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Fulfllment and Attachment

What happens in any relationship when one discovers a repressed part of oneself and now has a new passion for life? Such was the case for me (Michael) when I discovered the challenge and excitement of cycling. It felt great to feel my physical strength again. The college linebacker in me could now be expressed on a long mountain climb and in passing friends half my age.

Our culture tells us that we need to give our partners room to express themselves and to live into their separateness. Paula worked hard to not protest my new-found passion because she did not want to feel “co-dependent” or to act too needy. So she repressed her feelings about the hours I spent having riding adventures that did not include her.

While she was trying not to burden me with these feelings, I could feel her distress. Something about starting our new relationship with me becoming semi-obsessed with a new hobby created a deep level of conflict within me. Was it right to find part of myself at the expense of losing connection with Paula?

Our experiences on my motorcycle demonstrated what happened between us when we went riding together. Somehow being together in the adventure was so much more important for us than the discomfort of riding my dirt bike on the road. The shared emotion of the experience made us feel more connected for days after.

The emotions that I felt riding my bicycle with the guys created some distance between Paula and I. There was part of me that was a little troubled that while she said she was OK about my riding without her I could tell that she was in distress about it. I probably would have written off these feelings as overly dependent or needy if what I was learning from my training in Emotionally Focused Therapy had not been teaching me a very different understanding of her reality.

I had worked with so many couples who lost connection with each other with different hobbies or career paths. Something as simple and seemingly innocent as the guy becoming passionate about golf had been one source of the root of significant detachment.  That detachment resulted in affairs in two different couples that I was working with.

When we began to understand how the women in the relationship felt about being left alone weekend after weekend we uncovered feelings of abandonment, not being valued, and sadness about not being included in the fun. In both of these cases the women eventually decided that they needed to stop caring and to develop their own interests. That was the beginning of the couples living parallel lives.

Living parallel lives is an epidemic in modern culture. It is the emotion of shared experience that creates deep attachment bonds.

When couples do not have shared adventures together to create a history of attachment bonds they feel that they have less and less in common. What brings one person enjoyment is not shared or understood by the other.  It often does not take long and the only thing that they share a passion about is the raising of their children.

This connecting point keeps them working together and having shared feeling experiences as long as their children need them. When their kids leave the nest the emptiness of parallel lives is overwhelming. It does not take long for many couples to begin to question their compatibility, especially when they rediscover romantic feelings in new relationships with whom they share common interests.

So something deep inside me told me that the choices I was making early in our relationship, choices about developing a time-consuming hobby that did not include Paula, could have big ramifications for how we would grow in attachment in the future. This was not just an issue regarding my personal fulfillment. It had much larger implications for how we as a couple would grow over time – either together or separate.

A foundational concept in adult attachment theory is that “we find ourselves in the arms of another.” The idea is that identity and fulfillment are best served when they are grown out of an emotionally secure attachment. With this in mind my mental idea factory began to spin in the direction of a win-win solution, one that would more deeply connect Paula and I while at the same time fulfilling each of our passions.


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