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Redefining Connection: Embracing Healthy Attachment and Dependency in Relationships

I'm going to piss people off and trigger them this month. If I do it's not on purpose...I apologize.

If you are to believe American Consumerism then February is the month of love. This month my posts are going to follow this theme so strap in...LOL

I love you? I've always been a romantic, and an idealist. And I don't mean romantic like red roses or candle light dinners, although those things are lovely. What I mean by romantic is DEEP meaning. You know that feeling you get when Maximus dies after having killed Commodus at the end of Gladiator?

That's what I mean by romantic. It's this transcending experience that seems to say to me we are here for more than just ourselves.

It's ok if I'm alone in this. It is the deepest, most powerful motivator in my life. And I believe it scares the shit out of most people. I'm ok with that too, even though at times in my life it has created problems. (more on that in a later post).

Most of my life however I was told that having this desire to be connected to others is unhealthy. Dependence is a dirty is attachment.

My god to say you value attachment can make some people's skin crawl.

I understand why, I do. But I think we have forgotten that there is nuance in these ideas just like everything. I've spent the better part of 30 years trying to figure out all my "codependent" behavior and I'm thinking the use of that word has messed up my efforts. Codependent insinuates that something is broken, not correct...unhealthy. And while there are ways that is most definitely the case, I do not believe it is solely because of a desire for connection and has very little to do with dependence or attachment.

So I'm clear. I believe attachment and dependency can be healthy and even adaptive. The problem I believe is the over simplification we make on both of these ideas.

Diverse group of people highlighting the importance of connection representing the dance of healthy attachment and dependency.

In his book, Plays Well With Others, which is an amazing book I encourage you to read, Eric Barker talks about the importance of relationships in our lives. The last two sections talk at length about how we wouldn't be here if we weren't dependent and attached. And in study after study we can show that belonging and connection is a fundamental aspect of well-being.

If you want to find out more I'll have a list at the end of this post.

As I read through Barker's book (and I few others I'll list below) I started to rework my ideas around words like attachment and dependency. Not only did I feel better about myself in the process but I also got more clear on how I could be more aware and identify when things did get unhealthy.

And the more clear I got the more I was motivated to create that healthy dependent attachment in my life in as many ways as I can. I believe this is the core reason for living. You will not convince me differently - even if you change my vocabulary for it. This is the purpose of living for me - period.

In addition it is also something I want to help shift for other people. It is a serious problem for us. I believe we have suffered and will continue to suffer because of hyper-individualized norms in our society. And I believe in it very strongly. Loneliness is now a epidemic.

Debunking the misunderstandings and assumptions with these words is a good place to start.

We often assume to be dependent means we can't take care of ourselves or function. That isn't what I'm talking about. It means we are better together than separate. There is an African proverb Barker references in his book that goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Humans are social animals. We have been successful because of our dependency on each other in many ways. Our greatest triumphs come through working, living and struggling together. Even in our art and theater we resonate with this. When we struggle, we struggle better with support and in community with others.

You can go read about this in lots of place but just look at your own life. When we're hurting we usually want someone to be there. This person doesn't have to do anything...they can just sit there. In fact I'd bet Brene would say most times they shouldn't do anything. Just remind us we aren't alone.

Our brains are designed for us to feel better when we aren't alone. The misunderstanding comes in thinking this is all or nothing. Come on y'all...we are certainly sophisticated enough to know that life is about balance. Sometimes we need time alone, but that doesn't make us independent from each other.

Attachment isn't much difference. At it's essence attachment just means some sort of connection between two or more things. Hydrogen and oxygen attach to form water. Files are attached to emails so we can share information. We can have an attachment to our childhood home, a book, and yes...we can have attachment to people. And none of these attachments are unilaterally unhealthy.

In relationships it simply refers to a strong bond between two or more people. It doesn't say anywhere that the bond has to be unhealthy or maladaptive. In healthy situations it's a source of security and comfort, think of children and their parents. Our need for that doesn't dissolve at 18 y'all. It's reciprocal and has it's own balance in it.

