But some of us have to trust our instincts and learn all this from scratch with our adult lovers.
All relationships fall into conflict or distress at some point, and the bond between partners begins to unravel. Given how little we have understood about love and bonding, it is amazing how many of us end up creating positive relationships and just how long and hard we fight to try to repair relationships that are floundering.
Knowing how attachment works means that we are not in foreign territory when we find ourselves estranged from or enraged by the person we were convince was "the One" and what we now see us dealing with is the panic and pain of separation distress, and that we experience it in the same way children do.
Feeling rejected and abandoned, we reach out, pursue, and cling with the same anger and despair.
John Bowlby, a theorist on attachment, reminds us that in love relationships,
"presence and absence are relative terms."
Bowbly points out that a loved one can be physically present but emotionally absent. Both as children and adults, we need a readily accessible and responsive loved one to feel secure in our bond. This point is captured in a comment exchange between lovers: "I am here, aren't I? Don't I do things for you?"
Then, we ask, "Why do I feel so alone?"
Separation distress usually proceeds through four steps:
The first is anger and protest. The four year old child says, "Don't go away Mommy, you come here!" The thirty two year old says, "Do you really have to go see your mother, just when I am so overwhelmed with the kids? You never talk to me, you are selfish! Sometimes I think that you don't need me at all!" In adult relationships the overt anger can make it hard for a partner to hear the very real underlying anguish. What the partner hears is the criticism and hostility, the reaction is often to turn away in self protection.
The next step is clinging and seeking. Little one may say, "I want you to pick me up." The adult may say, "I have asked you to come home a thousand times, and right now, even now you are not listening to me. You say you love me, but you never hold me. I want you to hold me." He responds coldly, "You have a funny way of asking." Her misery deepens.
The third step is marked by depression and despair. The adult may flip into a rage and threaten to leave her husband in an attempt to get him to respond to her or she may withdraw into a sense of helplessness, the main symptom of depression.
The final step is detachment. In this stage a person accepts that the relationship is not going to fulfill his or her longing,s stops investing in it, and decides just to let it die.
I have never seen anyone come back from detachment.
We must not underestimate the force of separation distress. We are hardwired for our brains to register primal panic that results from loss, even momentarily of an attachment figure.
Couples can get help when they learn and grasp the significance of a love relationship.
Help is helping them see all the moves that are triggering their dance of disconnection. Slowing down the steps that are taking them into separation and pushing them into panic can be halted.
Partners can come together and repair their bond and shape a safe-haven relationship.