In the book, Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style, author and expert psychotherapist Stan Tatkin uses his extensive knowledge of couples, intimacy, and the brain to offer a practical guide for readers on building a secure and lasting connection with your partner.
How childhood attachment influences adult relationships
Past experiences, stretching back into childhood, can make anyone have a difficult time learning how to feel safe in relationships later on.
There’s actually a field of psychology that studies how infants form attachments, widely known as infant attachment theory. In an ideal situation, a baby should have a caregiver willing to put that relationship above all else. In the science world, it’s known as the primary attachment relationship – the author refers to it as the baby bubble. And he uses that theory as the foundation for the book.
Introducing the couple bubble
The more secure and safe your baby bubble was, the safer you’ll feel in what the author calls your couple bubble. The couple bubble is essentially the adult version of that primary attachment relationship I mentioned earlier because your security is dependent on a single person again. But there is a key difference.
In a couple bubble, both partners need to feel secure at all times, not just one person, like in the adult-toddler relationship. They’re both actively upholding the others’ sense of security and safety. And that’s where past experiences and insecurities can lead to instability and difficulty in keeping the connection healthy and safe.
It can take some rewiring of tendencies to ease any conflict and be able to understand your partner.
The three attachment styles
Tatkin writes about three different attachment styles adults develop depending on their childhood. He describes those people with those different styles as anchors, islands, or waves.
Anchors are those who grew up in an environment where the primary caregiver instantly soothed any painful experiences. Anchors are most likely not to have issues committing to a relationship.
Islands and waves are those who grew up in an environment where a caretaker sometimes failed to meet key needs. Islands have learned to self-soothe, typically thinking to withdraw into themselves instead of opening up to their partner. While waves often switch between clinging to a partner out of fear of abandonment and distancing from lack of trust.
Each attachment style has its strengths and weaknesses, but anchors tend to feel most comfortable in a couple bubble. In contrast, islands and waves can have childhood insecurities triggered by adult relationships, making connections more difficult.
While it may not be easy to have conversations about hurtful childhood memories, it can help you better understand each other. And better understand the rhythm of the other person’s attachment style. When you have that information, it helps inform how to navigate conflict within the relationship.
Avoiding relational conflict
In neuroscience research, scientists found our brains evolved over time to give us important functions to handle unsafe situations. And it’s that fight-or-flight mental function that can escalate the situation. But as the author points out, the brain isn’t just wired to fight. It’s also wired for love and cooperation.
While there will always be moments of conflict you can’t avoid, there is a way you can rewire your brain’s natural response to not default to the fight option. The author writes you can engage that love and cooperation brain function by taking deep breaths and relaxing as many muscles as you can when you can feel the potential for conflict arising. This helps with emotion regulation, giving you a better chance at thoughtful communication.
And another way to avoid conflict is by paying attention to your partner’s negative emotions and not ignoring or downplaying them. Combined with identifying when your fight-or-flight cylinders are firing, you’ll be much better equipped to soothe your and your partner’s insecurities and vulnerabilities. In the long term, that keeps the couple bubble feeling secure.
Preserving the couple bubble
There’s a simple answer that can make a world of difference. Having morning and night rituals has been shown to improve intimacy in relationships. Something as simple as going to bed at the same time or having a routine together in the morning can foster a meaningful connection between you and your partner. Quality time shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to having a secure partnership.
And a more complex answer is being available for your partner 24/7. That’s what the author thinks is key. But there’s a vast difference between this idea and unhealthy co-dependency, which looks like putting others’ health and well-being above your own.
In a healthy couple bubble, partners simply commit to being there for each other, whether that’s asking for advice, complaining about a neighbor, or sharing a joke. Openness and receptiveness to your partner’s needs are crucial to having a safe and secure relationship.
The key takeaway from this title is that secure and lasting partnerships are more than possible when the couple bubble is supportive, informed about each other’s attachment styles, and committed to being there for one another.