Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 12, 2013

Why We (and our characters) Fall in Love: Part 1

by Fae Rowen

Backstory: I always wondered why my husband fell in love with me. He was a thirty-year-old "confirmed" bachelor when I met him. And I never intended to marry anyone. Six months after we met, we were engaged. How did that happen?

Mere weeks ago I attended a workshop that was totally different than what I thought it was going to be. Turns out, it was better than anything I could have imagined on many levels. I learned and experienced amazing things personally. But, more important for you, I got one of the best writing lessons ever as a secondary benefit.

It turns out that the class was about the four somatic attachment styles. Don't be put off because you've never heard of it. Neither had I. The information has reached "limited audiences" in the past five years, though the research started twenty years ago.

Your attachment style can be determined by answering a series of questions. If you are interested in learning more, you can visit Diane Poole Heller's website and take the short version of the quiz. (If you have trouble getting your responses accepted. Try another time.) I would highly recommend any one of these workshops; Patti Elledge was the leader for my four-day workshop.

In this first blog, I'll introduce you to the secure attachment style. In future blogs I'll share more of what I discovered about how--and why--we fall in love. And how five easy scientific facts can help you connect with your readers (and your beloved) at a deeper level. To help them fall in love with your characters as your characters fall in love with each other. Writer gold!

You began developing your attachment style when you were a baby. Consider your primary caregiver as you read the summary below. But remember, you may have a mix of styles because you bonded with many people--even pets. Your attachment style strongly influences your adult relationships.

During this workshop I realized why I ran from the first three guys who asked me to marry them. They were all great and, without a doubt, loved me. But based on my attachment style, they didn't build the bonds with me that my husband did. I guess you could say that from the cradle, I was fated to marry my husband because of my attachment style.

SECURE Attachment Style: The Gold Standard

My parents provided a secure, safe environment. They were present, consistent, protective and predictable. They were responsive and sensitive. When I needed them, they were there. They showed interest in me as I grew. Interest in what I was learning, how I thought. When I acted out, they disciplined me with love, not frustration and anger.

256px-Abeuni2-1Believe me, I was no angel. Back in those days, discipline took the form of a spanking. But only with an open hand on the bottom. Never more than a couple of swats. And no anger afterwards; they hugged me until my tears stopped. I think I cried more from the situation than physical hurt.

My father was playful with me, gently teasing but never bullying or emotionally attacking. The teasing was a way my father showed that gleam in his eye. My mother didn't tease. She would touch my hand, pat my back, and give me "contact nutrition." They never swore at me, called me names, or said anything in anger that they'd want to take back later.

These are all hallmarks of how to develop a secure attachment style. Now I know why my favorite picture is one of me as a baby. My mother is holding me in her arms, beaming and smiling down at me. I'm returning that eye gaze and smile. I used to show people that picture and say, "Can't you feel the love?" years before The Lion King.

That soft eye gaze is the hallmark of a secure attachment between two people. Or a person and a well-loved pet. Yes, some of us grew up and received our secure attachment style from a family pet, or a teacher, or neighbor. And that's okay. As long as you experienced a secure attachment style as a young child, it's there in your body. It may be buried under years of living, but it's there--and that's what's important.

As an adult, secure attachment is displayed by a realistic optimism. A capacity for clear communication and more resiliency in recovering from stress is a bonus. In a relationship, securely attached adults protect each other from outside harm and resist harming each other. They initiate and receive attempts to repair the relationship when necessary.

As an individual, a secure attachment style means you tend to be unflappable and level-headed. You give others the benefit of the doubt when it's appropriate. And you have a working radar for danger.

Wouldn't you fall in love with someone with these characteristics? Wouldn't your character (and your readers) fall in love with someone with these traits?

You might be saying, "Wow, she had a golden childhood." Actually, I used to think so. I didn't, but because most of my time I was cared for by my parents, I'm lucky to have this as my primary attachment style. But, as you'll see in the next installment, I've got the other three styles, too. (And you probably do as well.) And those styles have played havoc with my adult life.

The good news: You can "repair" attachment styles to move them to the secure model. I can't give you four days worth of experiences and information in a blog series, but we're going to use this information to help you build character relationships in your writing. You'll see how you can build wonderful, loving relationships--and not so happy ones. And you won't have to spend hours angsting over body language cues and how to write the emotion. You'll use attachment styles. At the end of the series I'll give you a bibliography if you're interested in exploring more about this research.

Do you have tricks or problems in showing how a relationship develops believably between your characters? Have you ever wondered about your own relationships?

0 comments on “Why We (and our characters) Fall in Love: Part 1”

  1. This is very interesting. It's always helpful to view relationships through a different lens, enabling us to see things just a little bit differently, to cast a variant slant over our characters. Looking forward to reading more in your series! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I look forward to your next blogs on this interesting subject. My main character had a secure attachment childhood. I can't wait to see if what I've written about her lives out what you're going to tell us.

    1. Another really cool thing, Carol, is to show a character "repairing" an attachment style to the secure model. That's where you'll get the emotional buy-in with your reader, because we're hard-wired to feel that. And a securely attached adult is unconsciously adept at doing that for his/her partner. That's why we fall in love.

        1. From what I understand, Carol, I would suspect that your character has bits of one or more attachment styles. I know I do, even though I am more than 25% secure. It's those other bits that can play havoc with our adult relationships and can be the source of what others would can poor decision-making.

