Ask The Therapist: “My fiancé is so attached to me…every single word affects him.”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I need to discuss something about someone else. My fiancé is so attached to me that even when I don’t talk to him for a while, it makes him super conscious and makes him lose focus on literally everything, including work. Sometimes, it gets so much that he starts crying in front of me though he knows that I was joking and didn’t mean to say anything that would hurt him. But still, every single word affects him. I just need to know if this attitude will be a problem for him. What do you think I can do to help?”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Hi Anon,

I can really sense that you’re concerned about your partner and are eager to help him. Let’s try to help you find some clarity and see how you can support your partner, and more importantly, yourself.

From what you’ve described in your message, your partner seems to be carrying a certain amount of emotional baggage. While I can’t fully comment on his history, I imagine that there might be lingering mistrust, not in you, but rather, in the idea of long-lasting relationships. I would suggest asking about his earliest close attachments: his parents, caretakers, siblings even, and then perhaps moving onto close friends, family members, past romantic relationships. See if there are any instances where he might have felt hurt, abandoned, betrayed or neglected by someone in his life. This is for your own sense of clarity and understanding of your partner’s history.  

Attachment Styles: An Understanding Of Human Attachments (Warning: Lots Of Information Coming Your Way)

When it comes to relationships, there’s one theory that comes up quite frequently and that is the Attachment Theory. Originally founded by John Bowlby, Attachment Theory, explores the effects of early attachments of children with their mothers/caretakers. The work has a rich literature, but for the sake of this article, I will focus specifically on a person’s attachment style. Carrying on the legacy of Bowlby, Mary Aimsworth conducted an experiment, which primarily looked at infants and their responses once their mothers had left them in a room with a stranger. The experiment found that the children fell into one of three categories: secure, insecure-ambivalent and insecure-avoidant. 

The secure child was able to explore its surroundings when the mother was present, was upset when the mother left the room, and was easily comforted when she returned. The insecure-ambivalent child was wary of its surroundings and would be extremely distressed when the mother left the room and upon her return, the child would not be comforted easily, and it would take a while for them to feel comfortable and grounded again. The insecure-avoidant child was not affected by the mother’s departure or return. They would explore their surroundings comfortably. 

So, you’re probably wondering, why I’m talking about attachment in children so much? The answer is this: these findings don’t just apply to infants, they also apply to adults. Our attachment styles, while they can shift, are generally wired within us from a really young age, and can follow us into our adulthood. 

Attachment As Adults

What do these attachments look like in adulthood? Again, every person functions differently but generally, you’ll find that insecure-ambivalent adults will be the ones who are wary of close relationships. They want intimacy but usually worry that they are more invested in the relationship than the other person and are scared to get too close in fear of rejection. They most likely will have a negative outlook about themselves and a great deal of low self-worth. In relationships, ambivalent adults tend to see their partner as an attachment figure, who they seek out for security. If they are not around, it tends to trigger their anxiety, and the only way it’ll alleviate is if their partner returns. Secure adults, on the other hand, are able to communicate openly, have a positive outlook about themselves and others around them, and are able to regulate and function well in their relationships (romantic or otherwise). 

Lastly, insecure-avoidant adults generally find themselves detached from any real emotional connections. They are of the belief that they don’t need others, and operate on the principles of independence and self-sufficiency. They have a more positive outlook about themselves than they do of others, and can come across as somewhat cold, distant and aloof in the context of romantic relationships.

(Disclaimer: people tend to fall on a spectrum in terms of attachment styles, so you might not fit into one specific label). 

If you would like to read more about Attachment Theory, I would highly suggest Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller.

Encourage Him To Seek Out Help

As a partner, there is only so much you can do. If this is a pattern that emerges quite often, encourage him to talk to a therapist/counsellor. Perhaps the two of you could even see a relationship counsellor/coach, and work through these things together as a couple. 

It’s NOT You.

Remember one thing, and this is essential: this isn’t about you. That sense of not feeling safe enough, or feelings of anxiety and fear are not about anything you’re doing or have done. From my understanding, regardless of how many times you reassure him, he still might feel anxious – and that is HIS narrative; one that has existed for a long time.  

Communicating Effectively.

Communicating effectively is key in a relationship like this one. When your partner is feeling insecure, or scared, you could help him explore what’s happening for him. Listen to what he has to say and respond in a way that makes him feel understood.

  • “That sounds really difficult.” 
  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “What do you need right now?”
  • “Is there something I can do?” 

Take Care Of Yourself

Supporting a partner who is insecure or needs constant reassurance can take a toll at times, and that’s okay. It’s okay to be tired, angry, frustrated or whatever it is you’re feeling. Talk to a friend, take a break, do something that helps you feel grounded and relaxed.

Anon, I hope that you found this helpful. Also, one last thing: in the midst of being there for someone else, we can often forfeit ourselves to please the other person. Make sure you keep yourself as a priority above all else. Take care and stay in your power.

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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