Ten years ago, my friend was dating a girl who was several years younger than him (but a legal age – no worries). After a few months, she became infatuated with him (he is pretty hot, I’ll give him that). The feelings weren’t exactly mutual, so he decided to end his relationship with her after a few months. Today, she’s older and maybe a little wiser but she’s still pining for him, despite the fact that she knows he’s really not good for her.
To be fair, I could easily point fingers at my friend for not completely severing ties with her. There’s nothing wrong with staying friends after a breakup, but he knew (and I told him several times) that her attachment to him was unhealthy and that the best thing he could do for her was cut contact. Sometimes, you have to be mean in order to be kind. As long as he allowed her to keep calling him (at ALL hours), she would desperately hold onto that sliver of hope that they would get back together. He didn’t take my advice. A decade later, she is still in love with him and unable (and unwilling) to date anyone else.
But who am I to point a wagging, Freudian finger? I have a tendency to distance myself from people in order to protect myself from getting hurt. But that’s another blog for another time.
Some signs of unhealthy attachment are fairly obvious: You refuse to leave a relationship even though your partner mistreats you; you get too emotionally attached too quickly; you insist on spending every waking moment with your partner; your partner tells you what to do or vice versa. Here are some other signs from our Relationship Attachment Style Test that may not be as apparent to you:
*Note: Some of the signs on the list might sound contradictory (e.g. you let your partner make decisions for you vs. making all the decisions for your partner). Remember, there are two types of unhealthy attachments: Being too clingy/needy/dependent vs. being too distant/controlling/codependent. Both extremes are unhealthy.*
Signs of an unhealthy attachment
Having to depend on others, in any way (e.g. emotionally, financially, etc.) makes you uneasy.
Why this is unhealthy: Although you shouldn’t depend on your partner to keep you together financially or emotionally, there’s nothing wrong with leaning on someone from time to time. I get it; you don’t like the feeling of helplessness, vulnerability, or having to “owe” someone. But if a partner willingly offers to help you any way, accept it. The key is balance: You need to be able to be independent, but willing to turn to others for help.
You worry obsessively about getting dumped, or are concerned that your partner cares less about you than you care about him or her.
Why this is unhealthy: It’s not that securely attached people are completely free of doubt and never worry about getting their heart broken; they just don’t obsess over it. If your partner doesn’t feel the same way about you, it will come to light eventually, and there is likely very little, if anything, that you can do about it. Bottom line: You can’t control other people’s feelings, only your own.
You have a hard time fully trusting your partners.
Why this is unhealthy: Maybe you were cheated on, lied to, or abused. As painful as your past relationships have been, you can’t keep carrying this baggage into new relationships. Otherwise, you’ll paint every new partner with the same dirty brush. Trusting people is risky, but you will never be able to have a happy relationship if you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. A lack of trust eats away at your peace of mind and soon enough, your relationship.
You find yourself drawn to people who have problems, or feel a need to “save” people.
Why this is unhealthy: This is the basis of co-dependency. A need to be needed, and a tendency to take on partners who have issues, like addictions. It’s noble, it’s kindhearted, and it’s unhealthy. The only person you should be looking out for is you. I am not implying that you have to be selfish, but it is not your responsibility to fix people and get them back on their feet again, unless you’re a doctor or therapist, and you’re getting paid for it.
When your partner mentions the word “commitment,” your eyes quickly scan for the nearest exit.
(“Wonder if I can squeeze through that window…might need to cut my arms off…bah, arms are overrated.”)
Why this is unhealthy: I know what you’re thinking: “How could this be a sign of an unhealthy attachment, if I am not even willing to attach myself to someone in the first place?” Well, that’s precisely the point. If you have difficulty getting close to a partner, are not comfortable with intimacy, and intentionally distance yourself from people, that is not a good basis for a happy, wholesome relationship. Remember, an unhealthy attachment isn’t limited to being too clingy or needy.
You are afraid of being rejected or of upsetting your partner if you assert yourself.
Why this is unhealthy: Couples need to be able to open up to each other, whether it’s something good, like expressing sweet nothings, or bad, like a lackluster sex life. You are 50% of the relationship, so you have every right to speak up and voice any concerns (tactfully, that is). Your partner needs to accept that, and so do you.
Your level of self-esteem alters significantly, depending on your relationship/partner.
Why this is unhealthy: “I am nothing without you” isn’t as much romantic as it is worrying. When you’re self-esteem is tied up in your partner, or determined by whether or not you are in a relationship, there’s a good chance that you will never be happy with yourself or your life. Depending on others to make you feel good never works out, like yo-yo dieting. You need to first work on building up your self-esteem, and then go out there and find the right partner – not the other way around.
You don’t like the idea of your partner being independent.
Why this is unhealthy: This is another side of co-dependency. What’s interesting is that the basis of a need to control others tends to be deep-ridden insecurity, and a fear of being abandoned/rejected. The logic is, as long your partner is dependent on you, he or she won’t be able to leave you.
You assume total responsibility for your partner’s happiness.
Why this is unhealthy: This is a long-standing relationship myth that has been the theme of many fairytales and romantic comedies. And it’s been doing some serious damage to a lot of couples. I really can’t stress this enough: Your partner is responsible for his/her own happiness, just like you are responsible for your own. Relationships can enhance our life, but our partners should not be our raison d’être. If your partner feels like something is missing in his/her life, it’s not up to you to figure out why or how to fill that emptiness (in which case, I highly recommend the services of a good life coach).
You’re afraid of being on your own.
Why this is unhealthy: Every time I went on a stint where I was single, I was constantly bombarded by questions or concerns as to why I wasn’t in a relationship. People just couldn’t understand how I could be happy and alone. Remember, alone doesn’t mean lonely.
There are some people who jump from one relationship to another. As soon as one ends, they immediately go on the hunt to find someone else. When a person tells me that they feel incomplete without a partner, it makes me wonder why they hate their own company so much.
I hate clichés (just as much as I hate ending on a cliché) but you really have to love yourself first before you can love anyone else.