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Tony explains what it means to be anxiously attached and how emotionally draining it is to be in a relationship with someone who has an anxious attachment style. Symptoms of an anxious attachment style in adults can be (from https://www.verywellmind.com/attachment-anxiety-4692761)
Tony refers to the articles "What is an Anxious Attachment Style" https://www.verywellhealth.com/anxious-attachment-5204408 and "How Anxious Attachment Style Affects Relationships," https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201904/how-anxious-attachment-style-affects-relationships
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[00:00:01] A week or so ago, I was rooting through the fridge and I was looking for an avocado because my go to meal is a packaged lentil mix over some rice with half an avocado cut up on top with some sea salt sprinkled. So let's go a little bit psychology nerd on that last sentence. I have often wondered that at the end of a day of listening to people share a variety of problems and challenges, some of them marriage threatening, some of them honestly life threatening, that if my brain doesn't just love to spend literally zero emotional calories or energy on wondering what's for dinner, so it's lentils and rice and half an avocado to the point where if I'm missing an avocado, my brain will say, Sorry, we're going to go all or nothing on this bad boy and we cannot have it all now. So I'm going to need you to go back and forth between the refrigerator and the pantry and just stare blankly while there really isn't much happening in your brain until you finally impulsively choose cereal. Because it's sugary, it's sweet. It will give you that little dopamine bump. And don't forget [00:01:00] your childhood issues. You guys didn't have the fancy name brand sugary cereals very often. So what have you done as an adult? You have overcompensated with so much cereal, but on this day I did find half an avocado and it was double Ziploc bag, so it was still fresh. And I said to my wife, Hey, I found an avocado. To which she said, and rightly so, Nothing now, good or bad, married to a therapist. If the therapist has an aha moment, most likely it's going to be expressed. So I pulled away from the refrigerator and I said, I am so sorry. I'm realizing yet another area where my anxious attachment must be a real pain in the rear, because I know for a fact that in my more emotionally immature, anxiously attached days, I would have repeated that I found an avocado until you gave me feedback.
[00:01:46] And most likely that feedback would probably not have been the feedback that I wanted. So then I would get to dust off my speech about how when I used to travel to Japan a lot in my computer days, that I loved how my Japanese business partner would be in a discussion [00:02:00] and just going speaking fluent Japanese and both parties would be almost like tracking each other and just saying, Hey, hey, during the conversation, it's almost as if they're saying, I got you, I see you, I hear you. Yeah. That track's hoping that my wife would respond in kind. When we were having conversations, almost as if I wished if I were saying I found an avocado. And she's like, Yes, yes, you have. Thank you. I got you. So in that moment, I realized that my anxiously attached ADHD fueled, emotionally immature external validation needing self could have and absolutely has turned a simple experience of locating an avocado into a way to feel rejection. Like my partner doesn't even care about me, that I must be un care about Abel. And I definitely hadn't thought, What must that be like for her? So today we're going to do a little bit more digging into the world of the anxious attachment, what that feels like to be someone who is anxiously attached, where that comes from, [00:03:00] and what that must look like to the partners of the anxiously attached. So I'm going to talk about that and so much more coming up on today's episode of The Virtual Couch.
[00:03:23] Come on and take a seat. I will hurt you.
[00:03:29] Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 341 of the virtual couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, a certified mindful habit coach, a writer, a speaker, a husband, a father of four, and creator of The Path Back, which is an online pornography recovery program that is helping people reclaim their lives from turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like pornography. And I also have a couple of exciting announcements. If you're a therapist in Utah, there is a Utah Mental Health Association conference down in Saint George at the end of the month, at the end of the month of October. Whenever [00:04:00] you hear this, and I am going to be one of the keynote speakers. So if you are heading to that conference, please come up and say hi. I would love to to get to know more of the therapists. I still have this vision or dream of collaborating with more therapists on the podcast. I have a couple of podcast ideas coming up about talking with other therapists, just about a lot of issues that come up in therapy in general, almost like a group supervision of sorts. So if you're going to be there, then please drop by and say hi. And on that note, I know that a lot of therapists, psychologists, counselors, social workers listen to the virtual couch. And I am so grateful for that. And this is a little bit of a rush, but there is a program by a brilliant man named Dr.
[00:04:43] Michael Twigg, who is one of the foremost researchers in acceptance and commitment therapy in the ACT world. And I have them coming on the podcast, but not for another. It's a few weeks from now, but he has a course that is it's unlike any course that has been out for ACT yet and it's act for anxiety [00:05:00] disorders. And he in essence talks about how to apply act to address anxiety disorders and in particular OCD and including social and phobias, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder. And I have read so much of his research, and I even at one point downloaded a treatment program for OCD, just that is out online. And I have used that in some of the work that I've done with OCD, and it's phenomenal. So this is a really exciting thing. The problem is that I'm getting the message out probably on late on a Tuesday or Wednesday in the beginning of October, and the enrollment ends on Friday. So if you are a therapist and you're hearing about this, I will have links to Dr. Twigs Act for Anxiety Disorders course in my show notes. So just go click on that and at least go take a look at it, because it really is. I've kind of been waiting for this for a long time because the work he does is phenomenal. And I have done the cognitive behavioral therapy approach for OCD, and I there's been some [00:06:00] growth with clients, but when you employ ACT with OCD, it's game changing, it's revolutionary.
[00:06:06] But just go look at the show notes and you'll see a link there and just click on that and go check out his course as soon as you can. Again, that's act for anxiety disorders, and I'll just hit this so quickly. But also we're still signing up couples that are interested in marriage coaching and that has just been such an incredible experience getting to coach people and almost everybody that has been coached so far for the upcoming Magnetic Marriage podcast has said that they have never been to counseling, they've never done coaching. And so it's been just amazing the transformation that you can do even within one coaching session. Now I know that we're going to follow up with these couples and see where they go with that, but I feel like we're giving them real solid tools based on my four pillars of a connected conversation and ways to to deal with everything from infidelity and betrayal, to just not understanding how to communicate when they haven't seen communication modeled in their childhood or [00:07:00] throughout their adolescence. But if you're interested, just reach out at info at Tony over eBay.com. We're still looking for couples that I can do some one on one anonymous coaching with. And then last but not least, you've got about a week and a half to sign up for Monica Tanner's summit. That is Secrets for Happily Ever After and the show notes.
