Posts Tagged ‘dependency’

Is extreme attachment/unattachment healthy in relationships?

December 30, 2010

This recent article in Scientific American discusses Attachment Theory and how it applies to relationships, and it’s pretty interesting. The authors take the categories of attachment used in child psychology — secure, anxious, and avoidant — and apply them to relationships, eventually reasoning that combining different attachment types generally leads to unhappy (and unhealthy) relationships. For me, the bigger question is this: Is an anxious or avoidant relationship healthy?

In the version of the article online (I can’t access the full article), the authors conclude with this statement:

The most important take-home message is that relationships should not be left to chance. Mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in a relationship, even for people who love each other greatly. But even those with mismatched attachment styles can find more security in their relationships by tapping into the secure mind-set and finding secure role models.

Here, it seems the authors are simultaneously saying that (1) love cannot triumph over differences in how people approach relationships and (2) if people do want to try to make these mismatched relationships work, the best model is the secure attachment model. I agree with these two sentiments, but I’m curious if the article addresses the dynamics of how healthy two avoidant or anxious people in a relationship would be. It addressed the two parties being mismatched — what if they are matched but not of the “secure” type?

Take the anxious attachment approach — here, I think of people who are very dependent on their significant others, to the point where they push other people away and only want to be with the significant other. As the authors explain, people of the anxious attachment persuasion constantly are worried about their relationships, being abandoned, and not being loved by the significant other.

Would two people really be a “match” if they were both anxious attachment types? I’m sure they could better understand each other’s fears and worries when communicating their anxiety about abandonment, feelings not being reciprocated, and dependency, but my fear is that two anxious types would also enable each other without working on developing a more secure relationship.

From personal experience and the experience of friends, I agree with the authors that a dependent person and an independent person or a commitment-phobic simply can’t sustain any kind of healthy relationship because both parties will be left unsatisfied as one party will not be getting enough attention and reassurance and the other party will feel suffocated or inadequate because they can’t provide the appropriate level of security (more so for the avoidant-type person).

The authors point out that these polar opposites exacerbate the insecurities each feels in relationships, though again I’d say that those with the same — whether they be anxious or avoidant (unable to get close to others, trust people, or be as intimate as people would like; generally feel nervous when people get too close) — would be at risk of enabling them. What immediately comes to mind are couples that constantly want to be with each other, who lose friendships because of this — though I don’t hear as much of the double avoidant relationships, where seemingly both parties wouldn’t be very intimate with each other and would have a lot of difficulty developing trust.

I suppose defining what constitutes a “secure” relationship is pretty subjective, and people could make the argument that it’s unfair to characterize as “unhealthy” someone’s natural tendency to be distrusting or worrisome. I just see so many anxious-anxious pairings that it’s hard to believe that simply mismatched styles are to blame. Trust issues and commitment issues run deeper than just genetics or personality, and they need to be addressed — as the authors at one point suggest — through effective communication.

The main points here are that (1) love doesn’t conquer all, and subsequently “but we love each other” is not an excuse for staying in an unhealthy relationship; (2) the best model is the secure model, whereby you don’t worry or have issues with dependency or trust; and (3) the best way to get there is through effective communication, because attachment styles are developed and dynamic (not genetic or static), and more security will only be found by addressing and examining the reasons you feel anxious or avoidant in relationships.

I still think these extremes, even if both people in a couple have the same attachment style, are unhealthy, but my views are based more on anecdotal evidence than science. Also, I generally dislike strict categories, but I do like the online questionnaire for attachment type because it has several axes and gives a more multidimensional view of attachment.


Teen Mom: Cycles of abuse, custody woes, toxic fighting

September 15, 2010

Last night’s Teen  Mom brought the usual drama — Farrah and her parents, Amber and Gary, Ryan and Maci — but was sprinkled with some happy vibes as Catelynn and Tyler got to talk to Carly on her first birthday, expressing that they were very happy that Carly was happy.

1. Dependency and Domestic Violence

Though Farrah and her mother’s relationship isn’t typically what comes to mind when one hears the phrase “domestic violence” (usually a man/woman come to mind, as in intimate partner violence), it carries all the tell-tale signs of an abusive relationship. Aside from the physical violence, the rollercoaster of emotions and the dependency that draws the abused person back to the relationship are classic and cyclical when it comes to domestic violence.

Farrah’s mom keeps a pull on Farrah by using her financial problems to her advantage, much like a male partner typically can do to an intimate female partner who relies on him for financial support. Farrah is not only working to support herself, Sophia, and get through school, but she also recently lost $3,000 after falling for a scam. This episode, Farrah’s mom offered to let her stay in the rental house across the street for cheap rent, also providing free baby-sitting when necessary.

