Rupture–Repair: The dance of attachment

30%. That’s it. That’s the rate for accurately attuned mother’s and infants with a secure attachment style.

There’s a really important concept in attachment theory—it’s called attunement. It’s when a mother sees distress in her baby and knows if it’s an angry cry, a hungry cry, or a “pay attention to me, I’m lonely” cry. A closely attuned mother knows when that’s enough peek-a-boo, or how fast or slow to rock her baby. The same holds true when parenting teens and in our adult relationships. Attachment still plays a major role. We see a face, we hear a tone, do we know what the need is? That’s attunement.

There are 4 types of attachment: secure, anxious, ambivalent, and disorganized. (Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on what these look like.)

And securely attached mothers and infants are attuned a whopping 30% of the time. The other 70% of the time they’re misattuned. Here’s the thing though, 30% accuracy rate isn’t what gives these moms an A+. It’s their ability to repair those misattunements that creates a secure relationship with their child.

Attachment theory says that the attachment we form as toddlers is the attachment that guide our relationships for the rest of our lives, but the important piece of this is that attachment isn’t static. Attachment changes with experiences. Attachment can heal just as much as it can be damaged. So to the parents of teens, keep working on that attachment. Keep trying to attune and when you get it wrong, make the effort to make it right. Doing so teaches your teen that they matter, that you see them and love them, and demonstrates what healthy relationships look like. Don’t we all want to raise kids who are able to right their wrongs? What better way to teach them than to set the example?

Our attachments don’t stop with child-rearing. Our intimate romantic relationships are also a form of attachment. When a baby is born we hold them, gaze at them, and give them sweet touches to show our love. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We attach to the one we’re in a romantic relationship with. And we are often misattuned with our loved one. But we’re sturdier than that. It isn’t about always getting it right. It’s about knowing when we’re off and being vulnerable enough to make it right.

So what does “repair” look like? It doesn’t have to be this big moment. For the mom and baby it might just be snuggles after one too many rounds of peek-a-boo. For the teen, it might just be saying “I’m sorry”, and with your spouse, it may just be a touch on the leg. Repair is all about reconnection—reattunement. Things are going to get off kilter, but don’t let them stay that way. When you repair, you strengthen. When you repair, you heal. Repair leads to so much more for your relationship and your future. It takes risk. It takes vulnerability to say, “Hey, I was wrong. I’m sorry.” It takes courage to own your stuff and make it right. But the best things in life are worth fighting for, right?

*The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

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