[00:07:17] I'll have information about that as well. So let me get back to the topic of the day, which is this anxious attachment, because this has been quite a journey, even as I've been putting the notes together for this for this episode. So as you heard in the intro, and I feel like as somebody who has facilitated many a 12 step group of my day, I feel like I need to start by saying, Hi, my name is Tony, to which everybody says, Hi Tony. I am an anxiously attached, emotionally immature but maturing individual, and I have done episodes about anxious attachment. I've done one called, in essence, the dance of the Anxious and Avoidant Attachment, and I had Jennifer Finlayson Fife on at one point to talk about a pattern that I see in so many relationships, and it really is consistent and it's a fascinating dynamic, [00:08:00] but I feel like when people fall into a rhythm in their relationship. So after some time, I don't know if it's a decade or more, but they haven't had the tools to effectively communicate, which I really believe we just don't have from the factory, and not having those tools to stay present and be very curious with your partner that we tend to fall into this pattern, this anxious and avoidant attachment pattern. And I know it's a little bit oversimplified, but let me take you on my train of thought that when we fall into this anxious and avoidant attachment pattern, the more anxiously attached partner becomes a little bit more needy, a little bit more clingy.
[00:08:34] And in the episode with Jennifer, we spent a little bit of time on the love languages, which, for what it's worth, are brought up a lot in counseling and in therapy, but they aren't based on empirical evidence based data or research. They weren't developed based on clinical research at all, but they are very popular. So due to their popularity, some research has been done on the effectiveness of the love languages since the book was released. Chapman's book was released in 1992, but even the small amount [00:09:00] of data on love languages is mixed. There's a 2000 study that indicated that the five love languages can be a more effective framework than other approaches to helping couples communicate. But then there was a study in 2017 that suggested that the five love languages only work when, quote, both spouses exhibit appropriate self-regulatory behaviors. So in other words, the love languages concept can be effective or work when both partners are able to, in essence, take ownership and work. To control or change their own behavior. So what I started to find was that typically the men in my office and I'm going to overgeneralize, but man, what a pattern, what a consistent pattern. I would see that the men in my office would share that their love languages were primarily words of affirmation, which then I might argue then are needing external validation or needing somebody to tell them that you're okay.
[00:09:49] Instead of knowing that you're OC and then physical touch or I want someone else to soothe me to make me feel better, and that typically the wives and the relationship almost [00:10:00] settle into this pattern or love languages of quality time. And I'm just loosely describing then or do you truly care about me? Not about just my body or what I can do for you. And acts of service almost like there's a subconscious energy that if I'm going to soothe you or validate you, then at least I want to get something out of it, or else I may tend to feel more like an object. And again, I don't. I'm just throwing those out there. That's the pattern that I start to see. And I believe so much of that is most likely happen in subconsciously. It's not like the person is saying that in my office, and the more that the male in the scenario expresses that they want more words of affirmation or validation and physical touch, well, the more that their partner becomes somewhat avoidant. And I believe this is because of that principle of good old psychological reactance or the instant negative reaction of being told what to do that is built in to all of us. It's a survival mechanism. We're wired to not do what we're being told to do, even if it's good for us.
[00:10:54] You know, it's the old don't think of a blue penguin right now, and bam, the brain says, Oh yeah, I just did. So the avoidant [00:11:00] attached partner, the more that they're told, Hey, you can just tell me more that you love me, or if you can just acknowledge when I say that I found an avocado. If you can just lean in, give me more words of affirmation or physical touch, or just acknowledge me, then that would make me feel okay. And then I promise I'll show up better. It's almost like if you do this, then I'll do this. So back to the avocado story. I mean, I was clearly just wanting her to acknowledge me, and it sounds simple, but why? Why did I need that acknowledgment? There's something deep in our core, in our childhood, and we're talking in the womb or right out of the womb attachment needs where we don't even know that we, in essence, exist if we aren't interacting with another entity. Now, that is fine when we're unable to care for ourselves, when we're a little pink, squishy baby, when we need to cry or coo or scream in order to get our needs met, in order to get fed, in order for somebody to change our diaper. But eventually we need to learn to stand on our own two feet and self-soothe so that we can show up in our relationships curious and confident about the things that we're confident about, and so that we can also start [00:12:00] to explore what a connection really feels like.
[00:12:02] Not what you must validate me feels like, but more of, Hey, tell me more about you. And of course, you're going to have completely different experiences in life and you can express an experience and that doesn't invalidate my experience. And now all of a sudden we've got a well of two different individuals and two different experiences to draw from. And now we can work together as we go through and solve all of life's problems, because that would be much easier if I'm doing that with someone by my side, but not if I just have someone by my side to tell me that I'm okay and then not get that right and then me be able to try to tell them, No, this is what I need. This is how I need you to tell me that I'm okay. I need to learn to be okay so that then we can go through life together and that we bounce ideas off of each other. We can look at the other person and say, Man, check it out. When this happens, here's how I feel. Do you ever feel that way? And if that person says I absolutely do, or if they say I don't, tell me what that's like. That starts to feel just that's where we start to feel such a connection and we start to understand, wow, maybe, maybe I'm okay and [00:13:00] and I can move through life side by side with another human being to process emotion.
[00:13:05] Because if not, I'm working out of this echo chamber in my own brain. So now, if I would have said, Hey, did you back to the avocado story, if I would have said, Hey, did you know that there was half of an avocado in here? And if I'm posting it as a question, that's a little bit easier for her to say, I did not know that. But if I'm just saying, Hey, I found an avocado again, looking at the world of external validation, I said, I just set her up for failure because if she doesn't say anything, I get to think she doesn't really care about me. And if I get the old if I start to feel the old, I must not be very lovable because she's not wanting to jump in and say, Oh my gosh, you're the conquering hero who found half of an avocado double bag, no less than the fridge. Way to go. But if she would have said those things, I would have thought, you're just being a little bit facetious. So I set her up in this no win situation. Now I just know if I just know that, Hey, that's awesome. Found one that will make my dinner great. I put this on food that I like to eat. [00:14:00]
[00:14:00] I am happy and that's the end of the story. Even if I'm now sharing a statement. I found an avocado. And now then there is no wrong answer. She can just have an answer or she doesn't have to have an answer. And now I can share that experience with her. But I'm sharing it from a securely attached place where I'm just making her aware of some information because I found it interesting because if I'm doing that, then her response doesn't even control my mood or the feelings that I have. And again, I know I'm making a big deal about finding an avocado, but I think that you get the point that I think that of all the times in the relationship where you may say something and then if you say to your spouse, I don't know if you heard what I said, and if they say, Oh, I did, I'm sorry, I didn't know that was a question then how often do we really do a little bit of self confrontation? Do we confront ourselves and say, Hey, that's a good point? I don't really think I phrased anything as a question, or do we just immediately shut down? On the same G So I was just asking if you heard. You know, is that more of a sign of emotional immaturity? And then the more that you dig deeper into the concepts of these attachment styles, I think that you'll start to learn [00:15:00] more about or see that this is more of the vibe or the energy that comes from the anxiously attached, and that if the person that I'm with isn't just continually bouncing feedback back to me of some sort, then I think at some deep subconscious level that I don't know if they know that I am here or do I even exist, or do they even care about me, which I can then make a really big wound or can hit on a wound for me? Well, do I do I matter to anyone versus I'm showing up and I know I'm okay, I know I matter and therefore I'm showing up more confident in the relationship.
