The risks of love | psychology today
Love is a risky business. Love partners have enormous power over each other’s well-being, a power that is too easy to abuse.
Many people suffer when they try to love or when they try to receive love.
As a nation, we inflict tremendous wounds and kill children and intimate partners. A multitude of suicides result from a love gone wrong. In terms of the likelihood of sustaining emotional and physical harm at the hands of another, the most dangerous interpersonal activity most people do is to love or be loved.
The great tragedy of hurtful love is that most pain and all abuse is entirely preventable.
shadows of attachment
Attachment is the formation and maintenance of emotional bonds. We tend to think of attachment as positive, based on love, caring, compassion, trust and support. In fact, most start out that way. But strong attachments can also be negative, having gradually turned into chronic resentment, anger, blame, and criticism.
Emotional mechanisms of attachment
Both positive and negative attachments are subject to the emotional mechanisms of contagion and harmonization.
Emotions are more contagious than any known virus. But the contagion has a negative salience. We are more likely to feel resentment or anger towards an irritated or angry person than to be joyful towards a cheerful person.
Attunement is an intimate version of contagion, in which partners automatically attune their emotions to each other. That’s why it seems like a switch is tripping inside you when you come home feeling good, only to find your partner is angry. Harmonization will increase your partner’s emotional state a little and yours a lot.
Negative salience sometimes makes us resist attunement altogether: “I can’t let my partner put me down or make me nervous or angry.”
Repeated resistance to attunement creates a distance in relationships, which usually fills with resentment and, over time, contempt and at least minor emotional abuse.
Positive or negative attachment
Positive attachment is reward-driven: you feel better and you love yourself more. Negative attachment aims to reduce vulnerability. This can make some people feel self-righteous but not quite like themselves.
In positive attachment, partners:
- Maintain interest, compassion, trust and love.
- Have an attitude of connection.
- Empower, encourage and reassure each other.
- Are cooperative and forgive mistakes.
In negative attachment, partners:
- Decrease interest, compassion, trust and love.
- Have an attitude of disconnection.
- Engage in power struggles.
- Get discouraged or look down on each other.
- Evoking anxiety or shame.
- See each other as adversaries.
- Carry a grudge.
The road to negative attachment
Arguments over issues, problems, or conflicting attachment styles do not in themselves turn attachment negative. Rather, negative attachment results from a repeated failure of compassion, especially compassionate assertiveness.
With compassionate assertiveness, partners uphold their rights, privileges, preferences, tastes, and opinions in a way that respects the rights, privileges, preferences, tastes, opinions, sensitivities, and vulnerabilities of the other.
The failure of compassion makes attachments negative. Restoring compassion will set them back.
Relationships become precarious when there are threats of abandonment:
“You do what I want, or I’m leaving.”
Unless there is abuse, there should never be threats of abandonment. The attitude in positive attachment is:
“We will overcome disagreements and resolve issues with value and respect for each other. Our bond is more important than problems and troubles.
Connection is a choice, generally speaking. We choose to feel connected and we choose to feel disconnected. In general, people like themselves better when they choose to feel connected and like themselves less when they choose to feel disconnected.
In an attitude of connection, the partners see themselves as connected, no matter where they are or what they are doing, whether they are satisfied or disappointed by the behavior of the other. They behave as if they were connected. They make small gestures of connection throughout the day: brief contact, gentle eye contact, smiles and hugs. They think and speak in terms of ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ and ‘our’.
In an attitude of disconnection, the partners think and speak in terms of “me”, “I”, “you”, “mine” and “yours”.
Test the hypothesis: Try integrating “we, our, our, our” into your everyday vocabulary for the next three weeks, and note the effect on your relationship. Try writing this sentence several times to see how you feel:
“We want our relationship to bring us the safety, security, love and happiness that we deserve.”
The hackneyed communication tips for converting “you-statements” to “I-statements” cannot turn negative attachments into positive ones. But replacing “I statements” with “we statements” has a chance. “In-us statements” tend to invoke shared values, such as compassion and caring.
Over time, the feelings of connection should be reciprocated, but they won’t be all the time. At all times, one partner will be stronger than the other. Maintaining one-sided feelings of connection gives the stressed partner time to recuperate. Reactive disconnection makes everything worse.
Issues and errors link
Maintaining interest, compassion, trust and love should be more important than questions and problems. To the extent that the partners adhere to these priorities, the problems bring them together. They are teammates who cooperate to find solutions that work for both of them, without either feeling ignored, hurt or treated unfairly. They make mistakes and sincerely apologize.
Solving issues and problems does not turn negative attachments into positive ones. Making negative attachments positive solves issues and problems.
The following helps discern whether your attachment is positive or negative. It also highlights areas of work to save your relationship.
Positive: Feeling of safety and security in the relationship
Negative: Feeling in danger, filled with doubts
Positive: Sincere attempts to maintain interest, compassion, trust, love
Negative: Frequent withdrawal of interest, lack of compassion, diminished trust and love
Positive: Guilt, shame and anxiety are seen as signals to build compassion and connection
Negative: Guilt, shame and anxiety are thrown on each other
Positive: Flexible compassion screens: having your own feelings while being sympathetic to those of your loved ones
Negative: Rigid or porous compassionate screens increase responsiveness: supporting the feelings of loved ones, challenging them or excluding them
Positive: General positive regard allows focus on areas of life without attachment
Negative: High level of resentment keeps focus on attachment at the expense of work and personal development
Positive: Privacy and sharing are in balance
Negative: Secrecy or compulsive reporting
Positive: Self-regulation and emotional connection
Negative: Emotional dependency and continual rejection anxiety
Positive: Shared responsibility
Negative: High frequency of blame and unequal division of labor and resources
Positive: Mutual empowerment, negotiation-cooperation
Negative: Power struggles
Positive: Trading and Behavior Requests
Negative: Requirements, coercion
Positive: Forgive perceived offenses
Negative: Grudges/malicious behavior
The risks of love are avoidable and treatable but left on autopilot; they grow like a cancer. Prevention requires effort, self-regulatory skills and a dedication to human values.