Farrah acknowledges that her problems with her parents stemmed from them “trying to overcontrol” her, but she is easily lured to the cheap rent and free baby-sitting that goes with living across the street from her mom. This is textbook of an unhealthy, cyclical violent relationship because Farrah’s mom is using Farrah’s financial struggles to create a dependency — Farrah isn’t living near her mom because she wants to, but because it’s financially better.

Jumping back into the relationship is another textbook and unhealthy step in the path of domestic violence. In last week’s episode, after an intense therapy session, Farrah and her mom enjoyed a nice, civil lunch with baby Sophia. Whether because of the show’s editing or not, it seems like Farrah is now ready to jump back into the relationship with her mother right where it left off because of this one good encounter.

This can be dangerous and misleading — in abusive relationships, it’s common for there to be a rollercoaster of highs (there’s repentence, forgiveness, a honeymoon stage of being reunited) and then the subsequent lows (problems come back to the surface, fighting ensues, abuse happens again) because the problems are forgotten or pushed aside instead of addressed and resolved.

Personally, I think Farrah needs to live elsewhere if she can afford it — their relationship can’t honestly be fixed if she is also relying on her mother as landlord and childcare giver, because it’s something the mother holds over her head and can use as a means of control. Also, Farrah has her own issues to work out — like her inability to communicate, her instigating of fights, and her taking everything personally (even the car breaking down).

2. Staying Together for the Baby

I’ve addressed staying together for the sake of the child before when Ryan and Maci were having problems and their parents urged them to make it work for the sake of Bentley. Now, Amber is questioning whether she is settling for Gary because he is Leah’s father. “I’m not 100 percent sure I want to marry him,” Amber said. “I don’t want to live this life of regret. I don’t want to settle.”

Amber was trying on wedding dances, taking dancing lessons, and still she felt like something was wrong. Perhaps it was fueled by the blowout fight they had, but she’s got a point — if you’re not feeling totally committed to someone, should the baby always make you lean toward staying together? “If I didn’t have Leah, we would not be together,” Amber told Gary. Sure you want to try harder to make things work, but Amber and Gary’s relationship at times seems irreversibly toxic and full of resentment.

Kids are always better off in environments where their parents are happy, even if it means their parents being separated — at least having a custody schedule provides stability, which children need, unlike when Gary randomly leaves or gets kicked out of the house after a fight. Though Amber’s friend suggests that Gary is here to stay because he’s Leah’s dad, the old “well he’s always going to be in her life so you mineswell marry him” advice doesn’t make much sense in terms of quality of life and healthy environment for the child as s/he grows up.

Another problem with parents staying together “for the child” is that the child becomes a battleground/tool for the parents dislike of one other. They don’t like each other, and they use the child to get that point across, as Amber did when she told Gary to get his stuff and leave and then told Leah, “Daddy left you again.” You not only bring the child into a fight that’s only about the parents, but you cause emotional damage — if Leah were five and heard that, she wouldn’t know Amber was taking a swipe at Gary or that he got kicked out — she’d think her dad really was abandoning her without reason.

3. Custody, court, and ethical dilemmas

Maci decided that she was going to move to Nashville before Ryan could take her to court for joint custody of  Bentley, hoping to evade the 100-mile radius rule that would prevent her from moving there after Ryan took her to court (Maci currently lives in Chattanooga, 120 miles from Nashville, which would prevent her from moving to Nashville if the court ordered her to remain within 100 miles of Chattanooga).

There’s a dilemma here about how ethical it is that Maci skip town — mostly because she’s doing exactly what Ryan was worried about. Ryan was worried she would skip town and move away without having any ability to stop her, and here she proves just that — who knows if she would have even told Ryan, as he had to pry it out of her that she was moving to Nashville.

Maci seems so worried about Ryan getting joint custody, but I’m not sure why she is freaking out about it. Either she would prefer to have sole custody over Bentley, or she doesn’t want Ryan to have an equal amount of joint custody. It’s completely normal for the father to get some kind of joint custody, even if it’s just weekend visitation — all Ryan wants is something in writing so instead of Maci being the sole arbiter of custody decisions, the court is.

Something tells me Maci doesn’t believe people can change, but though she questions his changing level of involvement in Bentley’s life, she can’t change that he is Bentley’s father and has a right to see Bentley and be a part of his life. In other news, while I disagree with Maci picking up her life and moving to Nashville for Kyle, at least she isn’t moving in with him right away and recognizes the possibility it might not work out.

Teen Mom: Violence, child support, cohabitation, more babies

July 21, 2010

Last night was the season premiere of Teen Mom, and it started with a lot of drama. From family violence and child support to cohabitation and pregnancy scares, the episode was chock full of intense and shocking moments.