[00:15:37] So I'm going to refer to an article that is on very well health.com. It's called What Is an Anxious Attachment. It's by Heather Jones. It was medically reviewed by Stephen Gans and it's from August 29th of 2022. So it's pretty recent. The title again is what is an anxious attachment style. And then the subheading is when you aim to please others and seek validation and relationships. Heather starts [00:16:00] by saying that anxious attachment is one of the four possible attachment styles or ways that someone relates to and interacts. So somebody who has an anxious attachment style may come off as needy or clingy in the relationship and have a lack of healthy self esteem. And right out of the gate that one rings true because I know that again, owning up to my own anxious attachment style that I know I can come off as needy or clingy and as well before I started dipping into calling things narcissistic traits or tendencies or emotional immaturity, you know, I would have assumed on the outside that of course I have a healthy self esteem.
[00:16:35] But when you constantly are seeking that praise or validation, then that really is coming from more of a place of emotional immaturity or insecurity or an absolute lack of self esteem. Because what you're saying is that I continually need someone else to tell me that I'm okay, or if they aren't continually praising me or wanting to be with me or wanting to touch me or tell me that I'm awesome or be intimate or physical with me, then they must not care about me. So [00:17:00] look at the meaning that the anxiously attached person puts towards so many variables in a relationship. And if you are in a relationship with an anxiously attached person and this is coming from working with couples for the last 15 or more years and the individuals that that make up those patterns that I see, the anxious and the avoidant attached, that knowing that if I am working with someone that's an anxiously attached person, then it is exhausting when you hear what that's like for the avoidant attached person because they too continually feel like anything that they do isn't enough or isn't the right thing that they can do.
[00:17:36] And that becomes very exhausting. So Heather says that attachment styles develop in childhood and then they continue into adulthood. So looking at the anxious attachment usually happens because there was inconsistency in the relationship with your parents or caregivers during childhood. So if your relationship with your caregiver and this is where I'm going to jump in again and say, bless your parents hearts because I am solidly now in [00:18:00] the camp of we only know what we know because of the relationship or the way that we were raised or how we were modeled, the parenting style that was used on us or watching the way that our parents communicated or lack of communication in the parental relationship. So we know it takes a lot of work as a parent. It takes personal therapy or it takes growth. It takes intentional effort to really break free from a lot of those childhood patterns of whether it's communication or parenting that you experienced. So in this world of an anxious attachment of your parental figures, we're both trying to figure out life themselves, which I'm sure they were. Then of course, you're going to, as a kid, not always know how to navigate the parent child relationship and especially go look at what that must be like for the kid because you were a kid. So you definitely didn't know what you didn't know. But if you were continually trying to read the room or try to understand how your mom or dad were showing up in a particular situation, were they in a good mood? Were they not? Or if you thought, Oh man, if I did something wrong, then that means that they're going to be really mad at me. [00:19:00]
[00:19:00] And if they're mad at me, then I can't guarantee how they're going to react. They might lose their mind or they might not. So all of a sudden, here comes this anxious attachment style. Then the child kicks in to this whole gaslighting as a childhood defense mechanism. They'll double or triple down on why I didn't do it. And if I can hang on to the I didn't do it story, then eventually, if the storm passes of guilt and then you move on, you get back to regular life, then that becomes almost your default as a kid and up through adolescence and even into adulthood where gaslighting became a defense mechanism. And it's almost something that just happens in the moment. It becomes somewhat the the air that one breathes. Now, on that anxious attachment style, I want to read a little bit from a different article. This is one from Psychology Today. It's by Lisa Firestone. She's a clinical psychologist. And she has an article called How Anxious Attachment Style Affects Our Relationships. And she talks about how an anxious attachment style is happens or how it how [00:20:00] a child comes to this anxious attachment style. And she says, when a child feels safe, seen and soothed by their parent and a consistent way, then they're able to form a secure attachment to that parent.
[00:20:09] However, when a parent is available and attuned at times, but then insensitive or intrusive at others, the child is more likely to experience this anxious attachment pattern. And an anxiously attached child can feel like they have to cling to their parent to get their needs met. Then they may feel upset by the separation, and then they have trouble feeling soothed by the parent when they're reunited. This attachment pattern, she said, can form when a child experiences emotional hunger directed at them by the parent instead of nurturing love. So when a parent is emotionally hungry, they may focus on or look to the child to meet their own needs. And she gives an example. She said they may hug the child when the parent needs a hug or seeks reassurance from a child when they want to be comforted, when the parent wants to be comforted. However, when the child needs affection or love from the parent, the parent may be distracted or preoccupied with their own needs. And so then parents who form an anxious attachment [00:21:00] between themselves and their children are often mis attuned to their child's needs. They aren't even aware of when their child is coming to them, really needing something. And so if you're the parent and again, I know parents were all trying our best, but if we're telling our kids at times, even if we mean, well, hey, don't worry about it now, it's not a good time.
