To Attach Or To Differentiate

It seems there is a great debate happening out there between therapists in Couples Counseling about the importance of Attachment and Self-differentiation. Here’s a link to one summary.

I believe this debate is like trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. I have my favorite which speaks more to my own story rather than to any significant truth. I like self-differentiation; I like to think of myself a independent or at least autonomous. Maybe I came out of the womb that way.

When we were designing the Couples Alive series for The Haven with our colleagues, the idea of attachment surfaced in our discussions. I immediately felt my repulsion to the idea, resisting the possibility of someone dwelling on the first years of life as an explanation for any neurotic and irresponsible patterns I carried into adulthood. I felt quite righteous and opinionated about my fight for self-defining and resilience as the more important developmental tasks for aliveness and connection in relationships.

However, when one argues too strongly for a point of view, there is usually something under the surface that is driving the righteous position. So there is little doubt that is/was the case here.

Some would say I am not particularly curious and gracious when I have a strong opinion. However, I often do find myself—after the fight—thinking through the alternative position. With a bit of humility, I often come back to the table or at least arrive at another table having redefined my position, influenced by all that I had argued so strongly against.

It seems this is the case with Attachment vs. Differentiation. I still favor self-differentiation. However, having done some reading and mostly some soul-searching after direct feedback from my partner and friends, I now believe in the importance and prevalence of attachment in couples.

I hate to admit the more helpless aspects of my own personality. The truth is, when I look beneath the surface, I am quite a dependent person. I may look tough or present as though I am not bothered by people disliking me. Yet, I totally crumble if that disliking person is CrisMarie (my partner). If I am honest with myself though, it has been CrisMarie’s willingness to accept and love me in the face of my own self-hate that has illuminated a path to greater self-compassion. Does this mean she needs to always embrace some of my less-than-wonderful traits? No. It just means there are moments when I may ask her to simply remind me that she loves me and is okay with my over-attachment to her. Then we can get back to our self-defining, arguing and enjoyment of our differences. I am willing to offer her that same moment of suspended judgment, that precious space where we can go in our darkest moments, knowing someone is there.

I don’t often reveal those moments to the world, thus my strong position for self-differentiation. I may have survived and even thrived at times on my ability to fight back and stand strong in the face of opposition, making an “I” statement in the face of “we”. But I have learned equally as much about loving and thriving by asking to be held and saying, “I need you to simply accept me in this moment”.

In my view, there is no winner in the great debate between Attachment vs. Differentiation. Both have an important role to play in my aliveness, in my loving others, and in my most significant relationships.

Celebrating Montana Style!

Another year of fireworks comes to a close here in Montana. Maybe it was the wetness or some signs of an improved economy, not sure the reason, but here in the great state of Montana, where buying and selling fireworks is a favorite pastime, the displays this year seemed longer and louder. At one point last night, while we watched the professional thirty minute fanfare, our surrounding neighbors sent off their own response. It was wild!

The hardest part for me was watching the impact it has on our dogs, and my concern that even with moist grounds there still seems a high risk for fires.

Poor Bailey, our two year boxer, has been wired to serve and protect all week. He heard the locals (meaning the houses at the end of our driveway) firing off rounds each evening. He ran to the edge of the driveway, barking and making every effort to chase off the unwanted attackers. As the week went on, with the help of melatonin and a thundershirt, he was a bit more relaxed. Of course last night was wild and we simply provided him with a chew toy and put him in his crate with some music once it got dark.

Sooke isn’t as geared towards protecting, but she clearly does not like the racket. She hides downstairs under my desk until we head to bed, where she curls up half under the bed to make sure she is still covered.

What is it about fireworks? I get that the big professional shows are sort cool to watch. But even that seemed way too long last night. We kept thinking, “this is the big final push,” and then there would be more. It’s okay and sort of fun, but it’s the home shows that I really wonder about. They seem a bit dangerous. We watched our neighbor setting off rockets last night. He actually does a lot to make sure things are safe. Still, there were a couple times when he was way to close, in my view, to the first rocket firing. Some of the other locals seem less geared to taking any safety measures. One neighbor just fires them off the back of his pickup truck and one of those came right up our driveway!

Long ago, I remember some wild times I had out on the lake sending off the 4th of July fireworks show for campers. I did think it was fun. However, I had the benefit of a big lake to dive into if anything went wrong.

Most of the states I have lived in have strict laws about fireworks. Not just anyone can buy and set off rockets and the bigger displays. Of course there are always a few folks that don’t follow those rules, but it’s nothing like it is here in Montana! These folks love their fireworks. It’s legal and once those firework stands go up, for at least a week we can all count on getting some sort of show each night!

Well, though I am glad to see the celebrations come to a close, I am grateful. I may think some folks are a bit crazy and don’t always agree with the choices they make. However, I am grateful to live where I have freedom to make choices. Even if does mean having to put up lots of noise and fireworks once a year for a week or so!