1. Family Violence

The episode began with a phone call from Farrah to the police, telling the police that she had been punched in the face by her mom. This isn’t the first time Farrah’s mom became violent, but it’s the worst incident that has been on the show. Farrah might have an attitude problem, but nothing gives her mom the right to punch her in the face.

Parent to child domestic violence is often overshadowed, as it isn’t as common as spouse to spouse domestic violence or other types of family violence. Whereas spousal violence accounts for nearly half of family violence incidents, parent to child violence accounts for 10.5 percent, according to the Justice Department. But like any type of family violence, Farrah’s circumstances make legal action or staying away from the offender difficult.

Because Farrah was living with her mom, she had to drop the protection order against her mom to be able to get into the house. I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t have a guest house where Farrah could stay, because her mom and baby Sophia couldn’t be under the same roof without an adult aside from Farrah there. Because Farrah is relying so heavily on her mom, she can’t get away from the violent behavior — this dependence is an unfortunate theme throughout domestic violence.

The state is pressing charges against Farrah’s mom, who on the night of the attack was almost shot by police because she was allegedly holding knives and not cooperating with officers to put them down. Domestic violence is typically about power, and here Farrah’s mom wielded a lot of power — Farrah relies on her mom for shelter, food, and childcare, so it would have been just as easy for Farrah not to report the incident for fear of losing a place to live.

2. Child Support

Maci tried to deal with child support outside of court, but Ryan told her that she’d have to take him to court for the money. This is either because Ryan is unemployed and doesn’t have money to give, or because he’s an immature douche who doesn’t think he should have to contribute financially to raising his child — probably a bit of both.

Maci’s meeting with the lawyer answered some questions that I hope other parents will take to heart if they are having trouble with child support — mainly that (1) even if the person isn’t employed, that person is still required to pay child support, which will be adjusted accordingly to the fact the person doesn’t have a job (Ryan was told to pay $80 or so each week); and (2) you don’t have to worry about finding the person and serving papers, the court will do that for you (you don’t have to worry about tracking them down or having to deal with them in person).

Child support can be a mess when the other parent is being uncooperative or can’t afford to make the payments. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, not even half (46.8 percent) the parents due to receive child support in 2007 got the full amount they were owed, with 29.5 percent getting a portion and 23.7 percent getting no child support at all. Both parties are responsible for creating the baby and should be responsible for taking care of the baby, but that philosophy doesn’t always play out in reality.

3. Cohabitation

Until now, Catelynn and Tyler had been the dream couple — never fought, always happy together, and Dr. Drew just loved them on his season-end reunion specials because he could use them as an example of how putting your baby up for adoption makes your life so much better; after all, Catelynn and Tyler were just peachy and all these other teen moms were having relationship problems.

Last night, however, we saw that living together can affect even the most disgustingly cute couples. Catelynn was living with Tyler and his mom because her own mom had moved an hour away — living with Tyler and his mom allowed her to stay in the same school district and see Tyler on a regular basis, not to mention her relationship with her mom had been strained since she gave baby Carly up for adoption.

“I don’t think couples should be together 24/7 anyway, it’s not healthy,” Tyler told his mom on last night’s episode. He was lamenting how he just wanted time to himself, but living with Catelynn provided no time for that and they were getting on each other’s nerves by seeing each other so much. Catelynn had overstayed her welcome, and Tyler’s mom asked her to move back home.

Living together is tough — I’m a firm believer in cohabitation before marriage, because I think no matter how well you think you know someone, you don’t know them until you’ve lived with them. Those daily habits, their cleanliness level, certain lifestyle quirks — you won’t see those until you live together, and you won’t know if you can stand being around each other a lot unless you give it a trial run.

Catelynn and Tyler’s trial run was slightly different, though, because they were living with his mom and were not even done with high school. High school relationships are difficult enough — you’re still maturing, changing as a person, etc. — without having to actually live with that person. At that age, you need lots of (your own) room to grow.

4. Pregnancy Scares  

Catelynn started off last season with a pregnancy scare, and this season it was Amber. She was feeling sick and her body felt the same as it did when she was first pregnant with Leah — with both her and her boyfriend Gary being unemployed and constantly having relationship problems, another baby was the furthest thing from what they had in mind.

“We should have learned the first time, right?” Amber nervously asked the doctor before she took a pregnancy test and later learned it was negative. She explained that it was a heat of the moment thing, and only in that one instance did her and Gary not use a condom. Her friend reminded her that those “heat of the moment” instances are what lead to pregnancy — and at least two of the four teen moms continued to have unprotected sex despite already having one child as a result of unprotected sex.