[00:21:16] Get over it. Can you go deal with that yourself or can you go until you can stop crying? I need you to go into another room. But then there are other times where we may be sad and we may say, Come over here and give me a hug. I'm just so grateful for you. Then we're starting to show our children this anxious attachment pattern where they can't quite count on getting their needs met and then they're starved to get that attachment or that love. So when the parent comes to them, then they want that connection. But at that point, they're a kid. They're not even sure, Well, what do I do? Do I just be hugged? What do I say here? And so I just wanted to share that because I think you can start to see how the anxious attachment style develops. And she continues to give an [00:22:00] example that I think are very fascinating. She said when they give to the child, when they give the emotional support to the child, they do so in a manner that may be intrusive or more about themselves. They may care more about the appearance of being a good parent than the act of tuning into their children. So that is seeing their kids for who they are and give to them in a way that's sensitive to what the kid needs in that moment, she said.
[00:22:21] For example, one mother described creating an elaborate birthday party for her daughter. She said she'd decorate lavishly, dress up herself, hoping to gain attention for being the perfect mom. However, her daughter would be left feeling anxious and uncomfortable and pressured to perform as the perfect little girl to make her mother look good. So the daughter ended up feeling drained and empty from the party, which really wasn't about her. These parents, Lisa says, can become distracted by their own insecurities and without realizing it, act in ways that are either overbearing or disregarding of their kids power because they sometimes get it right and respond to their child in a tuned ways. The child may be left feeling desperate and needy toward the parent, feeling that they have to fuss or make their emotions known in order to [00:23:00] get what they need. And here's where I think things get really interesting and you carry this into your adulthood, she said. A child who experiences an anxious attachment often feels drained rather than nurtured by their parents attention, because that attention then feels empty and disabling. They tend to worry about their parent and cling to them out of a feeling of need and sometimes guilt like they have to take care of their parent. And so then a parent who creates an anxious attachment pattern might overdo for their child in an attempt to get love and reassurance from them.
[00:23:25] And so a child with this type of attachment to their parent doesn't internalize a sense of calm. They're left in the state of confusion about whether they can depend on others right there. Can you depend on others? Can I count on you? Do you have my back? Do you love me? But then having an emotionally immature way to get that love met by in essence saying I found an avocado and then expecting that your partner is going to know exactly how to respond. And then if they don't in that moment perfectly, then the anxiously attached person can say, See, you don't care about me. And I think what's even more fascinating is that for the anxiously attached, they often want to be heard. [00:24:00] They want to be understood, they want their partner to be curious. But then when their partner does, when their partner will will work hard on saying, okay, I'm going to do this. Tell me how you're feeling. Tell me what's going on. What I find so often is that they get just one word answers or no answers from their anxiously attached partner. So the person that is so desperately said, I want you to give me words of affirmation, physical touch. I want you to be curious. I want you to understand me. I want you to know me. When their partner then says, okay, I'm trying. It's almost as if the person who has asked the anxiously attached person doesn't know what that feels like to receive.
[00:24:37] This is what they've wanted desperately their entire life. But now that's why I set that whole example up from childhood, because if they just desperately wanted that attention or that love or that security from their. But then they can't count on it. But then when their parent finally does give it to them, that isn't the feeling. They don't feel as connected as they thought they would because it's this anxiously attached pattern. [00:25:00] It's OC What if now all of a sudden they really are trying to understand me or they are trying to know me? This is desperately the only thing that I've wanted. But now if they really get to see into my soul, if they really find out who I am, well, what if that's not good enough? What if now they'll leave me? So what happens, I believe, is that the anxiously attached person will not show up in that situation in their marriage. They'll say, No, I want you to care about me and I want you to know me. But then when their partner then says, okay, I'm going to do it, how was your day? Tell me more about that. What's going on? They're going to be met with this more of ambivalence, and the anxiously attached person may not even recognize they're doing it because it's this. They almost have to keep the relationship in this anxious, avoidant pattern. Because if they lean in now, all of a sudden they may actually get the very thing that they wanted their entire life and they don't really know what that feels like.
[00:25:50] It becomes scary. So then they subconsciously push that partner away. The one thing they wanted is for that avoidant attached partner to come closer. But when that avoidant attached partner [00:26:00] does, oftentimes they push away. So it just perpetuates the dynamic. And this is where in the episode that I did with Jennifer Finlayson Fife, I'm laying this pattern out and I'm in essence saying, Hey, as an anxiously attached guy, I got this. I can tell all the guys in the world that you can say, Hey, are you okay to our spouse? And if our spouse says, Yeah, I'm okay, but then if they don't jump up and down and tell me I'm awesome and want to be intimate with me, then the guy may try about 10 minutes later and say, Are you sure? Is there anything that I did? And that's where I felt like I can address the anxiously attached and say, Oh, that's your anxious attachment. At this point. Let's turn to the breathing and through the nose, out through the mouth. Go pet your dog. Go do some push ups, go play catch with your kids. And no, this is my anxious attachment wanting to check. And the more that I'm continually trying to check and say, You don't get me, or why don't you get me or I want you to understand me, The more that that can drive that wedge in between the anxious and the avoidant partner.
[00:26:53] But then I turn to Jennifer and I say, okay, so can you then address because I've identified that primarily these avoidant [00:27:00] attached people, or maybe the spouse is the feminine in the relationship. What do you say to them? And she just said, Well, the entire relationship doesn't sound very mature. And I remember at the time thinking, wait a minute, that isn't the answer I was looking for. Turns out it was exactly the right answer. So it's up to this anxiously attached person, then to start to recognize and self confront their own, anxiously attached style that then they have to recognize that, oh, maybe I am turning to others for validation or for self-soothing. So back to the article. The the one in very well, there's a little cartoon in the article that gives these characteristics of the anxiously attached style, and they show somebody on their phone in constant need of reassurance. And I know and I feel like, again, staying in the vein of vulnerability, that I can be sending out texts throughout the day to whether it's my spouse or my kids and if they don't respond right away. And that's where sometimes the anxious attachment kicks in, you can start to feel like, well, they must not care about me. So [00:28:00] that is that constant need of reassurance.
[00:28:02] And then the worry of rejection in this same cartoon showing these characteristics of the anxious attachment style and the next tile, they show this talking to your partner and it looks like the partner isn't saying the right thing. So there's the worry of rejection. Or in the next one they show the person looking at their partner's phone and saying, Oh my gosh, who's texting? Who's texting them with this fear of infidelity? Or this the next frame, this consuming fixation on the relationship, which I can only imagine is the constant telling the other person, hey, do you do you know how much I care about you? As if the assumption is that your partner doesn't care as much about you. And I feel like that's where this just becomes very exhausting for the avoidant attached person. Or they show in another part of the cartoon panic or jealousy when there's distance and a continually. Hey, I'm checking in. You haven't responded back where the other person may be. They're visiting family or in meetings and not in a position to be able to continually reassure the partner who is back at home [00:29:00] or this frequent need to please. And they show the the partner poking his head in the room and saying, Anything I can get you, which sounds amazing and kind, but if there's a continual anything I can get you. Are you sure? Do you want anything? I can get you something here.
