Heart to Heart?

Valentine’s Day is this Sunday. It can be a time to express love, but it can also be a time of expectations, disappointment and anger. Our romantic partners are the bedrocks of our lives.

All children are born with the capacity to love and attach to a caretaker who is perceived as older, wiser and protective. This mechanism comes to us through millions of years of evolution and is hard-wired into us for survival. As adults, our romantic partner becomes our attachment figure. We rely on our partners and seek them out in times of distress. We feel fulfilled when we love and are loved, when we know and are known by another. When we have conflict in our relationships, it can shake us deeply. Usually we turn to our partners when we are upset, but what should we do if we are upset with our partners?

We expect a lot from our partners in terms of how they show love to us. Holidays like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries or birthdays can set us up for disappointment. Perhaps you felt your loved one didn’t put enough time or thought into a gift. Perhaps you felt that you weren’t a priority. How to cope? How can you adequately express your love and wishes to your partner when frustration takes center stage?

Knowing yourself can give you the power to choose your actions wisely.

  • Understand attachment styles. Attachment is our model for relating to others. We learn specific styles of attachment from our relationships with our parents during early childhood. There is generally one attachment style that describes us better than the others. Research tells us that there are three major types of attachment styles.
    • Secure attachment involves feeling secure in one’s relationships and feeling comfortable depending on others and having others depend on you. People with this type of attachment style tend to think highly of themselves and others.
    • Preoccupied attachment involves feeling anxious about your relationships and worried that the other person won’t love you enough. People with this type of attachment style tend to think of highly of others and poorly of themselves.
    • Avoidant attachment involves feeling uncomfortable relying on others and having others rely on you. People with this type of attachment style tend to think of poorly of others and highly of themselves.
  • Know your own attachment style as well as your partner’s. If, for example, you have a preoccupied attachment style you may need to let your partner know that you need to have more loving contact through out the day. Occasions with high expectations like Valentine’s Day may leave you feeling anxious and worried that your partner may forget about you and the importance of your relationship. If you can gently tell your partner in advance what kinds of efforts and gifts you would like, it may take away some anxiety from you, and your partner won’t have to read your mind in order to please you.
  • If you are disappointed, try to approach your partner from a position of love and healing rather than anger and blame. Let your partner know that you feel upset without attacking. Keep your focus on trying to increase the love and intimacy between you rather then the disappointment and alienation. Since most people turn to their partners in times of distress, it is difficult to cope when arguing with your loved one. Try to keep in mind that you want to return to that state of connectedness, and that the conflict is actually because of the importance of your partner to you. State how you feel and what you need from your partner in a calm way and remember that you are trying to move towards more connectedness and love with your partner, rather than trying to win a fight.