Two women friends in an friendly embrace
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 5: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 5 of 6 – Attachment Style and Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on relationships. Article 5 of 6 focuses on attachment style. Secure attachment, anxious, and avoidant will be explored.  How does your attachment style increase satisfaction and/or increase frustration in your relationships? Your attachment style assists in determining how well you engage in and recover from disagreements, struggles, tolerating frustration, adapting to difficult and unfamiliar situations; including, how you feel during good times, positive times, and the important moments in your life that you desire to be present for.

As a therapist and relationship coach, I work with clients grappling with their attachment style and the contributing discomfort, anxiety, stress, isolation, and relationship issues. Your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style have the probability to motivate behaviors, impact interactions, and increase or decrease issues within your relationship.

Avoidant Attachment

Individuals with avoidant attachment have difficulty connecting emotionally.  For example, if you and/or your partner have an avoidant attachment style there is an increased probability of experiencing difficulty in trusting others; many times, this includes romantic partners.  During uncomfortable and difficult communication, you or your partner may cease communication, deflect from the issues being addressed, or retreat completely feeling confused and frustrated.

In a newer dating situation, a person may cease contact without explanation.  At times, a person in a romantic relationship will feel ‘if only, s/he will let her/his guard down.  It took past relationships to build walls and working to allow one’s guard down is complex and extremely difficult for a person with an avoidant attachment.  At times, the individual is unaware that s/he isn’t connecting; many times, s/he feels the same void you’re feeling, yet, has extreme discomfort in engaging in any level of vulnerability, openness, or trust.  Other times, the person doesn’t connect emotionally and whether on the surface or on a deeper level doesn’t seem to have the desire to connect.

It’s important for a person with avoidant attachment to ask whether s/he feels an issue is present. Then ask if the desire to connect, trust, and to learn to feel safe in sharing exists. Through therapy, you and/or your partner will have the opportunity to develop awareness to the issues that supported the development of an avoidant attachment, how to cope with and lower frequency of runaway cognitions that may not be beneficial in present relationships, and learn new ways to engage towards developing a more secure and mutually connected relationship.

Anxious Attachment

Individuals with an anxious attachment feel more fear and anxiety in relationships.  For example, if there is a disagreement or difficult communication, an individual with an anxious attachment style may continue to discuss the issues, and attempt to increase verbal engagement and communication.  It may feel that you and/or your partner continue the conversation after everything feels discussed- many times over, s/he may still desire to talk further. At times, you or your partner’s motivation is an unconscious attempt to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of safety by engaging.  S/he is attempting to connect. However, this leads to increases in feelings of anxiety and fear, runaway cognitions, ruminations, and decreases feelings of safety for the individual with an anxious attachment, and adds much confusion and frustration for each partner.

At times, an individual with an anxious attachment and an individual with an avoidant attachment will partner in a relationship. There’s potential for increases in frustration, conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding for partners that are an anxious/avoidant combination; this is more so when communication isn’t strong, communication patterns mismatch, and/or are difficult for one or each partner to understand. However, you are able to learn ways to increase communication skills, lower pressure, minimize demands, and lower the potential for emotional lability. In this environment, communication, understanding, and empathy for each partner is vital.  Couples therapy gives opportunity to begin to build awareness to internal feelings and motivations, how you give and receive love, and ways to increase emotional stability and safety.

Secure Attachment

Individuals with a secure attachment feel more security, confidence, actively engaged, and experience stronger feelings of trust in relationships. You and your partner are able to work through difficult and stressful issues with a level of reciprocal communication and responsiveness.  You’ll feel comfort in being authentic and genuine, and in feeling a level of acceptance towards and from your partner.  You and your partner have an increased probability in giving and receiving mutually, support is more easily embraced, and issues with communication are negotiated more successfully. Secure attachment carries into relationships with family and friends, and allows for a minimal preoccupation with being abandoned or with having the desire to create distance.  You’ll have an increased opportunity to develop a mature and long-term relationship with intimacy and the benefits of developing a healthier and more satisfying relationship.  It’s beneficial to allow flexibility, respect, support, and healthy boundaries.  Inevitably, there will continue to be stressors, tolerating frustration, and areas to work towards embracing, accepting, and working on as partners; this is part of being human.  However, working with a therapist to process your issues and develop a secure attachment benefits your romantic relationships and increases the quality of each area of your daily life.