[00:29:14] Let me just get you something. Just in that one phrase. That one exchange that I just described. Then you're in essence, just running right over the person's boundaries. If the person says, No, I'm good. But if in essence, they over time just know, well, you're going to get me whatever you're going to get me anyway, and then I'm going to need to tell you thank you. And I'm probably not going to say thank you with as much enthusiasm. And then if I don't even drink the drink, you bring me or eat the food you give me, then you're going to say, Man, you must not care about me because I did this when the initial part of that conversation was, No, thank you. I don't need anything. So again, you can just start to see that these adults with anxious attachment often just need constant reassurance in the relationships which continually comes off as being needy or clingy. What I typically see in the office is the male [00:30:00] who ends up becoming more of this anxious attachment. And so then he'll let the wife know, Man, I'm thinking about as constantly, almost as if she's not, then she's doing something wrong. Or I'm thinking about you all the time and wondering how you're doing. And so that's why I'll check in and I'll touch base. And if you don't respond right away, then you must not care about me or I'm obviously more invested in the relationship.
[00:30:19] And if I say it that way and I see that in the office, that you can start to see that that does become so emotionally exhausting for the non anxiously attached in the relationship. And why I really believe that the relationships start to devolve into anxious and then the other partner becomes avoidant or panic or jealousy with distance or the frequent need to please like constantly checking in. Or can I do anything or can I get you anything? And as I recognize my own anxious attachment that you can check in with your spouse and just say, Hey, everything good? Especially if you see that they seem a little bit down or flat and if they say, Yeah, no, I'm doing all right, then if they are back fully engaged, five, 10 minutes later, 30 minutes whenever it is, then to the anxious attachment, [00:31:00] you can go check it again. Or here. Are you sure? Like, would you tell me if anything's wrong? And then the partner will say, Yeah, yeah, I'll let you know. Now do that over the course of years, and that can start to build up some pretty deeply rooted neural pathways of It's starting to be a little bit annoying for the avoidant attached partner because they want to let the anxiously attached partner know, Hey, I'll let you know. And this is where I love this concept of once you're aware of starting to operate from a place of trust.
[00:31:28] So when people say, Well, how can I trust if the person hasn't told me things in the past? And I understand that, but I think moving forward, that is the problem. Maybe the reason why the avoidant attached partner hasn't shared a lot of things is because the anxiously attached person is continually pinging them. Everything okay? What's going wrong? Who you texted in, What was that about? Have you talked to this person or hey, did you just see the things I did? Or let me tell you these stories about work? We you didn't respond. Right when I told you those stories from work. So that anxiously attached person is constantly seeking external validation. [00:32:00] If they don't feel good about themselves again, they don't have a true solid sense of self. Then when they are reaching out in this anxiously attached way or pattern, what they're saying is, Hey, I don't feel so good about myself, so I need you to make me feel better. I need you partner in the relationship and I've given you a bunch of clues. I need you to give me more words of affirmation. Tell me how awesome I am, and probably more physical touch would be nice too. Seems like those are two of the most common traits of the anxiously attached. And so then when the avoidant detached partner is being told, Here's what to do, well, first of all, here comes that inner will, that psychological reactance that the more I'm being told what to do, the the more that my own brain is saying I don't want to do that because that doesn't feel like who they are.
[00:32:45] And then I'm starting to learn more and more that that avoidant attached partner can come up with example after example after example of when they have then shown up more curious than the relationship or when they have tried to give more words of affirmation or praise. And [00:33:00] then it isn't met with, Oh my gosh, thank you. Or if it is, it's finally, finally you're you're telling me this. I've been craving this my whole life, which then makes that avoidant attached partner feel worse because then they start to feel like, oh my gosh, this is I'm never enough. I'll never be able to say the right thing or enough of the right thing. And so you can see how that just dance of the anxious and avoidant attached partners just becomes exhausting pretty much to both. And so then when they end up getting in fights or arguments or disagreements, it's typically when the anxiously attached partner is finally had enough and they just say, Why don't you care about me? And then the avoidant attached partner finally has enough as well, and snaps and expresses what can sound very emotionally immature. But saying because because I'm never enough, it doesn't matter what I say or do. It's never enough. You want more. You want. You want me just to constantly be telling you you're awesome and amazing and have sex with you all the time.
[00:33:52] And it just becomes exhausting because now I'm the one that feels like I am in charge of your happiness Now. Typically, then the couple will. Then things will [00:34:00] go south, they will shut down, they'll go back into their bunkers and then they'll poke their head out after two or three days and and say, How are we good? And then if both feel like, all right, we don't like this distance or the separation either, then they come back together where they were before and say, so then I'll hear in my office. Yeah, I know. And then we got through it. Like, now we're okay. This is where I love saying, Are you okay or did you really get through it? Are you good or are we just now the the opposite of good? Or is there just an avoidance of bad or are we now not? Are you not in a bad place? Because that's definitely not good or not thriving or you didn't learn much from that situation. So let's move on into the a little bit more of the meat of the article. Heather talks about Adults with anxious attachment often need constant reassurance, and that's how they come off as needy or clingy. And you might have an anxious attachment style if there's a pretty long list here. But if you worry a lot about being rejected or abandoned by your partner, if you listen to the virtual couch for a little while, I talk often about the [00:35:00] concepts of abandonment and attachment, and abandonment goes hand in hand with rejection.
[00:35:05] So knowing that we are attachment based creatures, knowing that we come from the womb, that we need someone to interact with us, or we don't even know that we exist. I'm talking, baby, I'm talking right out of the womb. And then at that point, we're so used to as little babies of expressing ourselves and somebody meeting our needs that that you can see how our emotional immaturity or just the way that we're programed is that from that point forward, we're going to go through life. And if people are not validating us, meeting our needs, telling us they're awesome, telling us that we're awesome, telling us that we're amazing because that's how we're programed and that's how we're met. That's how we come into the world. Then we start to feel like they must not care. But then as we start to get older, then here's where that abandonment and rejection, those pieces start to come into play. Because as every kid is a little ego centered, little ego centered person and not having true understanding or empathy for what's going on with the rest of the people around them, that [00:36:00] then it makes absolute sense that the anxiously attached kid fearing abandonment and rejection, if people aren't meeting their needs, they're going to obviously think, well, this must be because me, I must be unlovable, they must not care about me, I must not matter.