  3. As I was unpacking my boxes of books after 2 years, I was amazed that about half are psychology of some kind, books about how our minds work. (You'd think a writer, business coach, web guy would have, y'know, books about that stuff.)

    Understanding how our minds and hearts work is part of what I love about writing. And it's part of what I learn from great writing.

    Excited to read this whole series.

    1. Yes, Lorna. I learn something new and, like any shiny new toy, have fun "playing" with it for endless hours. Then it becomes one of the tools in my backpack, and I find a new sparkling gem. There is no way I could juggle all that I've learned from classes, conferences and my friends here at WITS at the same time!

  4. As a licensed marriage & family psychotherapist, I strongly concur that attachment style plays an integral part in relationships of all kinds and has a profound effect on the person's general approach to life. Understanding yourself and others is so helpful to navigating the world. Thank you for sharing this important information for us writers and hopefully, others to read about.

    1. Thanks, Lorraine. When I arrived at the workshop I was stunned to find out that most of the people there were practicing therapists. (I mentioned that the content was different from what I imagined!) I'm so happy to get to share the huge light bulb that went off about how this information can impact our writing. And our lives. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Love this post, Fae. I am sure this series is another hit out of the ballpark ! I might have all styles. I was the youngest of three and the lone female child. My foks were older, worn down by two boys, and there I was ... the baby, the only girl. Sounds ideal? Maybe. The eldest was actually more of a surrogate father, the middle one was, I think, the model for the boys and men I selected, and my parents seemed to fade into the wallpaper. I'll wait for the rest of the series to see where I fall in. Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Florence,
      We all have bits and pieces of all four styles, because we attached to more than one caregiver. Sounds like your brothers played a big part in your life, and they were just kids, too.

  6. Interesting. I look forward learning the other styles. Most of my writing centers around folks who weren't brought up securely.

  7. A great info-packed post. One of the things that I love about being a writer is that the world is truly my oyster. I love learning. In order for me to write, I have to know myself, which is a continuing evolving process. I hope that my process will help me write more interesting and heart-warming characters.

    I look forward to the other posts in your series.


    Linda Joyce

    1. I'll let you in on a secret, Linda. I really was referred to as The Ice Princess because I never showed emotion. When I started writing, I knew that writing the emotion bits (okay, more than bits) would be the hardest for me. I started taking writing classes and had a fair amount of success. But when I started my "evolving process," that's when I learned about emotion. I think we have to experience life to be able to breathe that life into our characters.

  8. Great post! Looking forward to reading more.
    As a mildly introverted person, I definitely have pondered about how I develop my relationships and I can really see this secure attachment as being a big part of mine.

    And you've now got me wondering about my characters and I realized that in one story I used a comparison/contrasting 'trick' to show how a relationship developed believably. One character kept contrasting the traits between two of her relationships. Not sure if that's actually a trick but I think it works on some level to show change or growth.

    1. Character reflections can be a nice way to show their arcs. Since people reflect on their experiences differently, you've got a wide variety of tools to do that.
      Thanks for reading!

  9. I took the test and wasn't surprised by the results. I have had attachment problems my entire life, even though I had wonderful and supportive parents. From the day my adoptive parents brought me home from the foster home, I didn't want to be touched, held, hugged, none of that, and I was only 2 weeks old. I've had attachment issues ever since. I'd really like to attend this workshop.

    1. They're presented all over the U.S, and the World. You can check at the link to the quiz: dianepooleheller.com
      Besides a solution for my problem writing believable emotion, the workshop really helped me with some very old problems.
      Best wishes, Karen.

  10. Fae, brilliant sharing of your workshop experience. You've definitely whetted everyone's appetites for more, with this great post. I was just as fascinated as the rest of your readers. More, please! And I agree with what Joel said too, it's the deepening of my understanding of the human experience which is one of the things about being a writer that I find the most intriguing. It fulfills some deep part of me.

  11. Fae, This is most interesting. I can't wait for the rest of the information you have to share. Like most readers prefer, I fell for an Alpha Male and then decided he was bossy and that I would prefer a beta male. However, after many years of marriage, we have finally reached a compromise.
    Carolyn Williamson

    1. Oh, Carolyn, I hear you! I did the same thing, only never considered exchanging my alpha for a beta. It took two years before I stopped saying to myself, "I don't have to stay married to him." He considered me an "alpha female" so, needless to say, in those first two years we had plenty of "discussions" about whose way was better. It's worth all the strife, isn't it?

  12. I was watching my youngest yesterday interacting with his older brother. My youngest lights up when his brother pays attention to him; he falls into a form of kid-depression when his brother turns off. It reminds me of a dysfunctional relationship between people dating, and I wonder if later in life my youngest will be the type who seeks out those who treat him hot & cold. I wonder how much the relationships we have with our siblings influence our adult relationships even if our parents provided a secure attachment style.
    I enjoyed your post and will look forward to the rest of this series. I write poetry, not fiction, but I have a creative writing degree and have read a lot ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Since my sister was ten years older than me, she sometimes ended up in the role of caregiver. I can see the attachment styles in my relationship with her, depending on who was around to "monitor" our relationship. Oh--I wish I could write poetry, where every word, every syllable carries so much weight.

      See you on June 24th for the wrap-up.

  13. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly.
    I am quite sure I'll learn many new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

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