Relationships consist of a combination of attachment styles and behaviors; each combination has the probability to buffer from or exasperate relationship issues and complexity. At times, you may experience more than one attachment style depending on the person you’re with, the type of relationship, length, and seriousness; however, most times, you’ll engage in a dominant style. Environments, genetic predisposition, past relationships, life experiences, and how you feel about yourself support your attachment style.

Temperament and personality impact attachment, communication, perceptions, and how you engage during difficult and positive aspects of life. Developing an understanding and awareness of you as a person and reflecting on where your partner is coming from allows for smoother navigation throughout the relationship.  Additionally, the presence of a fundamental connection and desire from each partner to learn and grow as a couple increases success and long-term satisfaction.  It’s important to be aware if you’re feeling that you’re having a relationship for two or if you’re expectation is for your partner to take on most of the relationship’s work and engagement. With that being said, take time to explore and build awareness to how each person gives in similar and different ways; it’s beneficial to make room for each.

In conclusion, developing awareness and comfort with your issues internally and in relationships is beneficial in working towards developing a secure attachment and increasing the quality of your relationships. Working with a therapist in a strong and supportive therapeutic relationship will assist in setting goals and giving yourself permission to develop a secure and healthy attachment, to develop trust, and heal from past relationship issues. You’ll have the opportunity to develop awareness as to what secure attachment is and is not, setting realistic expectations, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t in your relationship, setting healthy boundaries, and enjoying a relationship where you feel intimacy, connection, and security in a quality relationship.

COMING SOON: article 6 of 6 in the series.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

The Mind Body Connection. Women with outstretched arms in front of a waterfall.
Christy Gualtieri

The Mind/Body Connection

One of my favorite movies – and one of a handful I can think of that still holds up after so many years of it having been made – is the first of The Matrix movies. In this sci-fi adventure-turned-philosophical treatise, the protagonist asks his mentor what happens if they are killed in “the matrix” (an alternate reality they can enter in and out of by the power of their consciousnesses).

“The body cannot live without the mind,” comes the answer.

A few weeks ago, I was really stressed out about a large number of things; and because my anxiety is like a muscle that sometimes gets pulled, it constricts and contracts and pulses out of my control, sometimes for hours – if not days. My entire upper back painfully twisted and stayed that way for days. I went to the dentist and had a wisdom tooth extracted, and the pain from my back was far greater than the dental work. I had been so nervous already that by the time I sat in the dentist’s chair, I was a wreck. After he pulled the tooth (a painless procedure – my dentist is seriously awesome) he lightly patted my hands, over and over, and I couldn’t figure out why.

“Stop clenching,” he told me. I hadn’t realized that I was still so tense, my hands stuck tight, holding onto each other. After days of feeling so uptight, my body was finally speaking up, and needless to say, it didn’t like what it was feeling.

Two days later I had an anxiety attack. I called my therapist right away and he counseled me about stress hormones and how they were affecting my body. The flight-or-fight response was flooding my veins with cortisol and adrenaline, and because my eyes could see that I wasn’t in any immediate physical danger the incongruency just kept taking its toll. Everything just felt awful. The physical was mirroring the mental. What had been working pretty decently was just calling out that things weren’t okay, but they needed to be addressed, and worked through, and quickly at that.

So I started working through them. And slowly, really slowly, the pain in my body lessened. The mind/body connection was so evident to me in those days, and it’s something that’s becoming more and more clear over time.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although I think as a society we’re doing a good job of researching, treating and diagnosing mental illness, it’s worth a deeper look at ourselves to see where our own mind/body connections are telling us. Have you been having any sleepless nights recently? Haven’t been eating, or eating too much? Has your stomach been in knots, or have your eye muscles twitched uncontrollably? Are you not sure why? This might be a good time for you to look at your physical body as objectively and without judgment as you can, kind of like a scientist taking notes. Observe what your body’s been telling you, even if you’ve been telling yourself you’re okay. If you’ve been uncomfortable or even in pain and think it’s worth reaching out about it, I heartily encourage you to do so. The mind/body connection is a strong one, and the healthier we feel mentally, the better we’ll feel all around.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Women reading a book
Christy Gualtieri