[00:36:14] So now I'm going to do anything I can to get those needs met. Include continually checking to make sure, Are we okay? Is everything all right? Hey, look at me. I'm over here thinking about you all the time. Can I get you anything? Can I do anything? And I'll even give you a roadmap of how to make me feel better. Just tell me I'm awesome and hold my hand and touch me and kiss me and hug me. And little do we know is the anxiously attached partner that we don't feel good about ourselves. So we need someone else to make us feel better. And that is not going to work in the long term. She also goes on the list frequently, trying to please and gain approval from your partner fear of infidelity and abandonment. You want closeness and intimacy in a relationship, but worry about whether you can trust or rely. Your partner. This one is huge. I was talking with someone recently who was saying that they were finally really paying attention, showing [00:37:00] up, curious and meeting those those needs that their partners been expressing. They were asking more about the things their partner was doing, trying to express more interest, trying to learn more about their partners in inner world and life. But that wasn't met with reciprocation.
[00:37:14] Their partner would just come back with one word answers, two word answers. And the more that we talked about that, their partner would either say, That's still not what I'm looking for, or well, now it feels forced. Or so they set the partner up in position to fail because here they have been asking for throughout the marriage. I just want you to be more curious. I want you to be more engaged. I want you to understand more about me. And then when the person is doing their best to try to show up that way, they're not meeting their partner efforts to show that curiosity. And so the more that I thought about that, the more I looked into if as a child or in childhood or adolescence or in relationships, if that is all you have desperately wanted, but you literally have never had that in your life, then do you even know [00:38:00] how to receive somebody? That's becoming very curious because is that the thing that you've always wanted? But deep inside, are you afraid to express yourself now as a card carrying hopefully a recovering, anxiously attached person? Myself, I this is the stuff that I started to just really resonate with or dwell on over the last few months in particular, is that I recognize, okay, I'm going to sit and I'm going to I'm going to show up, I'm going to be present, I'm going to be vulnerable, I'm going to share this is all I've ever wanted.
[00:38:28] I want my spouse to to really know me. But then when I'm given the opportunity to express myself, I find myself almost tripping over my words because, well, wait, this is what I want. But it goes back to that. But what if I say the wrong thing? What if what if Now, when they really learn who I am, then they're going to leave. And so there's that deep fear of abandonment and rejection. So again, wanting closeness and intimacy in the relationship, but worry if that's going to be met. Well, so then she also has a few more in this list, overly fixating on the relationship in your partner to the point where it consumes [00:39:00] much of your life, which can also lead to that constant need for attention and reassurance from others. And I can tell you as someone that the more I put my podcast out there and the more feedback I get and the more opportunities I get to speak and all those wonderful things, I love every one of those opportunities. I love the feedback I get. But it was something where I think in the past I would have told you the man. That's that would be amazing to hear all this amazing positive feedback. But then when you get that positive feedback, you realize, Oh, maybe that wasn't everything that I thought it would be, because that can make you uncomfortable and give you imposter syndrome and make you feel a bit overwhelmed.
[00:39:35] It's just it's such a fascinating thing that I think is all part of this becoming more emotionally. She also has have difficulty setting and respecting boundaries because you may set the boundary, but then you may worry that I set a boundary. But now what if people don't like me? I better back off of that boundary. There's also a list here that says feeling threatened or panicked, angry, jealous or worried that your partner no longer wants you when you spend time apart or don't hear from them for what most would consider a reasonable amount of time. You may use [00:40:00] manipulation to get your partner to stay close to you, or you may tie your self worth in with relationships because that's where people often feel like I may. I'm good at being in a relationship. I remember working with a client once and she talked about she said, I'm really good at getting people to like me. And she said, I can adapt to any situation I can. I can put my hair a different way. I can learn more about whatever my the person I'm interested in enjoys. I can dress a little bit different. And they were saying this as this was almost a core value or a gift or a trait that they had, and I was trying to express that. But this goes against who you are as a person. And I thought it was really interesting because to their point they said, Well, what if my core value is being adaptable or almost taken on this chameleon like ability? What if that's what if that's my gift? What if that's who I am? And that I worried that that was just the story that their brain was telling them, so that to keep them away from being completely open and authentic because of this deep fear, that if people really got to know who they are or what their likes were, that then some [00:41:00] people wouldn't love them.
[00:41:01] So again, tying your self worth into relationships or there's also overreacting to things that you see as being a threat to the relationship. And that can be really simple things. I think that's the part from the anxious detachment of the Who are you texting and what what'd you do today? And there can be the what did you do today coming from a place of emotional maturity? I want to know I'm curious about you. You know I care about you. But often until it gets to that point, the what did you do today is do I have to worry about anything or did you talk to anybody else? Is there a chance that you're going to leave me? Did you like them better than I did? Were you thinking about me today? And you can see how that can just be overwhelming to the non anxiously attached partner. So discussions about anxious attachment, she says, usually focus on romantic partnerships, but it can absolutely affect friendships and other types of relationships as well.
[00:41:44] So she has another section that says, Does my partner have an anxious attachment style? She said, Your partner might be experiencing anxious attachment in your relationship if you notice that they are regularly. Seeking your attention, your approval, your reassurance. And if they want to be around you and touch and in touch with you as much as possible, if they're worried [00:42:00] that you're going to cheat on them, you're going to leave them. Who are? Who are you talking to? What are you saying? You're not talking about us, are you? Those kind of things. Or if they feel threatened, jealous or angry or overreact when they feel that something is threatening the relationship. And she said, of course, keep in mind that you can't diagnose someone with an attachment style. That's we're going to leave that up to therapists or mental health professionals. But she said, because one of those keys that I think is so true is you can't know for sure what someone else is thinking or feeling. And that's actually what started me down the path of looking at the topic for this week is I've been doing a lot of writing around just the concepts of curiosity and how important it is to have curiosity or relationship, but how difficult it is to be openly curious about your spouse and what their experience is.
