I have to come clean about something – not only have I read this book but I am now recommending it all over the place so I think I really should share it here with you. Don’t judge. Yes, it is a relationship advice book. Yes, I am single and reading a relationship advice book.
I have a huge interest in attachment theory*. That theory has been a key influence on my parenting and the only framework that ever consistently made sense to me in terms of my own instincts and experiences as a mother. Given all of that, it should surprise me not at all that I would also love an attachment theory book on intimate adult relationships. Yet somehow I overlooked this area of writing until now.
Coincidentally, since reading this book I have found myself in conversation with a bunch of friends experiencing various forms of emotional pain that either directly or indirectly involves relationship pain. Listening to them I have been continually reminded of this book and have wondered am I just becoming an evangelist or is this book really so timely that everyone should be reading it. And then I can hold it in no longer and I finally have to confess to these people that I read a relationship advice book and I think they are going to love it. The book is Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. You’ll love it.
Attached has been useful for me in two ways that might help make the case to you. Firstly, if you have ever found yourself in a relationship with a person with avoidant attachment tendencies, even briefly, then you may have found that to be a painful and confusing experience. This is not how you do relationship, you might have thought while with this person. Attached will explain what happened and what was going on in that person’s head, which is great because I am a big fan of resolution and understanding and a person like that will never be able to provide you with it themselves so this book helps you digest what the fuck.
Secondly, Attached has described exactly what mutuality looks like in a relationship and it is something I value very, very highly so just having a clear picture of that is terribly helpful. The book allows you to assess very quickly whether mutuality exists in your relationship and to feel very sure about questioning/ditching it if it does not. And that is surely very good for making more feminist relationships. Better explaining mutuality (or secure attachment behaviour) is particularly important in Western culture where independence is a highly regarded trait but the principles behind it are so poorly understood. Without an awareness of attachment theory many miss the link between secure attachments and genuine, naturally evolving independence. We see this all the time in parenting models, but until reading this book I didn’t realise how much we also make this mistake with relationship models. Because of our arse-about view on independence, we tend to mistake insecure behaviour in the form of avoidant tendencies for independence and to be critical of so called dependent behaviour when really it is often a secure reaction to a threatening situation.
Downsides to the book, there are some. I would have loved Attached to go into even more of the research. I love research. But I realise that that wouldn’t appeal to all readers and a happy medium has to be found to sell books. Having said that, the authors do provide a good overview of attachment theory and a quick glimpse of the studies that support these conclusions. (Most of the studies will be familiar to you if you’ve read attachment theory for parenting). Attached is accessible, one might even say a teensy bit pop psychology in tone and there is a personality quiz in there, but then you are dying to know which type you are so, make peace. And don’t be deterred, this is not that over-played Myers-Briggs test stuff. The book passes my feminist test in that it debunks sexist stereotypes and doesn’t encourage women to see relationship work as their sole responsibility (though a bigger representation of queer relationships in the case studies would have been beneficial), and it happily provides an absolutely scathing take-down of the Rules of Dating approach to relationship advice.
One final thing. A friend I recommended the book to happens to have avoidant attachment tendencies and I think he found it a valuable but difficult read because avoidants really aren’t seen as the fun types to be involved with in this book. So, I guess this might be a tough read if you’re coming from that direction.. but then the potential rewards to you are great.
* The best book by far on attachment theory and parenting is Becoming Attached by Robert Karen.