Perhaps no day of the year is more representative of romantic relationships than Valentine's Day. Billions of dollars will go toward chocolate, diamonds and dinners to show that special someone that we love them.
The way in which individuals think, feel, and behave in their adult relationships is governed not only by factors in their immediate surroundings, but is also a direct result of their past relationships and personal attachment, extending all the way back to childhood (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007). The findings of this research supported previous attachment theories and conclude that the expression of emotions in adult relationships can be related to a person's attachment experiences during early social development; results indicated that individuals who were secure and attached as infants demonstrated higher social competence as children and led to more secure and close friendships at age 16. Teens who were close to their friends were later more expressive and emotionally attached to their romantic partner in early adulthood. Just as a footnote for the reader who is not familiar with the concept of emotional attachment to caregivers, here is a brief summary; the formal origin of attachment theory can be traced back to John Bowlby (The Nature of the Child's tie to his mother, 1958) and the extensive work of Mary Ainsworth (1974) and, more recently, supported to some extend by Barrett (2006). In a nutshell, emotional attachment to the caregiver refers to behavior patterns and communication styles in the attachment figure directed at the infant and toddler.
Secure attachment: The attachment figure responds appropriately, promptly and consistently to the emotional as well as physical needs of the baby/toddler. The caregiver helps the child transition and regulate stress, and as a result, the child uses them as a secure base in the home environment.
Avoidant attachment: The attachment figure shows little response to the young child when distressed. They discourage the child from crying and encourage independence and exploration.
Ambivalent attachment: The attachment figure is inconsistent with the child; oscillating from appropriate to neglectful interaction with the child.
Obviously, attentive and sensitive caregiving of the young child is of utmost importance to ensure the growth of secure attachment, as the other types may have adverse effects throughout the lifespan (Dr. Schoef, psychologist, 1996). Most recently, brain imaging studies have shown anatomical changes in the brain: children's hippocampus was 10 percent larger when raised by nurturing parents (Washington School of Medicine, 2012).
Attachment research into romantic relationships has led to many different findings, including that later attachment influences how well people are able to cope with stress and caregiving behavior toward their own child.
When things are not going well in your romantic relationship, it can help to ask some very important questions:
1. What do you need out of this relationship?
2. Do you still enjoy life together?
3. Are you ready to spend time and energy to make your relationship work again?
4. Do you still love each other?
Start by finding time for each other and initiate positive communication and follow the 10-minute rule; men prefer brief and concise communication and women tend to elaborate on things, so it's a good starting point to limit each individual's vocalization to 10 minutes, while the partner listens intently without interruption. It's acceptable if both partners agree to stretch the time limit, however, avoid focusing on all negative points. Try to come to a solution or how you can adapt to the partner's needs. Do not be afraid to share intimate details with your partner, as research has shown that "sharing" will bring you and your partner closer. Talking openly about fears and anxieties with a partner will elicit empathy, which will build trust and mutual emotional support.
You can enhance your relationship by actually listening to what you're partner says. Pay attention to the little details of a conversation, as well as setting realistic goals. Small steps can go a long way.
Share positive events and respond enthusiastically to your partner's good news, even if it is something that you are not that excited about; just try to imagine how excited your partner is about a specific event and try to match the enthusiasm when responding to the good news.
Try something new, sharing a novel and fun activity will increase the bond and closeness between you and your partner.
Discuss what initially attracted you to your partner. Take the time to discuss specific characteristics, events and how these continue to be attractive.
Love also means to say you're sorry; if you make a mistake by doing or saying something that is damaging to the relationship, admit to it and apologize.
Be yourself, don't be fake in your relationship. Trying to be someone or something just to please your mate takes a lot of wasted energy and will most likely terminate the relationship.
Above all, have realistic expectations about each other, nobody is "perfect" and when discussing something important, ensure mutual respect and understanding, as neither partner knows exactly what the other needs.
Make this Valentine's Day special and count for your partner!
• Astrid Heathcote is a licensed psychologist with a private practice and residence in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach her at (480) 275-2249 or www.drastrid.org.