I recently published a blog on the "Care and Feeding of your Island/Avoidant Partner". Since one of the main principles of successful relationships is that they are fair and equal it only makes sense to talk about how to take great care of wave-ish partners too. So here goes...
Wave-ish folks, like the rest of us, are subject to becoming more extreme versions of themselves once married. This has to do with breaching that final level of commitment to where our partners are now also family. We all carry around inside of us memories of how we were treated in childhood, and how we observed our family members treating each other. These templates are more flexible and less evident in our relationships with our friends and co-workers. Once someone enters into the realm of true family these templates are often re-activated in powerful ways and they tend to amplify our natural tendencies learned as children.
So as with Islands, once Waves are truly committed you may see the following tendencies emerge more strongly:
Fear abandonment, even in ways that seem more minor. Wave-ish folks experienced inconsistent parenting, such that they were sometimes coddled and given lots of attention but then sometimes unexpectedly rebuffed or pushed away and even shamed for being "too needy" or "too much". They intuitively expect the other shoe to drop and expect to be rejected. This gets worse with commitment for the reasons mentioned above. Your wave-ish partner may start reacting to you leaving, even if you are just running some errands, causing you to feel bewildered and frustrated. Know that departures can be triggering for them and leave with an extra dose of love. Let them know that you are going but will be thinking of them while you are gone and look forward to seeing them when you get back. Give them a hug before you leave. Send them a text (doesn't have to be fancy, a heart or smiley face will do) while you are out. Think of them as a kid who gets nervous when their mom or dad are suddenly unavailable. They need reassurance around both departures and reunions.
Can get prickly when you reunite after being apart. Again this can be VERY confusing for their partners, who have no idea that the separation was stressful. They come home from running some errands to a wave-ish partner picking a fight. Crazy, I know. But remember that they fear you leaving and when you do they may feel a surge of anger at being left. Since they tend to have trouble letting go of the past they may think about this the whole time you are gone. Then when you get back, wham! they let you have it. THEY DON"T DO THIS CONSCIOUSLY OR ON PURPOSE. Please, please, keep this in mind. It is no picnic for them either. No one likes to feel upset, so if your wave-ish partner is being cranky or downright mad remember that what is underneath that is emotional pain. They are hurting. One of the most fool-proof ways to soothe a wave-ish person is to hold them. They usually melt under touch. They also tend to love eye-contact. So hold them, gaze lovingly into their eyes and tell them that they can depend on you to never abandon them.
Can ramp up their emotional intensity, especially if you are island-ish. Remember the opposite styles amplify each other. So if you are island-ish, after marriage or deep commitment you will tend to move away a bit. This is likely to bring about protest behavior from your wave. It may be more clinging or it may be more frustration and accusations about how aloof you are. Or both. Try to remember that a wave-ish person is like a fussy baby. They make a lot of noise and you may be inclined to simply leave rather than deal with the fuss. But just like a crying baby they need your help, love and soothing. They tend to calm down MUCH faster than their partners think. So moving in, using touch, soothing words and eye contact can usually get a wave-ish person to get some emotional equilibrium pretty quickly. Even if you are not an island your wave-ish partner may get extra emotional after the deep commitment. Be prepared for this and don't blame them or tell them they are crazy. They are expressing their fear that you are not going to connect to them. Waves need a lot of connection and get more dramatic and emotionally messy when they don't get sufficient connection. Sadly they often unconsciously drive people away with their "fussiness", depriving themselves of the connection they need to get calm again. So know this and help them. It will pay you back tenfold in that you will not only have a more calm partner but you will have a partner who is eternally grateful to you for knowing what they need and giving it to them. Like islands, waves are often misunderstood. Your job is to not fall into that trap, to know them and take care of them.
May "spoil" things you try to do for them. This one is bound to make you feel crazy but remember they are not doing it intentionally. They want to be happy, just like any person does. However, since they have a childhood history of having the other shoe constantly dropped they anticipate being disappointed. So if you do something nice for them they may just turn around and "spoil" it somehow. If you take them out to dinner they may complain about the restaurant. If you buy them a gift they may tell you it's not their style, or the wrong color, or whatever. While the natural reaction to this would be to tell them to take a hike, you need to remember that they are acting from childhood pains. Tell them how much you love them and that you know they have been disappointed in the past. Tell them you don't want to disappoint them and you are open to hearing what they need from you. Don't take it personally when they try to spoil a gift or kindness. I know it's a tall order but you will be healing a deep and very painful wound from their childhood. Which is really, in my opinion, what marriage is all about. And that's a two-way street, so when you heal your wave's painful childhood issues they will do the same in return. And once wounds are healed you will see a lot less of this behavior, so it pays dividends forward.