[00:42:43] Because whether we acknowledge it or we don't acknowledge it, if we really say, okay, I'm, I don't like the way the relationship is now. So we're going to step back and I'm going to I'll tell you, all day long, Tony, the therapist is going to say it's four pillar, four pillar time. It's time to connect. It's time to understand [00:43:00] that we're let's get to know the fact that we're two completely different individuals. And trust me that if the relationship isn't is as good as it can be right now that try this evidence based model that I swear by that that look at the emotionally focused therapy Sue Johnson, the founder of that swears by and so many trained therapists of recognizing your attachment pattern and then being able to express yourself openly and vulnerably and then having a framework to do it, that it's amazing when you really start to recognize who your spouse is as a person. My wife, this weekend, we were just spending a lot of time together and just some of the things that she would say or the express expressions that she would use. It's so wonderful to see the cute or playful energy as someone starts to really continue to find and lean into themselves as who they are without worrying that their spouse is going to say, Oh man, I didn't know you like that, because that's that anxious attachment style. So I was looking more into the concepts of curiosity in general.
[00:43:53] And the biggest challenge I feel like with curiosity is that if you are going to sit there and say, okay, I want to know everything about my spouse, [00:44:00] and you've been married for a while or you've been together for a while or even not, and they start to express their true hopes and desires and dreams. It takes a lot of intentional effort to stay present and to not try and knock that down from an emotionally immature place. Again, if they say, you know, I'm just I'm fascinated by the beach. I've always wanted to live by the beach. And if you're living in the middle of the country and you're financially strapped and you're hearing your partner tell you that, then it takes effort to not think that they're disappointed in the fact that they're married to you because you guys can't go live on the beach. And that's not what they're saying. We're just wanting to get to know who that who your partner is as a person. Just and then and that's where I think that example is that then if I really want to open up and let my spouse know the things that I like or the things that I care about, then there's that fear that what if then they hear what I like and they think it's dumb. You know what? If you I told a story long ago on a podcast where we saw one of those three wheeled motorcycles ride by, and I just said, okay, I kind of like those. [00:45:00]
[00:45:00] And my wife joked and said, No, you don't. And I remember I said, I brought up at that point, I said, okay, but what if I really do? What if that's when my hopes, my dreams, my desires, that I really want to ride one of those or own one of those? And she joked and said, okay, well, yeah, we talk about it, but she was then she joked right back again and said, But you don't. Right? And I honestly found myself even in that playful conversation saying, I'm kind of glad that I guess I don't really, because if that was the case, I would definitely think, I guess that's not a big deal or I guess I'll just put that away. So it really does take vulnerability and curiosity to get to know your spouse. And then you have to also check your ego at the door and make sure that you are aware of the fact that you're hearing everything through your own filter and what that means to you. Instead of saying, Well, tell me why, tell me why you feel that way and tell me why that's important to you. The next section of the article she talks about why someone develops an anxious attachment style, and we could do a whole series on this. But she says it's believed that anxious attachment in childhood happens when a child experiences inconsistent caregiving where their needs are [00:46:00] met unpredictably.
[00:46:01] And there's your key, where their needs are met. Or I would even throw a little asterisks or not met. But in either case, it's unpredictable, she said. For example, a parent or a caregiver may respond immediately and attentively to a child sometimes, but not at other times. And the inconsistent behavior on the part of the caregiver can be related to factors like substance abuse, depression, stress, anxiety, fatigue. So children raised without consistency can view attention as valuable, but also unreliable. That lines deep. So imagine that. Step back and think about that. Do you view you want? Maybe we want attention. We crave attention. We want our partner to notice us. But that attention may be valuable, but it's unreliable. So even when we finally get attention, the spotlight focused on us from our spouse or our partner. Now it's unreliable. So now this is what I wanted. But now that I'm out on the stage, can I really? Is this. Can I? Form or can I take what they're about to say to me? Positive or negative? And so as a result, they may [00:47:00] develop anxiety and they might perform attention seeking behaviors, both positive and negative. So I wanted to go through quickly, and I feel like maybe we could do something on this in future episodes. But she has a nice chart that says how anxious attachment compares to other styles. So a person's attachment style influences how they feel and they behave when they're in a relationship.
[00:47:17] Attachment styles can be secure, and that's where a person's confident in relationship or insecure where a person has fear and uncertainty in relationship. And so here's what we have. We have anxiously attached, which appears anxious and clingy, comes off as uncertain or in need of validation and wants relationships, but worries that others don't enjoy being with them. Now, a secure attachment style, they can set appropriate boundaries. They have trust, they feel secure in close relationships and they thrive in relationships, and they thrive when they are alone, avoidant, dismissive. So this is why I typically just call the avoidant attachment style avoids closeness and relationships, which they then seek independence and they don't want to rely on others or vice versa. They don't want others to rely [00:48:00] on them. And then there's disorganized, which is fearful, and it feels like they don't even deserve love, and that there's some combinations here where that anxious and disorganized or avoidant and disorganized that those are some of the things that can lead to some true emotional insecurities and emotional unavailability. One notable study, Heather says, found that participants with anxious attachment reported less positivity and more difficulties in their friendships than participants living with secure attachment styles. So coping with an anxious attachment style, if you identify yourself as somebody with an anxious attachment style, a healthy relationship is absolutely possible. No matter which one of these attachment styles you have, but you need to have strategies.
[00:48:40] So she lays out a few short term strategy includes research, psychodynamic education, learning about attachment styles, and figure out which one applies to you. One of the most powerful things I feel like I could do was learn about my own anxious attachment style, and it was mind blowing and understanding that if I have an anxious attachment style, [00:49:00] then I truly that means I don't understand what an avoidant attachment style looks like. So if I'm just trying to tell my partner to do more of this, do tell me more that tell me you like me more or just just be with me more. That's not curiosity and that's not empathy toward what my partner's attachment style is. She suggests keeping a journal. Man, I'm starting to come around more to this. I'm trying to write more and more that I can, and the challenges of journaling can be many. Mine was always that I felt like things had to be in narrative form or they had to be paragraphs, but just start John things down. But she said, Write about your thoughts and your feelings. This exercise helps you let out your emotions and it might help you recognize patterns and how you think and how you act. And you might want to bring your journal into therapy sessions where you can unpack its contents. And I love that. I love when somebody comes into sessions and they have an agenda, they have a list, they have things that they've been thinking about.