There's that balance word again...must be important. :D

And it is. We run into trouble when we aren't balancing these ideas.

I can be overly attached. I can be overly dependent. That is not helpful.

I can also be under attached, and hyper independent...also not helpful.

That middle ground is the sweet sport and the trick is we don't all have the same sweet spot. At some level this is subjective, so you can't just do what works for everyone else. You have to find people that have similar enough ideas with it that you can work together easily more times than not.

So how do we know if we are in balance? That's the question then right?

I'm not going to make a list of all the green flags for a relationship, there are an infinite number of them online. Ask AI, you'll get an incredibly complete list. Instead what I want to explore is how to make that specific to you. Cause the devil is in the details.

If you run that search you are going to find things on it like; safety, emotional availability, respects boundaries, not controlling, etc.

If you look at lists like that and think to yourself, "what the hell is controlling?" I'm going to tell you - it's when you feel controlled.

There's no check list for this for you, you have to create it. I swear to God I know that seems like the most obvious fucking thing in the world but I didn't really know. So I was never able to discern. I couldn't decide cause I wasn't clear on my metric. At the time of this writing I've been single almost a year now and I can tell you now - I know when I feel controlled. I know when my boundaries aren't being respected. I know what I do when I don't feel safe and I know how important it is to me and what it means to me if someone isn't emotionally available.

I have no idea what that looks like for you specifically but here are some examples of what they are for me.

  1. Am I changing the way I talk? If I am I likely don't feel safe. If I'm not safe the relationship isn't good for me. Not that the person is bad, or that the relationship is bad or unhealthy or toxic or whatever word you's not good for me. I can't show up as myself - that's not sustainable.

  2. Do I withhold information? Similar to above this probably means I'm not feeling safe. Not a good environment for me.

  3. Am I asking myself where are they? This can be emotional and physical. If I am, and it's happening a lot with lots of feelings around it I need to pay attention. Do we match with how much time we are spending together? Are we able to give each other what the other needs without feeling burdened? If the answer to any of those questions is no then you guessed it - not a good environment for me.

  4. Am I reacting poorly when there's a disagreement? Guys I don't know where you are in the emotional regulation world but I am solid. If I loose my shit I've probably been pushed, HARD. If I've been pushed then I need to look at if this is a good relationship for me.

There are more but you get the point. These things work on my list because I know what I'm capable of when I'm at my best. If I am not at my best more times than not, while I'm spending time with someone then this is probably not a good fit for me. Time to pose them a question and see how it is received or move on. Notice that I am looking at myself to decide if I am not in balance, not the other person.

I want to point out here that in no way are the answers to any of these questions, "am I the problem?". That isn't to say that sometimes I'm not, I certainly can be...but if I am, and the relationship or situation is good for me, then the other person and I can talk about it in gentle, kind, hold you accountable kind of way. Because there is trust and respect. If the relationship isn't good then that conversation will likely go way way different.

If you read that and thought of your romantic life I want you to read it again and think of every single interpersonal relationship you have during a typical day. Your boss, your kid's teacher, your best friend, hell your kid, the mailperson....everyone.

Not because you can do something about each of those relationships but because it reminds you that your romantic connection isn't the only one that matters. It gives you a wholistic view of your life.

And having that wholistic view is what will help you get the connection you are looking for.

Life is this intricate dance of extremes. I challenge you to really explore these ideas for yourself. Identify and get clear about how things show up in your relationships. I encourage you to do this with the focus being on YOU and to leave any judgement at the door.

There is no good or bad except for what you make so. Don't label it that way. Is it workable? Is it sustainable? Is it compatible? Your preferences are valid healthy ways to make decisions and have nothing to do about the quality of anyone.

Share your insights, reflections, and experiences below I would love to hear about them! Join the conversation and let's support each other in fostering relationships that enrich our lives. The path to genuine connection begins with self-awareness and a commitment to creating spaces where we can thrive together. <3

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