Tend to respond with a negative a lot of the time. So if you propose a vacation to the beach they are likely to tell you the five reasons that's a bad idea. Don't bite. Just let them know that you know that they tend to find "what's wrong with the picture" before being willing to see what might be right. Tell them you are going to overlook their first response and give them another chance. If your partner is good with humor, you can say something like "OK my beautiful nattering naybob of negativity, now that you have gotten all the no's out of your system, can we revisit the idea?". Then flash them a loving smile. When used with love and kindness humor can be a great way to re-boot an activated wave.
May get really preoccupied with being "too much" or "too needy". Remember that wave-ish folks had childhoods where people alternately showered them with attention and told them they were too much and rebuffed them. So they are naturally afraid of overwhelming people. Paradoxically this leads to a lot of anxiety, which can make them more emotional, more clingy and more negative. Which has the unintended consequence of making their parter get exasperated with them! Be on the lookout for your wave-ish partner feeling judged as too needy or overwhelmig. A wave-ish partner may misinterpret signals like you looking away during a conversation or sighing when they tell you something they need. Be careful to let your wave-ish person know they are NOT too much for you and that you have no intention of leaving them. Help them feel safe and secure and you will find their wave-ishness will actually diminish!
May have trouble ending an argument or letting it go afterwards. Wave-ish folks have trouble with endings, even arguments! They may keep it going because closing up something feels in a way like loss. They may also hold on to hurts from the past to act as a bulkhead against being vulnerable towards you in the future, which they fear will be rewarded with more hurt! Help your wave let go in an argument by reminding them that while there may be a part of them that tends to hang on, their body and mind deserve relief. Hold them tight at the end of a rough conversation and reassure them that if they let go they are not going to be setting themselves up for additional injury.
May not look out well for their partner in social situations. If you go to a party or event your wave-ish partner may wander off to socialize and "drop" you. This is because their parents dropped them (emotionally) as kids. Don't take this personally and remind them before you go out to social events that you would like for them to keep track of you and circle back at predetermined intervals to keep you feeling connected.
Waves are not any more difficult than islands. And like islands they do not do these things "on purpose" or with the intent of making their partner crazy. Learn to love your wave and help them to manage their emotional reactivity. They will greatly appreciate your help in containing some of their intensity and you will feel calmer knowing you are not about to be plowed under by a tsnumami!
Wishing you happiness and health,
We all know on an intuitive level the power of touch. When we hear an infant cry our instinct is the pick the baby up and hold it, chest to chest, right over our heart. Mother nature has embedded in each of us the intrinsic knowledge that touch soothes. Touch is the earliest sense to develope in the human fetus. Surely that relates to it's importance in the survival of the organism. And yet our modern life, especially in this country (the USA) has diminished the amount of touch that each of us engages in every day. Studies done by Harper, Wiens and Matarazzo (1978) looked at touch in various contexts, including one study done in coffee houses. They found that during a one hour sitting 180 touchings were observed for Puerto Ricans, 110 for French, none for English and 2 for Americans. That's quite a difference! What exactly are we, as American's, missing out on?
One study done on pre-term infants (Field, International Journal of Behavioral Development, 22(4),1998) found that the stimulation of pressure receptors under the skin caused an increase in vagal nerve activity and slowing physiology that then caused the babies to be more relaxed in their behaviors. This also led to a decrease in stress hormones, most particularly cortisol, and an increase in immune function, particularly natural killer cells. The take home point again is that TOUCH MATTERS. Babies do better when they are touched, as do we all.
Another interesting study in the Journal of Behav Med. 2003 Fall;29(3) by Grewen, Anderson, Girdler and Ligth showed that loving partner contact is related to lower cardiovascular reactivity. This was measured by blood pressure reactivity to stress in healthy adults. The stress was induced by asking people to do a public speech (one of the most common fears!). Half of the participants had been able to hold their partners hand for 10 minutes prior to the speech and also asked to hug their partner for 20 seconds. The other half were just asked to sit by themselves for 10 minutes. People who had the loving contact of their partner prior to the stress had less increases in BP. The authors concluded that "These findings suggest that affectionate relationships with a supportive partner may contribute to lower reactivity to stressful life events and may partially mediate the benefit of marital support on better cardiovascular health."
