Why We (and Our Characters) Fall in Love: Part Three

We have a lucky reader who took the time to comment on Kat Martin’s Real Setting blog. Writers in the Storm is pleased to announce that random.org picked comment #3 as the winner of Kat’s new release AGAINST THE EDGE. Lorna Lee (of Lorna’s Voice)–that’s you!  Congratulations!

And all of you really stepped up the comment love for Margie Lawson’s Stellar Writing Sells  — maybe because the kind words you had for Margie served as your ticket in a drawing for a free course. Cover your ears, because Patricia Yager Delagrange is screaming now that she knows she’s won Margie’s free online class.  Congratulations to both of our winners. Kat and Margie will be in touch with you soon.

This is the third in a series of five posts by Fae Rowen of Writers in the Storm. In the first, the Secure Attachment style–the gold standard of human interaction–showed how easy it can be to fall in love. The second focused on the Avoidant Attachment style. Today she’s back with more characteristics and another style, and we’ll see why our characters can desperately yearn for love but are afraid to embrace it.

by Fae Rowen

The third attachment style is the Ambivalent/Anxious Model. A character with this attachment style grew up with parents who intruded their own mental/emotional state on their child. There was a lack of boundaries in the home. The caregiver had unresolved past issues that caused her to be distracted even when the child clearly needed help. Inconsistent availability, perceptiveness, sensitivity or effectiveness sometimes made the child angry. Instead of flowing communication which continually enhances a secure attachment style, unpredictable disruptions contribute to the Ambivalent/Anxious style.

As a child, your character was uncertain whether their own emotional needs would be met. This caused insecurity, worry, anxiety, and anger. Separations provoked interpersonal stress. Insecurity and unpredictability in life fueled desire for external relief, causing an urgent need to rely on and seek comfort from external interactions. (I bet you’re seeing how this can play out in one of your characters!) Unnecessary caution, uncertainty and insecurity begins to manifest in relationships.

As an adult, the child’s perception and expectation of “the worst” shifts real emotional connection to ambivalence. A relationship can end up with little chance of being accurately perceived.

Possible ramifications of Ambivalent Attachment in Adult Relationships

  1. May unintentionally create own nightmare through replaying inconsistent emotional availability or intrusiveness
  2. Preoccupation with previous attachment wounds so that they are negative, angry, or despairing
  3. Fraught with complaints and a feeling that there is no hope of ever finding fulfillment
  4. Always defending against the next loss
  5. Leaky boundaries between past and present
  6. While s/he hungers for emotional joining, the primary feeling is wanting, but no having.
  7. New relationships may be experienced as inconsistent and unreliable
  8. Accept what they are given instead of asking clearly for what they want
  9. Expects abandonment or the worst of their partners
  10. Experiences chronic anxiety, frustration and despair related to relationships
  11. Gives, in order to get, then wonders why partner sometimes feels angry instead of appreciative
  12. Has difficulty trusting themselves, their partner, and the relationship
  13. Need reassurance that partner is committed, will not leave them and cares about their needs
  14. They have a lot of “story” and tell everything to try to get everyone to “understand”
  15. See their children through the filter of the past, continuing generational trauma
  16. Obsesses on trying to keep a relationship
  17. Shows greater distress at having some quality attachment then losing it without warning
  18. Has unresolved longing, yearning, and feeling that s/he can never have what s/he wants

Yes, those of us–and our characters–who grew up with caregivers that fostered the Ambivalent Attachment Style have a lot of obstacles to overcome in our adult lives to get to the happily-ever-after ending. You can use these “tells” of the Ambivalent style to lead up to the black moment, and your black moment will not only be believable but will carry more emotional power.

What kind of a partner, what kind of “repair messages” help the Ambivalent/Anxious character to cross the bridge to secure attachment? Through words and actions, let the partner demonstrate the messages that “say”:

  1. You are loveable.
  2. I will be here for you.
  3. I respect your boundaries.
  4. You have a right to your own space and privacy.
  5. Think of me as loving you when we’re apart.
  6. I hold you in my heart.
  7. You can come to me or call me when you need me.
  8. You don’t have to give yourself up to be in relationship with me.
  9. I love you just the way you are.
  10. I am not going anywhere.
  11. I am here for the long haul.
  12. You are mine and I am yours.