[00:49:49] And so if you're not doing that already, research, learn your learn about your attachment style, and then keep a journal and write down situations where that where it comes up or how you feel. And [00:50:00] then here comes the one that is the key to so many things. She suggests practicing mindfulness. I feel like this is one of the most powerful tools that when it finally kicks in, helps you stay more present regularly. Engaging in a mindfulness exercise can help you learn to sit with and manage your emotions and anxiety. And it sounds simplistic. It's not. And it takes intentional practice. And if you need to go get a an app headspace calm 10% happier any of those types of apps then absolutely try it out. But learning how to do some sort of mindfulness practice is amazing. And I've done multiple episodes on the importance of mindfulness, and it's not trying to stop one's thought, but it's starting to notice, notice and sit with emotions, thoughts, feelings and learning what to do with those and what that feels like to sit with uncomfortable feelings because we don't do it. We have too many options of turning to our phone or bingeing on shows or eating yummy food. There are so many things that we can do instead of sit with negative emotion that it takes a lot of intentional [00:51:00] effort to sit with that long term emotion.
[00:51:03] She also talks about long term strategies, group therapy, couples therapy, individual therapy. And I'm a big fan, of course, of any and all of those. And so if you have someone in your life that does show up with an anxious attachment, then that can be a challenge. She talks about kids with an anxious attachment. And I thought this was interesting. Honestly, I love the article and she's done an amazing job and this is medically reviewed as well. But if you are if you have kids with anxious attachment, then you might be thinking, well, wait a minute, didn't we talk about earlier that they have an anxious attachment? Because I've been rather inconsistent with my parenting. And so if that is the case, then check that out. Notice that don't beat yourself up about it, because then she talks about setting boundaries. And that is hard because kids and their design, their little boundary pushers, they really are, and then remaining calm and managing and reinforcing rules and expectations. This is why I love the nurtured art parenting approach. And I have a whole parenting course about this because you'll find a parenting style of. Parenting paradigm parenting framework, and then [00:52:00] commit to it the nurtured heart approach. The first stand of the nurture heart approach is just not letting them push your buttons. And that can be a very difficult thing to learn. But once you learn how to stay present and notice that they are trying to push my buttons, then I'm joking a little bit when I say it, but then it becomes adorable.
[00:52:16] Check out. Oh, they'll look at them. They're trying to push my buttons. And then when they calm down, especially with the nurtured heart approach, you've got these tools that say, Man, I love the way that you just calm yourself down because that shows me that you are really starting to grow up and that you can watch the the confusion on a kid's face, even as they say, I was just telling you that you're a horrible parent. And now when I take a breath, you told me, Man, I love the way you calm yourself down. And that takes consistency and that takes setting boundaries. Reconnecting after a conflict, she said If you've disciplined a child, always reconnect after. And it's important that a child knows that your empathy will be consistent. And that's why I love that paragraph, because we're looking for consistency and predictability. And that's why boundaries are important. That's why remaining calm is important and reconnecting after [00:53:00] a conflict. And she's talking about helping kids with an anxious attachment. But man, if you can pull this off with your spouse as well, then it's incredible and then be predictable. So she does say supporting a partner. If your partner experiences anxious attachment, you can support them by, again, setting boundaries and expectations and reinforcing them.
[00:53:16] And I think too often we feel like setting a boundary means being mean or being a jerk. But I talk about this calm, confident energy. Setting a boundary does not have to be losing your mind. It can be just staying calm and consistent and confident. But then here's a tough one following through on promises and commitments. And here's where I start looking at that. We're all emotionally immature to a point until we become more emotionally mature is that if I have an anxiously attached partner and I am making promises that then I don't follow through with, then after hearing this podcast today, maybe you might have even a little bit more empathy because the reason your partner is anxiously attached is because they've haven't been able to count on anyone in their life necessarily to show up and be consistent and predictable. Now, again, [00:54:00] I'm not saying that so it's your fault, but what an opportunity you have to set the boundary to to make promises or commitments. And the key to that too, is that if you know that you can't follow through on something, then tell the anxiously attached person. Man, I would love to be able to do that, but I'm unfortunately, I'm learning myself more and I know that's just something that I would commit to right now because I want I want everyone to be happy, but I'm not going to be able to do that and then go to therapy or go together.
[00:54:25] And then she also says, showing your partner that you appreciate them. A 2019 study showed that perceiving gratitude from a romantic partner reduced anxiety for participants with an anxious attachment style, and the results were pretty impressive. So in summary, she just says anxious attachment develops in childhood. It continues into adulthood, and it's believed that the anxious attachment develops when a child gets inconsistent caregiving because their needs are only met some of the time. So if the kid then needs to get their needs met and those needs are met inconsistently, then they're going to do all they can to push for more consistency and getting those needs met. She said that an adult with an anxious [00:55:00] attachment style may become very preoccupied with their relationships to the point of coming off as clingy to their partners, and so they often worry that their partner will leave or stop loving them. And so people with anxious attachment styles start to become a little bit manipulative when they feel that their relationship is threatened. And this is why that anxious attachment or emotional immaturity starts to bleed into these what can appear to be narcissistic traits or tendencies. But it's truly just this survival mechanism that the adult has brought forth from childhood. So then people with an anxious attachment style can learn coping skills, and they often do well in relationships with the partner who has more of a secure style of attachment. Now, that, again, is not putting that emphasis or on the other person.
[00:55:40] But as you both grow and mature together, if you have slowly become the avoidant attached person in the relationship and the anxiously attached partner in your life is truly trying to work on things, then you guys have this opportunity to create an entirely new relationship of emotional maturity and a secure attachment, and the results [00:56:00] of that are just phenomenal. That's what leads to them being able to have the conversations of truly understanding who your partner is and having them truly learn to understand you. And I feel like that's just one of those concepts that we just don't even know what that feels like until we get there. And that really is a whole different version of a relationship. A pretty amazing one. So that is my hope, my goal, my wish to you. If you have questions, go look up the article. I'll put that in the show notes and start doing your own digging on attachment styles. There's so much good information out there and learn your own attachment style and how that shows up in your relationships, both with your partner, maybe with your kids at work. Because I really do believe that you can carry some of these attachment styles into different relationships, and it's pretty, pretty overwhelming at times, but can also be powerful to recognize what you can do differently to change the dynamic in these different relationships. All right. Have an amazing week. I will see you next time on The Virtual Couch.