Attachment research looks at how pairs of people bond emotionally. Initial research was largely with mothers and one-year old infants.
Eventually this extended to study adult couples. We will look at both, and how attachment patterns in childhood influence how we pair-bond as adult partners.
The focus is on how one handles distress. Can you maintain a happy, thriving relationship and deal well with upsets? Or does distress mount and erode shared happiness? And how does that relate to what you experienced before you even had words?
An overlooked factor that creates stress and upset between partners has to do with the differing rate at which partners process information and communicate.
This is usually due to a basic but overlooked factor. Their brains have different clock speeds. Like the fable of the tortoise and hare, some brains run faster, some run slower.
Using the dance metaphor, it’s as if the couple is trying to dance together, but they move at different speeds. One partner is doing a fast jitterbug, the other a slow waltz. Trying to dance in two completely different tempos, they step on each other’s feet.
A common battle with couples comes about when one partner operates more from feeling and the other from thinking. This creates more upset over time as they try to communicate using very different brain channels. From a neuroscience point of view, they differ by which side of the brain runs their communication process.
One is more left-brain dominant and the other speaks more from their right-brain. Mind you, this does not make either of them more “right.” But it does challenge their ability to connect and understand each other — especially if they discuss a stressful topic or try to repair an upset. The way they communicate through these differing brain channels will upset them even more.
So let’s look at some of the underlying properties of right- and left-brain dominance, and what you can do about bringing more brain balance to your conversations.
One of the most problematic differences between partners can be their nervous system biases in energy and arousal levels.
Some people run high, others low. Some run hot, others cold. This will result in very different emotional reactions when triggered.
One may be volatile, expansive, or over-the-top. The other may contract, go blank, numb out, or shut down. Think of these as “volcanos” vs. “icebergs.”
Volcanos have high energy states. They yell, interrupt, gesture. Anger is a part of their language. They may be from a hot-blooded, highly expressive family, where excited emotions quickly arose and got loud.
Icebergs are quiet and contained. Fighting is rare and emotions run low. Showing anger is rare and aggression is passive. They may be from a cool family where voices were not raised and good children were seen but not heard.
It can be challenging when one partner wants to feel connected just when the other feels a need for space.
Having these opposite needs at the same time is quite common. Many couples can fall in and out of synch like that on a daily basis.
How a couple negotiates being together vs. alone will determine how secure they feel with each other. Unfortunately, these differing needs often turn into a Polarity Dance of pursuer vs. withdrawer.
It can happen whenever one partner is pursuing the other for closeness and connection—while the other partner is withdrawing or becoming more distant.
The more one chases connection, the more the other runs away. Conversely, the more that partner distances, the more the first pursues. As this escalates over time, distress in each partner increases. As they polarize more, levels of upset escalate.
We all know that different people have different personality types. One person is like fire, while another is like ice!
But how many different types are there? What are they? And how exactly do personality differences impact our relationships?
According to the most useful system I have encountered — it’s called the “Enneagram” — there are nine basic personality types. We might have some of each type within us. But we likely will identify more strongly with one or two of these types. Continue reading