Dear Dr. Peirano,
my last friends and acquaintances accused me of having an attachment disorder. Everyone said something different, of course, but the tenor was that I don't commit myself, I don't worry about the future and I get very evasive when it comes to the children's topic. I tend to avoid conflicts and obligations and am someone who prefers the sunny side of the relationship and then leaves when things get difficult.
I've noticed that too, but I don't know if it's really a problem for me.
I'm 42 now and I've never been in a relationship longer than two years. However, relationships have been getting shorter lately, sometimes just a few months. I'm now wondering if and how that has anything to do with my story. My parents were very young when they had me. My mother was 19, my father 20. Both then studied with me, did jobs and traveled. I was always somewhere else, sometimes with my grandparents or friends for months.
Both my parents had many affairs. Sometimes they officially had an open relationship and then my mother would disappear into the bedroom with one of her friends and my father would sleep on the sofa. My father went into other relationships several times and then moved in with the other woman, but after a lot of arguments and drama he came back to my mother. For a while they tried to be faithful to each other, but there were always secret infidelities. My father also slept with my mother's sister.
As a child, I always stood in between and never understood what was going on. When is peace and when does the drama start again?
My parents sometimes yelled at each other loudly. My mother was constantly going through my father's pockets and cell phone. A few couples therapies have been started and failed shortly thereafter. Ultimately, the two never got rid of each other. It was only four years ago that my father apparently made the jump permanently. He now lives in Israel.
I'm sure my parents have something to do with the fact that I can't/don't want to commit or am afraid of it. Is it just worth doing something about it? And if so, what would you recommend?
Dear Frederik Z,
the parental home is the school of love, and in more ways than one. Nowhere else do we experience first-hand how to deal with one another in close relationships.
There are two important levels that a child feels, observes and experiences first-hand.
The first level is: How did my parents love me as a child?
You describe that your parents were very young when you were born and probably not yet ready for a regular life that focuses on the child. You probably already experienced as a baby and toddler that your needs were often not met. Young children cannot yet regulate their own feelings; they need sensitive and consistent adults to do this for them.
I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. In my PhD, I researched the relationship between relationship personality and happiness in love, and then wrote two books about love.
Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.
Do you have questions, problems or lovesickness? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.
Children need closeness and intimacy, food and drink, a clean diaper, exercise, fresh air, games and stimulation, rest and comfort. Some parents are very good at adapting to the needs of their children and, for example, lovingly rocking a child in their arms so that it calms down.
Other parents find it difficult to adjust to a child and to withdraw themselves at the same time. I once saw a kid at a party not even a year old rubbing his eyes and obviously tired. Parents carried it on their shoulders, in the middle of crowds, loud music and cigarette smoke inside. When it whined (because it was tired), the parents offered it new stimulation and it wandered from one arm to the other. In the end they screamed and left it to themselves.
The daily recurring experiences with our parents give rise to deep-seated beliefs that can also arise in the pre-linguistic age. For example: "No one will help me anyway. I have to fend for myself" or "if I cry (and show weakness), I will be insulted or ridiculed." In infancy and later as school children and teenagers, the experiences one has with parents shape one's idea of what a relationship or family means.
Her parents took care of their own lives and followed their own impulses. The consideration of how well living out the impulses is compatible with the well-being of your child (i.e. you) does not seem to have been decisive. And so you probably have many deeply stored experiences and disappointments that have manifested themselves as beliefs and behavior patterns: stay on your own, don't trust or rely on anyone. In relationships, you only get let down.
The second level is: How do my parents love each other?
We observe what love is and how it works in our parents' relationship. Are the parents sensitive and supportive of each other, or are they at war with each other? Maybe also: Do you benefit from a love relationship or do you suffer from it?
Her parents obviously hurt and fought each other a lot.
Security, security, stability and trust have suffered greatly from the many affairs and separations of your parents, if these feelings existed at all. Your father slept with your mother's sister, your mother herself had affairs at home but always distrusted your father. These are border violations that hurt. There were constant fights and reliable rules were missing. You also learned from this constant conflict between your parents: don't trust or rely on anyone. Relationships can hurt you badly, and ultimately they don't last.
This is of course a bit crude, but I assume that you learned exactly this lesson in your parents' home, the school of your love. And that these learned patterns of behavior lead you to avoid attachments where you would have to dare to trust and really engage.
I can recommend a few books on the subject to help you read up on attachment disorders and their implications.
After reading this, I would encourage you to ask yourself if you want to continue as you are when it comes to relationships with women. Write down the advantages, but also the idea of how you will live in 10, 20 or 30 years if you don't change anything.
Or would you "actually" like to live in a trusting partnership, with everything that goes with it? With binding agreements, regular exchange, trusting conversations and the intention to stay together for a longer time and also to work on the relationship? What do you expect from this?
If you're drawn to this idea, I would recommend depth psychology based therapy because the deep-seated patterns will not change on their own.
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