Today’s guest blog from Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps focuses on what to look for in a partner if you suffer from anxious attachment. It’s really interesting to think about what type of person really is the best match for your personality, and to be aware of who you are as you get out there and date.
Written by Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps
A good partner can help you become more of the person you want to be. Researchers Drigotas, Rusbult, Wieselquist, and Whitton (1999) identified and found support for this process, which they termed the Michelangelo phenomenon. Much like Michelangelo would, through sculpting, bring out the beautiful forms that he could see in a block of stone before him, a loving partner can bring out your optimum or “ideal” self and reveal a beautiful nature in you.
Theoretically speaking, the person best able to be there for you in this way has the attributes listed below. I offer this with the qualification that your needs might be met by someone whose traits don’t match parts of this list. That’s okay. This is only meant as a rough guideline—as something to consider (though to seriously consider) as you look for a potential partner or evaluate how well the person beside you is meeting your needs.
With that in mind, you want a partner who is:
Securely attached and mature. Because such people are comfortable with themselves and their connections, they are capable of being emotionally close, as well as wanting themselves and their partners to explore separate, personal interests. They are also able to reflect on themselves and their lives in an open, insightful, and emotionally connected way. This enables them to acknowledge their limitations and nondefensively admit to their mistakes—all without sacrificing a positive sense of themselves. Understanding that others are similarly flawed, they are able to readily forgive their partners.
An effective communicator. Such partners are good at listening and sharing, which helps them to nurture and maintain close relationships. They can also effectively work through disagreements. In part, they have these strengths because they are generally good at identifying and managing their emotions—a definite plus as you try to connect with another person and work through the difficulties that will inevitably arise in an emotionally intimate relationship.
Appreciative of you. It is not enough to fall in love. Because relationships are cocreated, they will make you happy in the long term only if your partner respects and values you—and works to express this in some way. Your partner must show an interest in getting to know you. And, although it’s a steep learning curve at first, the quest to know you better should never totally plateau. You will also be happiest and reach your greatest potential with support and encouragement to explore your personal interests.
A good fit. It is important to enjoy spending time together. This generally means having at least some shared interests. But it definitely means enjoying activities together, even if that just involves having engaging conversations. Sharing, or at least respecting, each other’s values is very important for a long-term relationship. And the more those values affect daily life, the more important it is for them to be shared. For instance, disaster awaits when one partner is determined to have children and the other partner is absolutely against it. Or if one partner is committed to a nomadic lifestyle—say, a career as a traveling salesperson—the relationship will work much better if the other partner is supportive of that.
Ready for a relationship. Your partner must be willing to make the relationship a priority. This means devoting time and giving attention to it, both when you are physically together and when you are apart. It also involves viewing sex and emotional closeness as two aspects of an intimate relationship that support each other. Finally, a potentially good partner will believe that you—as a couple—are responsible for each other’s happiness.
Again, it’s important to remember that you do not need to find Mr. or Ms. Perfect—which is good, because neither of those people exist. And you don’t even have to find Mr. or Ms. Perfect-For-Me. That can prove to be an unending search with the constant hope of finding a better person just around the corner. Rather, what you need to find is Mr. or Ms. Good-For-Me. I am not suggesting that you settle for someone you are not really happy with, but rather that you make sure you have your priorities straight. With that solid foundation, you’ll be able to accept a little messiness, or no interest in climbing a corporate ladder, or some other “fault” much more easily—and maybe you can even come to appreciate it. For instance, less-than-ambitious career aspirations might be a reflection of the value your partner places on relationships and other nonmaterial aspects of life.
One final caution: Don’t be too quick to move past a “nice-but-boring” date. As Levine and Heller (2010) note, sometimes people equate their attachment-related anxiety with the feeling of being in love. When someone is comfortable to be with and seems accepting of you, your attachment-related anxiety might not be triggered. So it’s entirely possible that the “nice person” you met might be a great fit for you—despite the lack of immediate “excitement.”
About the Author:
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and the author of Insecure in Love: How Anxious Attachment can Make You Feel Jealous, Needy, and Worried and What You Can Do About It. She maintains a thriving private practice in New Jersey, where she specializes in treating individuals and couples.