I’m sure you can figure out ways to show these feelings to your Ambivalent character. I’m going to let you in on a secret here. Remember back in Part 1 of this series, I said that during this class I finally figured out why my husband fell in love with me? Well, when I heard this list, I knew why.

I tucked little notes where he would find them when I wasn’t around. Notes that said: Bad News–I’m not here. Good news: See you soon. Thinking about you. Wish I was there. You’re the best.

You get the idea. None of the notes were “hot.” But every one of them reaffirmed that he was loveable. And that I wasn’t leaving. I didn’t call him or ask where he’d been when we weren’t together. I gave him his space and privacy. He knew I was a little fussier about appearances than he was, but I never griped when he wore his cowboy boots to a fancy restaurant. I didn’t try to change him. (Looking back, maybe he may have been testing me.)

And guess what? I didn’t do any of these things to try to “catch” him. I didn’t even want to get married, and at thirty, I thought he was a confirmed bachelor. But he got the consistent repair messages he needed to get to a secure attachment style. And he was able to recognize the caring, loving, and nurturing behaviors without minimizing or overlooking them. The rest is, well, years of wonderful history.

How can you drive this character crazy?

  • An intermittent reward system. (Think Pavlov’s dog here.)
  • Perceived inconsistency in the behavior of others.
  • Put them in uncomfortable situations where they must give or receive.
  • Involve them in a tale or a movie of unrequited love–this highlights their feeling of deprivation.

The secret for the black moment with this character?  When love truly presents itself, it may be rejected because it feels unfamiliar and disorienting. A reader with this style will connect with this moment. Any human will recognize the character’s behavior from their own interactions with the loved ones in their lives. And they’ll believe, based on their experience.

So, how can you use the Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment Style in your writing? What characteristics can make your writing fresh and hook into the emotions of your readers?

Part Four in the series will post Monday, May 20.

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24 Responses to Why We (and Our Characters) Fall in Love: Part Three

  1. LauraDrake says:

    I’m saving all these for the characters in my next novel, Fae, I’m loving these!

  2. Fae, up early to meet a personal challenge. I decided not to get caught up in blogs and the internet trap, but I like to at least read WITS every Monday. OMG … not only is this series great for developing characters and their interactions … it’s like a free therapy session.

    Okay … getting back to writing … I can see how each style in the series can be used for character description and development. How you can start them in one place and they move them into another.

    So, good morning, have a great week, keep writing and thanks🙂

    • Thanks for your comments! I tease my friends that they get the benefits from all the “work” I’ve done without having to pay the money for the classes. Glad the series is useful for you. Your next therapy appointment is Monday, May 20. (Ha!)
      -Fae

  3. Another great blog, Fae!

  4. Carol Opalinski says:

    Thank you so much for this fascinating information. I’m using these attachment styles to make my characters and their interactions more believable.

  5. My goodness! You’ve given me more than an incredibly useful author epiphany – I had such a powerful personal epiphany that I cried. As the kid said in Home Alone … Thanks! A lot. I needed that!!

  6. Sharla Rae says:

    I’m loving these more and more Fae. The blogs are great for character outlines

  7. Yvette Carol says:

    Another great post, Fae. I have just returned from visiting my parents down-country, and believe it or not, I was telling them about these posts! While there, I went out to dinner with my best friend and told her about how eye-opening the post about avoidant style attachment was for me. She told me something very simple. That I should ‘accept’ myself for this attachment style. I went away and the ongoing ripples of that statement continued to resonate. Talk about profound! Wow.

  8. Fascinating use of psychology and writing. And, by the way, YIPPEE for me for being chosen to get the free book!

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  14. wms says:

    i have this style of attachment and am currently in school studying neurobiology of attachment to work on myself and help others. let me know if you have any questions that could help give your story more heart. i hate the idea of pathologizing this unfair circumstance that makes it hard to socialize appropriately and without over joining or withdrawing.

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