Many people feel that if they don’t have a life partner, they are somehow incomplete. We see this all the time in movies and books. They say things like ‘you complete me’, or talk about their ‘other or better half’. This actually goes back to Aristophanes, who told the story of how early humans had two faces, four arms and four legs and so on. Zeus decided to cut them in two, and so we are always literally looking for our other half, to be complete again.
Hence the idea that we are wounded and incomplete without our partner. But is this true? Certainly we may feel that way, but the problem is that we then tend to attract people who are not necessarily good for us. Our feeling of not being good enough, or complete in ourselves, can draw in people who either want to rescue us, or abuse us- and sometimes both.
So, I think it is true that we have to heal our relationship with ourselves first.
However, sometimes people do get lucky, and find someone who helps them with that process.
Understanding attachment theory makes sense of a lot of this. Developed by John Bowlby and, later, Mary Ainsworth, this revolves around what we learnt about relationships from our primary caregivers. Ideally our caregivers will be good at reading cues, and responding to needs in a warm, sensitive and timely way. If this is the case, we are likely to grow up with secure attachments (though obviously other later experiences can also get in the way). If, for whatever reason, our primary caregivers aren’t as responsive and reliable, we are likely to grow up less securely attached. It is estimated that 50% of us are less securely attached by the way, so it’s pretty normal.
Insecure attachment can manifest itself in two ways. Firstly we can be anxious about relationships, and tend to expect rejection. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy both because of the way we behave (being clingy, or starting arguments for example) and because of the kind of people we choose. Or, we can tend to avoid commitment and deep relationships, and push people away. Some lucky people can have both anxious and avoidant traits.
The impact on relationships
Ironically, people who are anxious about attachments have a tendency to get into relationships with people who are avoidant. You can imagine how well that goes, but it’s very common, and probably the biggest cause of relationship problems.
People who are more insecurely attached often avoid relationships with securely attached people because it doesn’t feel as ‘right’. They may associate drama with passion for example, or feel that the other person is ‘too keen’. But if they do get involved with a more securely attached person, and stay with them, it is often the best way to get over the relationship insecurity.
Having said that, it doesn’t, of course, mean that two more insecurely attached people can’t be happy together. Of course they can, if they are both willing to look at the impact their attachment style may be having on the relationship. But it’s probably trickier.
It’s about us AND those around us.
So, do we need someone else in our lives to be complete? No-one can rescue us, or make us whole, and looking for that is often a recipe for disaster. We do need to learn to love and trust ourselves. However, the right partner, and indeed good friends, can definitely help us to learn to do that.
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