Our Special Faults

“A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women.” – A letter from Father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

For Mother’s Day this year, my husband took our kids out to give me some much-desired alone time; and with my quiet house, I did what any sensible mother would do with two hours in a row of time on her hands: I watched Little Women (the BBC adaptation is especially lovely) and cried my eyes out. It wasn’t my first time seeing this version, but I particularly love the sweeping, gorgeous cinematography and how well Marmee’s character was portrayed, and one little bit that I hadn’t thought about much last time I saw it really stood out to me this time. It was in a letter the little women get from their father, who is serving as a military chaplain in the Civil War:

“…will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully…”

Bosom enemies? I didn’t really know what that meant, but I understood the concept of “conquering myself” – trying to overcome my faults in order to be a better person.  From what I understand, the term “bosom enemies” refers to those things which particularly harm us, those special vices that we tend to struggle with more than others. If I spend some time thinking about mine, I can come up with my list fairly easily, but what really struck me was the fighting them part.  I can identify and list what my vices are, but am I actively doing anything to fight them? I’ll admit, it’s taken me a lot of years to even figure out what the heck they are, thanks in no small part to the work I’ve done in therapy over the last ten years, but now that I know what they are and what to do about them, am I following through?

The answer is… not always yes.  

I do try, of course, but most times I’m just content with the idea that I know what my struggles are. I do forget, though, that just labeling it is not enough. I think there is a great freedom in knowing that we do have what it takes to conquer what’s worst about ourselves, even if we don’t have it yet. It’s a skill we can learn to develop, with time and patience and knowledge of who we are. We can start small too, and over time, we can grow out of – and eventually conquer – those things about ourselves that give us the most trouble. (Disclaimer: I’m not referring to the physical aspect of mental illnesses, like chemical imbalances and things like that that are treated with medication. If your condition requires medical treatment, please make sure to follow your doctor’s orders!)

So, what about you? What are your bosom enemies, those special faults” unique to you that you know you can change? How can you fight them? The girls of Little Women resolved hard to grow out of them, and as they grew up they succeeded! Their example still serves us well, 150 years later. We can do it, too! 

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Two women having a conversation with coffee
Christy Gualtieri

Words Matter, Choose Good Ones

I don’t know if this is a trait more particular to women than men, but when I am struggling with an idea or wrestling with my feelings, I like to talk about them. I need to use words to figure out what I’m thinking, like the words themselves help me navigate how I’m feeling about things. And last week was a tough week. I was grappling with some issues that were really near and dear to my heart and my community. And much like me, the people in that community dealt with those same difficult and confusing issues by talking.

But you know how it is when people talk: it can very easily go from “let’s work this issue out,” to “here’s a bunch of hurtful words.” The transition from mercy to gossip can be really quick, almost like a current. Before you know it, you’re swept away in the feelings of anger, disgust, and confusion that can threaten to swallow you whole if you’re not careful.

And, to be honest with you, it’s hard to be careful with what we say. It’s hard to think first and add to the conversation later. It’s natural: we want to be heard. We want to be validated, we want to be right. It’s hard to override that impulse to have our voices heard, even if the things we say can be hurtful or mean. I personally struggle a lot with where the line is between venting and gossip. But I do know that gossip hurts. I have gossiped and been the one gossiped about. And I have felt terribly on both sides.

But then, a wonderful thing happened. I called a friend of mine I haven’t spoken to in years (not on purpose; it had just been a while). I asked for advice, and I got some wonderful encouragement. I was challenged – but lovingly – and I was able to voice my concerns, and as I hung up the phone, I felt better than I had felt in days.

This is important: I didn’t see my friend. I spoke on the phone with them. But just the same, their words – those lifted me up. They were life-giving. They were affirming, and they made a difference.

What you say is important, and the words you use carry a great power to them, even if you don’t think so. And so I want to offer you a little challenge: for the next few days, make an effort to speak carefully. Just take a minute before talking – a small pause, not even a full minute – and even if what you have to say is difficult, try as hard as you can to say those words with love.  Then simply observe. Observe how you feel. Observe how the other person reacts.

