Okay, so we’ve talked about the operating system disparities that make men and women fight. We’re just very different animals right from the get go. It’s natural.
Then there’s the hardware, the result of the early nurturing process, that gets hardwired into our psyches—before we even develop explicit memory (somewhere around age 5). Prior to that, our brains process our experiences on an implicit level, and what we learn from our early life experiences gets etched into our view of the world, without us even realizing it. I’ll call it “nurtural.”
Ideally, in the first 3-4 years of life, our caregivers interact with us in such a way that we develop a solid sense of ourselves and others. Parents do this by providing for our real needs—not needs that they imagine us to have based on their own anxieties, stresses, and immaturity. Caregivers who nurture well, who provide an environment in which the developing child can rely on them for both structure and freedom, as the child actually needs, are also able to regulate their positive and negative emotions, so that the child isn’t drawn into regulating the inner world of the caregivers. Such an environment leaves a child with what we call a secure attachment style, which the child then takes it into all relationships from then on.
Individuals with a secure attachment style are able to both be independent from and intimate with others. They don’t worry about whether others approve of them, so they are free to develop their interests, without having to sacrifice their sense of self out of an undue need for acceptance.
On the other hand, children whose caregivers interact with them based on imagined needs—keeping the child too close or providing too little guidance—create an environment, out of their own anxieties, that promotes one of three insecure attachment styles, that the child takes with him or her into adult relationships.
Adults with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style seek high levels of intimacy, and become fearful when separated from loved ones. They often doubt their worth and blame the other if he or she isn’t responsive enough.
Adults who develop a dismissive-avoidant attachment style deny needing close relationships, and tend to be invulnerable, independent, self-sufficient, and condescending. They usually hide their feelings and distance themselves when they sense rejection.
Those who emerge from childhood with a fearful-avoidant attachment style find it difficult to trust others, although they do express the desire to be in close relationships. These mixed feelings emanate from feeling unworthy of care and suspicious of the intentions of others.
So imagine what a fight might sound like between someone who desires but feels unworthy of care (fearful-avoidant) and whose partner displays little need for close relationship (dismissive-avoidant). Yikes! Or what about someone who feels smothered (dismissive-avoidant) by their partner’s desire to spend all their time together (anxious-ambivalent). Argh!
To make matters worse, we tend to be attracted to others at the same level of our own functioning (not necessarily the same attachment style), so people with a secure attachment style tend to be drawn to others with a secure attachment style, and people with an insecure attachment style tend to be drawn to others with an insecure attachment style.
Fortunately, people who enter the adult world with an insecure attachment style can develop a secure attachment style…by doing a hell of a lot of psychological repair of attachment injuries. I’m a product of that process myself, and can attest that it’s not easy work, but I highly recommend it if you want to fight less…or at least more fairly.
More tomorrow on our hardware, and then we’ll talk about our software, which gets men and women into some especially heated battles.