Another study done by Grewen, Girdler, Amico and Light (Psychosomatic Medicine, 67, 2005) found that people's opinions about how supportive their partners are can be measured by looking at oxytocin, norepinephrine, cortisol in the blood as well as actual blood pressure before and after loving contact with their partner. Couples were assigned to 10 minutes of loving contact and then their blood was analyzed. Those who rated their relationship as more supportive had higher levels of oxytocin and in women higher partner support was correlated with lower BP. For women higher levels of oxytocin were also related to lower BP and lower levels of norepinephrine. The authors conclude that "Greater partner support is linked to higher [oxytocin] for both men and women; however, the importance of [oxytocin] and its potentially cardio-protective effects on sympathetic activity and BP may be greater for women." Again it is important to note that this study essentially measures the effects of physical contact with a loving partner, showing that loving touch in a supportive relationship literally affects our body chemistry in beneficial ways.
This link between loving touch and oxytocin lead to Dr. Zak prescribes at least 8 hugs per day in his TED talk in order to feel happier and more connected, as well as to nurture relationships. Zak's talk discusses the findings of the research above on hugging one's partner and how it can benefit one's health, especially the cardiovascular system.
In the wake of Valentines's Day it seems appropriate to celebrate the importance of loving touch. Perhaps science has finally given us reasons to stop feeling guilty about our inherent interdependence. It's time to support our need for connection and quite literally embrace our need for others. My advice is to love well and touch often. Your heart, immune system, stress level and state of mind will thank you.
With warm wishes,
If you have read my website you will know that I am very interested in attachment styles. Research done by Dr. John Bowlby and his associate Mary Main in the 1940's showed us that infants have a potential of 4 different styles of relating to their primary caregivers: Secure (the ideal, healthy pattern), Anxious-Ambivalent (sometimes called Angry-Resistant), Anxious-Avoidant and Disorganized (sometimes called "Cannot Classify"). These 4 patterns have proven to be extremely useful in predicting adult behaviors in romantic relationships as well as parenting behaviors.
If you are interested to find out what your attachment style is there are several ways to go about this. The "gold standard" has always been to have the Adult Attachment Interview administered by a trained researcher. This is the instrument used in research to identify attachment patterns in adults. However finding a therapist who is trained to administer this instrument can be difficult! Another adult attachment test that has been developed is the Adult Attachment Projective. However, this also needs to be done by a trained professional and not all cities (and certainly most rural areas) have anyone who has this type of training.
In an effort to find a method for people to determine their adult attachment classification I have tried various self-administered tests. The one that I have found to be most useful is on the website of psychologist Diane Poole Heller. Her self-administered test can be done online and gives you results immediately. Rather than being fully categorical (meaning you can only have one classification), her test creates a pie chart showing you what percent of your responses line up with a particular style. This is much more in keeping with what I see as a clinician-- that in some situations a person will look anxious-ambivalent, but in other situations they may look more anxious-avoidant for example. I think her approach makes sense clinically and is also easy for a lay person to understand.
For a really great understanding of how your attachment style impacts your romantic relationships I strongly recommend listening to Dr. Stan Tatkin's MP3 download, "Your Brain On Love". It explains in plain English how your childhood attachment style influences your romantic relationships in adulthood.
Remember, even those of us who came into adulthood with insecure attachment styles can learn new ways of being. With the help of a good therapist we can learn to re-pattern our ways of relating to mimic those of secure functioning couples. This can bring increased harmony, enjoyment, intimacy and stability to our relationships. Thanks to neuroplasticity we all have a chance at the benefits of a secure attachment to that special person.
First I need to give credit to the originator of this metaphor, a friend and mentor Dr. Stephen Finn. Dr. Finn is a psychologist in practice here in Austin, Texas and is on faculty at UT Austin. He has mentored many psychologists over the years and is a world-renown expert on psychological assessment. If you are interested in psychological assessment you may find his website, www.therapeuticassessment.com, of interest. Now that I have given credit, let me explain what "saucering" is.
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP
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