It has nothing to do with the quality of your connection
In the aftermath of a breakup, you can almost always tell whether or not someone’s attachment to their partner was healthy, or if it wasn’t.
In healthy grief, you go through a process of anger, sadness, blame, and eventually, release. If you give yourself space to properly acknowledge these normal emotions, they tend to pass on their own.
In unhealthy grief, it can feel impossible for the person in question to move on with their life. Their thoughts are consumed by the loss, and they’re desperate to regain connection with their loved one. The aftereffects of this can be devastating. Sometimes, the individual engages in unhealthy, self-sabotaging behaviors. In other cases, they transfer the attachment to a new relationship, and the cycle perpetuates.
There’s a reason why we get more attached to some relationships more than others, and it actually has little to do with the quality of our connection, and almost everything to do with how stable we felt outside of the relationship at the time that it began.
In general, romantic love is not simply a matter of compatibility or attraction. It has the additional burden of creating or replacing preexisting attachments, and that’s where things really get sticky.
If we feel particularly unstable in our lives at the onset of a relationship, we tend to attach to it more deeply. We ignore warning signs and force companionship even where there are clear, irreconcilable differences. If that relationship doesn’t work out, we can then transfer that desire for attachment to the next person we meet or date, and so on.
It’s very possible that an attachment from your past relationships is still impacting your love life now. An unhealthy attachment is a product of trauma bonding. A trauma bond is essentially what happens when two people have wounds that mirror or compensate for the other and are almost magnetized to each other because of it.
The problem isn’t so much that we were hurt, it’s that we’re not sure how to move on.
In a trauma bond, abusive behavior is conflated for intense, all-consuming love. In a healthy relationship, attachment grows over time. In a trauma bond, attachment is instantaneous, because it’s not coming from a genuine place. The expectations in these types of relationships are impossibly high, so one or both people cannot live up to the standards imposed on them, and the relationship becomes explosive. The back and forth of love bombing and walking away becomes addicting, and often results in a crisis.
Where does trauma bonding start? At the initial wound, which is precisely what’s responsible for unhealthy attachment in the first place. When we don’t think we can rely on ourselves, we attach in unhealthy ways. We tend to think that our core wounds are the experiences in which we were hurt badly, and never fully recovered. That may be true, but the wounds that are responsible for unhealthy attachments are actually just whatever convinced us that we were incapable of healing on our own.
The problem isn’t so much that we were hurt, it’s that we’re not sure how to move on. It’s not that we’re carrying the past, but that we’re scared of the future.
We don’t attach to people in an unhealthy way when we feel we are competent enough to build a life that we will be happy with. We attach when we are convinced that we are incapable of healing ourselves or giving ourselves what we really want and need. It’s at this point that we turn to someone else to do it for us.
Of course, when we were young, that person was our parent. When we’re grown, it’s our partner.
Neither is sustainable for long.
Perhaps the most subversive and important relationship advice is this: good relationships rarely end in the first place.
This is what we must keep in mind when we are grappling with an attachment wound. When we are threatened by the idea of losing the person to whom we are attached, we tend to respond by psychologically diminishing or eliminating whatever it was that drove us apart in the first place. This is part of our unconscious process of trying to restore the connection.
However, trying to restore connection doesn’t serve us. It only keeps us stuck in relationships that were mismatched or unproductive.
If a relationship you were invested in ends, it is normal to experience disagreements, differences, and pain. However, when a healthy attachment ends, the waves of grief ultimately subside and you’re free to go on with your life, confident that something better is ahead.
Of course, we are supposed to get attached to the people we love very much, and there’s absolutely a healthy way to do that: over time. Healthy attachment is gradual. It’s built through experience, not expectation. When we spend a lot of time with someone we care about, we inevitably bond as we have more shared life experiences.
In an unhealthy attachment, we hold on because we assume it is the best we can do. With a healthy attachment style, we are willing to let go of a bad relationship— even if it is painful—because we know the best is still to come.