Anyone who has been in a relationship knows that love and attachment go together. When you love someone, it’s natural to want to spend time with that person. But what keeps you together? Is it love or attachment? What’s the difference between the two? How can one be good and the other harmful? The lines dividing love and attachment can become blurry for some, with attachment masquerading as love.
Attachment becomes harmful when it is overdone. Like when your whole world revolves around the person you love and you have an irrational fear that your partner will leave you, so you have to follow him/her around. If your relationship is fractious and turbulent, defined more by bickering and sarcasm; if being with one another brings out the worst instead of the best in you, yet you can’t stand breaking up and moving on without that person in your life – then definitely, it’s attachment, not love, that binds you to the person you think you love.
So how can you tell if it’s true love or attachment? First, a backgrounder: brief research reveals that attachment in adult relationships can be traced back to one’s childhood. British psychiatrist John Bowlby developed the attachment theory which starts as early as in infancy, when a baby seeks the attachment to the primary caregiver, usually the mother. Unmet needs in infancy and throughout childhood leads to insecurity that is carried over to adult intimate relationships. Now that you know where it all began, how can you tell if it’s genuine love or unhealthy attachment?
Love is giving. Attachment is self-centered.
When you truly love a person, you put their needs first before your own. You don’t pick fights over petty issues or keep a tally of past mistakes. Whatever you do or say, you think of how it will affect your partner. In attachment, you find ways to let your partner fill your needs. You manipulate them so that they will conform to your expectations of them. If they don’t, you get angry at them.
Love is self-sufficient. Attachment is clingy.
Loving someone doesn’t mean giving up one’s own identity. You have confidence and a sense of worth on your own and you are not dependent on your partner to boost your self-esteem. On the other hand, harmful attachment is clingy. There is always the fear that the other person will leave and the need to know the whereabouts and activities of the other person. When you are clingy, you will never leave the relationship even if you feel the love or connection is gone. You would rather suffer a toxic union than be on your own.
Love lets a person grow. Attachment holds them back.
Love is supporting your partner and letting them grow, in their endeavors and interests. In true love, you share the happiness in their progress and success in their careers or passions. Attachment holds back so that the other person cannot pursue a career or a passion for a sport or hobby as much as they’d like to. Attachment gets jealous of a partner’s success out of fear of being left behind.
Love is freeing. Attachment is controlling.
Love allows the other person to have a life with friends and follow one’s dreams. It’s inspiring and supporting them. Loving a person doesn’t mean you have to do all things together and be with each other all the time. Attachment is controlling and dominating your partner’s life completely so that there’s no room or time for anything else.
When a relationship continues and despite all efforts, you and your partner are miserable, maybe it’s time to rethink the union. Is it love that’s still keeping you together, or is it unhealthy attachment?