This pattern of unprotected sex — one study found that nearly one-quarter of young women were pregnant multiple times in their teens — makes one wonder how to prevent unplanned pregnancies if even having an unplanned pregnancy isn’t enough to prevent “heat of the moment” unprotected sex from happening again. It might have something to do with what happens in your brain during sex, but I’m sure if I try Googling that at work, I’ll get some NSFW websites … so I’ll do that research later.

16&P: One million tell-tale signs that you’re in an unhealthy relationship

February 25, 2010

I’ve decided that my love of 16 and Pregnant runs much deeper that just enjoying many MTV reality TV shows, but in fact each episode teaches valuable lessons about relationships (romantic, friend, family, etc.). So, every Wednesday, I’ll be discussing an important issue that the Tuesday night episode highlights.

This week was about Nikkole, a 15-year-old high school junior who got pregnant after unprotected sex and relying on the “pull and pray” method of birth control. Like a majority of the teens on the show, the baby’s father was immature and mistreated the baby’s mother.

The father in this episode, Josh, was by far the worst father I’ve seen on 16 & Pregnant. He was controlling, manipulative, deceitful, and disrespectful. He treated Nikkole like a doormat, and he broke up with her and began dating another girl both when he found out Nikkole was pregnant and shortly after she gave birth to her baby boy, Lyle.

Normally, I feel sympathy toward these girls because they don’t realize how jerky their boyfriends are until after they give birth (see: Ryan and Maci, Jenelle and Andrew). But in this episode, I felt both anger and pity toward Nikkole, who obviously did not see or want to see the tell-tale signs that Josh was a complete douchebag:

1. Josh bossed her around in any situation possible, telling her where to be, what to do, and when to do it. He never asked — he demanded. Whether she was at a friend’s house and he demanded to see her or he alloted her only a certain amount of time to go to the Homecoming Dance, Josh always needed control.

2. Josh rarely kept his word about anything. He demanded that she only spend one hour at the Homecoming Dance before he was to pick her up, but he never showed, and she spent Homecoming night playing video games with her younger brother. Aside from breaking up with her when he found out she was pregnant, he also broke up with her weeks after she gave birth — both times to date the same girl.

3. Josh completely disrespected everyone in his path, including her, her friends, her mom, and his own mother. His disrespect for her was obvious, as he saw her as a thing to be controlled and not as an actual person with feelings, not to mention he broke up with her countless times so he could hook up with other girls, and then he’d get back with her so he technically avoided “cheating.”

He also was mean to her friends, calling one a “bitch” for trying to tell Nikkole not to leave just because he had commanded her to drop everything and see him. He constantly fought for power from Nikkole’s mom, even demanding that Nikkole tell him her mom was number one, just because he knew she wouldn’t say it and he wanted to feel validated. He kept saying he “trumped” her mom, and he was even disrespectful to his own mom and didn’t listen to a word she said.

Now, sometimes, girls are in bad relationships and their friends won’t be honest because they don’t want to cause any drama or fights. But Nikkole’s friends were extremely blunt with her when it came to trying to knock some sense into her about Josh, telling her point blank that he cheated on her, controlled her, and was no good for her at all.

Nikkole is like too many women who stay with a guy because they have dependency issues. Nikkole clung to Josh before the pregnancy, probably lured by his confident (and arrogant) personality and “bad-boy” image. She has convinced herself that she “loves” Josh, while she ignores his mostly douchey personality and instead focuses on the times when he treats her well (likely when it’s convenient for him and he wants something from her).

I see far too many women cling to damaged relationships because they are convinced that (a) the guy was at one point charming, so he can get back to that point if he tries, even though his charm was likely an act, or (b) she can change the guy, take him on as a pet project and be the one true love and woman who turned the “bad boy” into a Prince Charming.

These girls — especially teenagers — are yearning for that unconditional love they see in movies and read about in books, and they convince themselves that friends and family just don’t understand because they see a different side of this guy that is good and pure. They cling to this sliver of his personality as hope that, with enough time and care, this sliver will become noticeable to everyone else.

In some cases, it’s more a matter of trying to salvage the time and energy put into a relationship, hoping to save the relationship and work things out so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, but women need to be able to recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship and get out of it. Even with a baby, Nikkole is better off not having her son’s major role model be a guy who lies, cheats, and manipulates every chance he can get.

Also, this episode is an example of how people need to listen to their family and friends when it comes to relationships. People often isolate themselves and disconnect with everyone they know in favor of staying in an unhealthy relationship with someone, and the reason they isolate is because their family and friends keep telling them it’s not a good relationship, and they don’t want to hear that.

This episode was a good lesson in what characterizes an unhealthy relationship, and why many 16-year-old guys are not prone to maturity. I hope teenagers and adults alike can watch this episode and be more real with themselves about how they deserve to be treated, how they are being treated by a partner, and how important it is not to get sucked into such psychological abuse.