet another reason to find the right match. People in good relationships have been found to live longer, healthier lives. If they get a cut, it heals faster; if they have high blood pressure, their blood pressure actually goes down in the presence of their partner. It works this way because we are connected to our partner on both a psychological and a physiological level. Our attachment circuitry (the wiring in our brain that ensures we remain connected to our loved ones) is linked to our autonomic nervous system—the system that governs our breathing, sleep, hunger, heart rate, blood pressure and other functions that are outside of our control. If we’re in a good relationship, we experience a calm security like no other. That’s why, in ATTACHED, we really try to drive the message home that “your wellbeing is his/her wellbeing.”

In addition, being in a good relationship means that we have extra endorphins pumped into our system continuously. It’s amazing what a feel-good effect it can have on us. When we’re sick or in pain and our partner holds our hand or hugs us, it literally takes the pain away.

Why is breaking up so hard, even when you’re trying to get away from a relationship that really isn’t working? Does the power of Attachment work against people in those instances?

As we mentioned before, by getting attached we become one physiological unit with our partner. A break up collapses that unit. From the brain’s perspective, this experience is like going through withdrawal from nicotine, alcohol, morphine and cocaine all at the same time. It’s horribly painful, and the pain is real. Research has shown that areas in the brain that light up during physical pain due to an injury—like a broken leg—also light up during a break up. To make things more complicated, the one thing that can take away all that pain is the person you have parted from. The very fact that an instant fix can occur when we get back with that person, even if he or she is bad news for us, is the reason why many people return again and again to the their ex despite their better judgment.

But if you understand attachment you’re one step ahead of the game. There are things that you can do to minimize the pain and “withdrawal symptoms.” It won’t take the pain away, but it will help you get through this often devastatingly painful experience.

What advice would you give to singles today to help them improve their chances of finding—and keeping—love?

If we had to give just one word of advice it would be this: When you go out on a date, it’s not about “did they like me or not” but “do they have what it takes to be a good partner for me?”

Additional, hands-on tips:

  1. Have a clear idea of what it means to be in a relationship and what kind of person has the capacity to make you happy in a relationship.
  2. Know what attachment styles are and practice figuring out your date’s attachment style.
  3. Use effective communication—stating your aspirations and needs early on.
  4. Determine if you have an anxious or avoidant attachment style. There are specific things that you should/should not do and they differ significantly. For instance, if you’re anxious, you might benefit from dating several people at the same time; if you’re avoidant, it’s better to give one person a chance for a longer period.
  5. Learn to appreciate the Secures of this world. When you find someone secure, don’t dismiss them as boring. Stick around—you may uncover a hidden treasure that will be yours for life.