I recognize the fears and threats I create regarding my relationships. I notice how they arrive at key turning points. After five years of dating post-divorce, I have gained a bit of self and relationship awareness. There is still a mountain of wisdom to be learned, but at this point I see my self-sabotaging tactics and am beginning to understand how to defuse them.
After studying attachment styles, I know my insecure attachment style — I have both avoidant and anxious traits— fuel many of my apprehensions. As an avoidant attachment style exhibitor, I fear losing the freedom to retreat to my space and work through things. I want to be close to someone but also want to protect myself, so if I perceive any threats within the relationship I am likely to pull away before getting hurt. As I also harbor anxious attachment style characteristics, I have a fear of being set aside or abandoned (although this word sounds too serious to me). I require a lot of reassurance that someone is interested and dedicated to me and the relationship. Both types of attachment stem from early inconsistent childhood relationships and later adult insecure relationships.
Over the last two years I believe I have moved my marker closer to the secure end of the attachment style continuum. As you will see in the following milestone reactions, I still quell insecurities from time to time, but my understanding of them helps me stay balanced rather than freak out, run away or get overly emotional.
When moving through the stages of dating/long-term relationships, I’ve noticed my anxiety and criticalness peak before and after the start of a new stage. The timeline and respective worries go something like this:
Early dating/pre-sex stage: So much is unknown my intuition and predicting faculties go into overdrive. Is this man a commitment kind of guy? Is he worthy of sharing my body? Does this have long-term potential? Are we compatible enough? Is he just in it for sex? Is there an emotional connection? Is there a physical connection? Is he a good person? How available is he? Will his work/ex/children/family/friends/lifestyle/financial status cause problems? Will he get along with my kids? Am I comfortable with how much he wants to see me? Is he comfortable with how much I want to see him? Do I have enough energy for him? I know this seems like a lot to consider so early in the relationship, but this is how my mind and heart work.
One big determinant whether or not we progress to the next stage? Do I feel relaxed with this person? If yes, then we move on to…
Post-sex/sleepover/see each other more often/tell friends and family about him stage: Ok, so we’ve had sex and he’s still around. Do our sleeping habits and lifestyles gel? Can I handle his pets, snoring, eating habits, texting addiction? Does he really have a texting addiction or am I just overly sensitive about his checking out to stare at his phone? Abandonment issues. If I tell my friends and especially my family about him, will that jinx us? Is this long-term so that I don’t lose more credibility with my people about my choices in men? Should that even matter? Can we travel together? Sleep together (actual sleeping)? Do I still like him after a few days together? Does he like me? Do my friends approve? Will he get along with my kids?
Now that we spend more time together, do I still feel relaxed/content with him? Can the man handle me and all of my love/worries/lifestyle/thinking? Can we work through disagreements and come out stronger? If so, then…
Six month/meet the kids stage: I had two relationships end just prior to this stage. One, I chose to end. The other was not my choice. This is where I have to choose between a big move forward or a return to self-reliance. This is where my perfection seeking truly kicks in. Again, the major question arises, will my children like him? Will he like them? Is he good with his children? Patient? Understanding?
This period is the most consequential to me. I care most about the meeting of my most precious people. Now, not only am I seeing my partner through my eyes but through my children’s eyes as well. Trepidation causes me to move slowly, as through deep, life-changing snow or quicksand. I look for the tiniest clues this is a bad idea. I go with my gut but also my logic, Ouija Board and Magic 8 Ball. Whatever provides further insight. This is scary.
Post meeting the kids, I closely observe the interactions between my man and my kids. Are they predominantly positive? How do I feel when we are all together? Do I feel divided in a million pieces between all my loves? Am I tired? Am I energized? Can we all relax together?
Having gone through the blending of boyfriend and children stage before, I know it is not easy. There are a lot of personalities to balance. I’ve learned collaborative personalities work better than defensive ones. Appreciation and understanding go a lot further than rigidness, judging and taking sides.
One year/where are we going with this? stage: After things have settled into routines involving adults and children, the one year mark approaches. This could mean nothing or as it did in a past relationship, it could be the turning of the tide.
After reaching the one year milestone, a friend asked my former mate if he and I were going to get married. My mate answered swiftly, “No”. Now, it’s true we had not talked about marriage as a real potential, but his quick and unequivocal answer stung a little. I also think the question set off alarm bells in this (avoidant attachment style) partner’s head. After one year, I witnessed a lot more distancing behavior from him in the form of flirting with other women, taking off on trips by himself or with friends, defensive conversations, etc.
At this juncture, it is easier to tell if my partner and I are all in or not. If someone is not all in, is it time to cut them loose? If distancing behaviors arise, are they surmountable? If both parties are all in, do you continue status quo or formally commit via marriage? If marriage comes up, what fears does that trigger?
As neurotic as all of this sounds, I have to say, I’ve also learned to step out of my head and observe the fuss from a distance. I see how nit-picky and crazy all the detail worry is. I’ve kicked my own ass about being too critical. I’ve noticed how milestones cause my attachment style reactions to flare and that awareness dulls the reactions. I know no one is perfect and that doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing. I know to look at things carefully, but also with soft eyes and understanding.
I hope my partner can do the same.
I also know sometimes you just have to leap.
Do you notice shifts in your behavior/thoughts when your relationship approaches a milestone? What is your attachment style?