There’s no question that romantic breakups can be really hard. Losing a partner we’ve become very close to means losing someone who was previously part of our daily lives. As a result, breakups can undermine our ability to sleep and eat well (among other things). Research has revealed that experiencing a breakup has several unique effects on our sense of self or self-concept (i.e., everything that makes us who we are) as well. For example, research has demonstrated that, after a breakup, people feel that their self-concept is smaller than it was before the breakup; in other words, they feel like their self-concept has diminished somewhat.1 This makes sense, since over time people tend to incorporate their romantic partner into their self-concept, meaning that their individual identities begin to merge (that is, “me” and “you” becomes “we” and “us”). In the wake of a breakup, then, the self-concept may feel reduced or contracted because there used to be another person involved in it (e.g., part of “me” used to include being a loving partner to a specific person, and now that part is gone).
Entries in attachment (55)
Think about the last time your friend or romantic partner did something nice for you. Now think about that other person’s motivations: Do you think s/he did it for you out of care for you or out of obligation? We asked people this question in two studies; across both studies, people who were more avoidantly attached—that is, people who were more uncomfortable depending on and opening up to others—were more likely to think that their friends or romantic partners did things for them because they felt like they had to, not because they wanted to.1 These perceptions may help avoidant people keep their partners at arm’s length and protect avoidant people from depending on or opening up to their partners. After all, if someone does something for you because they feel like they have to—not because they truly want to—you might assume they don’t really care about you anyway, so why should you depend on them in the future?
So I have a confession to make, and you have to promise not to judge me.
I am totally “fangirling” over the current Bachelorette Andi Dorfman. There is something remarkable about her, and whatever it is is generating some polarizing opinions.
Oh, and did I mention that Andi was an assistant district attorney before she resigned to do the show? What more could you ask for in a lead role!
If Andi is so great, why is she provoking such mixed reactions?
I can recall the specific day that sparked my endless pursuit to understand attachment and relationships. I was sitting in an undergraduate class lecture when my professor introduced the concept of attachment styles (read more about attachment styles here). I was so intrigued. The professor explained that roughly 50-60% of the population is securely attached. I began to do the math. If roughly 50-60% of the population is deemed secure, where does that leave the other 40–50%?
Does that mean that nearly half of the population is doomed to a lifetime of insecure relationships?
It may be hard to believe, but I was once in a relationship for nine years where I was so unhappy, I cried nearly every day. A decade later, with a Ph.D. in Psychology under my belt and an intellectual obsession with how and why humans attach themselves to one another and form relationships, I am finally beginning to understand the mysterious crazy glue that keeps people in bad relationships. It often boils down to commitment level, attachment style, and a strange ability to distort the future.
“Closure” is a term I have heard bandied about by many of my friends over the years, but I have always wondered what it really means. For example, after my friend Daphne’s long-distance boyfriend broke up with her over the phone, she told me she needed to fly from NYC to London to see him in person to “get closure.” Even after she saw him in person, she still didn’t feel like things were really over. The meaning of closure is something I have grappled with when trying to make sense of one of my own past relationships. I spent the better part of 10 years trying to get closure with The Question Mark so that I could move on, trying everything from writing him long treatises on why our relationship could never work, to hashing things out in person in order to finally say “goodbye.”
Although we'd like to take credit for coming up with this image, we found it here.
You can read more about attachment in several of our articles by Dr. Dylan Selterman:
- Attachment Theory: Explaining Relationship “Styles”
- Measuring Attachment Security - A Little Or A Lot?
- How Does Your Attachment Influence Your Sexual Relationships?
- Attachment and Breakups: The Whole Matters More Than the Parts
- “Stay Close to Me” – Attachment, Terror Management, and Symbolic Immortality in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
We often turn to those closest to us for support when confronted with difficult situations. When financial trouble strikes, we turn to family for financial help (i.e., tangible/material support). Or, when things at work drive us crazy we turn to our partners, sometimes for advice (i.e., informational support) or simply for a warm hug (i.e., emotional support). In romantic relationships, being able to turn to a partner for support during stressful times has long been considered a crucial part of what makes a relationship work.1 Knowing that you can turn to your partner for support conveys a number of important pieces of information about your relationship. A supportive partner can be trusted to act in your best interests, demonstrates that he or she really cares about you, empathizes with you, understands you well enough to know that support is needed, and is responsive to your distress signals.
Recently, I wrote that dreaming about close people in your life can reveal aspects of your personality (specifically, attachment style). Highly insecure folks often have terrible dreams about their partners, because they expect their partners to behave badly and those expectations surface in dream content. But do people’s dreams predict their behavior after waking up? I’ll cut to the chase—the answer is yes.
Sometimes people’s eyes get wide when I tell them that I’m a psychologist who studies dreams, and they immediately start confiding in me about their “weird/crazy/strange/vivid” dreams that often include similar themes (like their teeth falling out). Then they ask me what it means, and to their disappointment, I tell them that based on the limited scientific data on dreams, we just don’t know. Despite what some artists, philosophers, or “psychics” might tell you, there’s no universal codebook that helps you translate content from a dream into direct meaning. Instead, the human mind constructs dreams based on unique experiences (some psychologists have said that dreams are like mental fingerprints). Perhaps someone had their teeth painfully pulled at the dentist or wore braces at a young age, and perhaps another person got a tooth chipped (or knocked out) while playing sports. Those two people with different “teeth experiences” could form dreams with very different meanings, even if they both contain teeth as a central image. The dreams you have likely represents your unique conception rather than some universal symbolic meaning.