Sometimes it’s tempting to think that we aren’t good enough; that what we say doesn’t matter. But it does – even the small things (especially the small things). Thank you for all the times that your words have brought life, joy, and encouragement to another person. That will inspire them to speak in kind, and remember that their words will help you too, one day.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Single woman sitting at a cafe table holding a mug
Aurora Starr

Table for one, the single girl strikes back!

Recently, during a not-short-enough visit with relatives back in the mid-west, I was reminded again (both subtly and palpably) that being single in your thirties is nothing short of scandalous. Yes, in 2019 an unmarried, happy, single gal in her thirties is still target practice for the misery, conjecture and theories of others. Yet, here’s the thing, I am single by choice. You know what else? I like my life.

Many complain about being single, obsessing over how much they dislike going through life alone. They grumble about how much it sucks to be by yourself and to not have a life to share. You know what really sucks? Having to hear about how much better your life would be if you just met the right person or having to listen to someone drone on about “soul mates” is sad at best and kind of creepy overall. Did I mention it’s 2019? This is still a thing?

Regarding this tired subject, I’ve been called uptight, snarky, unlovable, a bitch, and my personal favorite, a FemiNazi. Do better, people. Me? I’m doing fine. I have friends. I still date regularly – with occasional great sex. I work and belong to a local social-justice organization. My happiness tank is filled, and I’m surely not worried about <Gasp!> spinsterhood and neither should you.

If you are single, stop worrying about why you’re single. Sit back and enjoy the ride on your terms. You’re going to be just fine.  Here are some reasons (not in any particular order) why I remain sans partner, some satirical but all based on personal choice.

  1. I can’t even commit to the question, “What’s for lunch?”

I don’t know if the salad bar or a Flintstones-sized slab of ribs is in my immediate future. How am I supposed to commit to a living, breathing person? How, I ask, how?

  1. I would rather stay home than go out.

Hang out at the bar or be tucked warmly in my bed? Hmm…Currently, my nights are well spent with Sabrina, Moira Rose and Jon Snow. I gather with them at the Church of Netflix. ‘Nuff said.

  1. Speaking of my bed, I value having it all to myself rather than sharing.

Sharing is caring? Not with my sheets and pillows. Why should I choose a side of the bed when I can have a free range mattress? Sex with the occasional “sleep over” is fine, but I’d rather use the extra space for books, laundry and unopened mail.

  1. Relationships require a whole lotta work.

I already have a job. Besides, I reviewed the application and I’m just not all that interested. I have no time for games, politics, patience, or getting to like you.

  1. I love my best friends, isn’t that enough?

I’ve already built a level of trust and security with a few good eggs. Why would I mess that up by introducing someone into my circle who will likely not match the needs filled by my girlfriends? Yes, there’s sex, but we’ve already covered that one.

  1. Spending the evening holding…

 …a non-judgmental jug of wine or a quart of Moose Tracks? That sounds like an outstanding level of both commitment and intimacy – delicious, unconditional and definitely no lulls in the conversation. Problem solved.

  1. I don’t want to meet your family or friends.

If I wanted a room full of people to judge and criticize me I’d go back home to visit my relatives (see the first paragraph of this post).

  1. And finally, I absolutely, positively do not want you to meet my family.

This is a rinse and repeat of my previous reason. The only thing more frightening to me than meeting your family is you meeting mine.

If you are in a committed, loving relationship, good for you and go for it. Beat the odds and remain together for 50 plus years. I really am a sentimentalist at heart, but that’s not for me. I’m good in my current space and time. Should you decide to remain single, stand by your decision, be ready for push back, and enjoy the extra room in your closet and bed.

Shine brightly,
Aurora


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, NOT a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. Aurora’s blog may not be suitable for all audiences.


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Aurora StarrAbout the author: Aurora Starr is a freelance writer and connoisseur of all things dipped in love and deep fried in soul. She lives in Northern California, but hails from the heartland of Ohio. Aurora writes on topics ranging from love to pop culture to psychology and sex, with the occasional soapbox diatribe.