Attachment theory and addiction.

As any reader of my blogs know, I am obsessed with attachment theory. The basic reason being that I think it makes so much sense of relationships. For so long I thought love and relationships were mysterious and miraculous. I still think a relationship that works well is pretty much miraculous but the reason why it does has become a lot less mysterious.

Dr. Sue Johnson, a couples expert, has helped me enormously to understand the basic tenants of attachment theory and how they work. Dr. Lucy Wilson another couples expert wrote a beautiful passage about how attachment can be affected by addiction in a partnership. I love it because of how it is written and I love it because she touches so simply on why when a couple becomes disconnected the consequences can feel so dire.

Dr. Lucy Wilson writes: “Basic relationship attachment is affected when the loved one is available emotionally and behaviorally. When our lover is not available, we seek to maintain that relationship in some way. As you know, losing a relationship feels akin to death and we will go to great lengths to preserve our bond. People in healthy secure relationships sacrifice to preserve that connection. If our loved one is ill or lost, we will be there no matter the cost. That’s not sick, that’s natural.

But when we become addicted, there isn’t much room in there for a close relationship, is there? The drug moves in and becomes our lover. On the outside, it looks to our partner like we are there, but we aren’t really. Faced with this confusion, our partner will go to great lengths to reach us, sacrificing their own needs in the pursuit.  When we understand the power of attachment in human relationships, we can see how natural and inevitable it is to continue seeking a connection with our partner. We don’t give up the search for water just because we are stranded in the desert, we search with even more determination, knowing that if we give up we die. The need for connection is that powerful-we can lose sight of everything else in our longing.

The search for connection satisfies when our partner is available and soothes our thirst just as water in the desert. We would never tell someone that thirst is pathological, we would know that water is exactly what they need and we would help them find the well that would last a life time bringing bloom to the desert. That’s what couples therapy is about –unclogging the pipes and spigots so that water can flow. In our case the pipes are constructed not with copper or steel, but with emotional vulnerability, intimacy and presence.”

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