But what about relationship dreams?
A recent Twitter post by Nathan Fielder asked his followers to text their partners and say “I haven’t been fully honest with you.” If that isn’t anxiety provoking enough, they also weren’t supposed to respond to any reply sent by their partner for one hour. Not only is this a brilliant comedic premise, but it also provides a great example of an “interpersonal dilemma.” Interpersonal dilemmas are situations where people face competing motives such that they can either respond in a way that harms the relationship or in a way that benefits the relationship.
Partners’ level of similarity in their values, backgrounds, and life goals promotes attraction and relationship success. Although “birds of a feather” may flock together, do those similarly-feathered birds always have the best relationships over the long flight ahead? Recent research on self-control suggests that the answer is both yes and no.
I have been having nightmares lately. Not the “being chased” kind of nightmare, or the nightmare where you’re falling and wake up before hitting the ground. Rather, there is a recurring theme in these dreams that involve The Consultant (a man I have been dating for many months now) and me. Each dream starts with us doing something mundane, such as going grocery shopping together. Then, suddenly, The Consultant turns into one of my ex-boyfriends and things fall apart like they did in my past relationships. For example, my dream last night involved The Consultant and I having lunch, during which he ordered the Italian wedding soup special and then proceeded to tell me that he was marrying someone else. I looked up from my menu only to see that The Consultant had turned into The Question Mark, a man I have struggled to “get over” for many years.
When I wake up from these dreams, I am relieved that they are not real. Oftentimes, The Consultant is sharing my bed, so I am comforted by snuggling closer to him. But I keep wondering, what do these dreams mean?
My girlfriend of 10 months just broke up with me a few days ago. This has been her longest relationship. She had never lasted longer than 3 months with anyone prior because she is an independent girl and is afraid of commitment. For whatever reason, our relationship is different. We fell in love with each other and have had our ups and downs. However, the ever looming fact that we are both about to graduate from college this May and going to different states afterwards has been her main concern.
She claims that she has not felt the same about me lately and that she is tired of fighting for something that is going to end. This is not the first time she has broken up with me because of this, but it is definitely more serious and evident this time around. She says that I love her more than she loves me and that she now only loves me as a friend. The decision to break up was purely hers and now I am heart broken.
I plan on waiting a couple of weeks with no contact with her. If she does not break silence, then I'd like to at least meet up one more time to see if she might have reconsidered and if we can at least spend the rest of the semester together and make the best of it. I just want to be with her and not waste what we have together.
I am really sorry to hear about your heart being broken. It is always hard to end relationships, especially when you had already accepted that your time together was limited to begin with. Based on the information you provided, it sounds as if your ex-girlfriend has a very avoidant attachment style.
Insecure Attachment and Real vs. Perceived Threat in Relationships: Relationship Matters Podcast #19
Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, launches the Spring 2013 season with the 19th installment, discussing Dr. Geoff MacDonald’s (University of Toronto) recent work published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. In this episode, he tells us about how insecurely attached individuals, compared to the securely attached, perceive potential close relationships as socially threatening vs. rewarding. Although we all evaluate what we will get out of our interactions with others, anxiously attached people are more likely to perceive social interactions as threatening. “Anxious attachment seems to revolve around concerns for negative evaluation and rejection,” MacDonald notes during the podcast.
So should anxiously attached individuals fear rejection when initiating a new relationship?
Jealousy can be a very painful and destructive emotion. People typically feel jealous when they sense some threat to their relationship (perhaps some smooth operator is making moves on your significant other, and you worry this rival is more attractive/desirable than you are). These feelings of jealousy are sometimes justified; if you and your partner have made an agreement to be sexually exclusive (monogamous), but then s/he is sneaking off to have sexy time with someone else, this is normally a jealousy-provoking situation for most people (i.e., it freaking sucks!). Jealous emotions can be agonizing and often create intense conflicts/fights between partners, and furthermore, these jealousy-provoking situations may sometimes motivate you to exit the relationship.
However, some people are prone to be jealous more often and more consistently than others, even when there are no actual threats to the relationship.
If you plan on getting someone a gift for Valentine’s Day, chances are that a card is part of the package. Whether the card is the only thing you get your Valentine, or if it accompanies jewelry, roses, or chocolates, you probably will spend some time thinking about the card’s message.
But what do these cards really say? And more importantly, are they saying things that are scientifically factual? To answer these questions, I went out to the local supermarket to see what I could find.
When I told my ex-husband that I wanted a divorce, I knew that it would not be easy to overcome the legal and logistical hurdles that would inevitably follow. But I was eager to tend to my emotional bruises and move on to whatever else life had to offer. My ex-husband, on the other hand, was not ready to let our relationship—or me—disappear quietly into the night. Months after I filed the paperwork and I had moved across town into a small, one-bedroom apartment, he continued to pressure me to give our relationship another chance. He sent dozens of texts and emails declaring his undying love. I awoke one morning to him banging on my door, asking me to comfort him. He left a (gaudy) handpicked bouquet of flowers at my office. Most recently, I opened my front door and literally stumbled over a container full of leftover food and a $500 winning lottery ticket (okay, so I kept the lottery ticket). These events took place so frequently that, for a while, I was genuinely scared to leave my apartment, lest I run into him or another “gift” that he left for me.
My situation is not unique. Unwanted pursuit behaviors—which include relatively innocuous behaviors, such as gift-giving or exaggerated displays of affection, as well as more serious types of intrusions, such as stalking or threats of physical violence—occur relatively frequently following relationship breakups.