Tag Archives: attachment

Can We Trust Too Much?

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Q   Can we trust too much?

A    Yes!

If you think about your life, I expect you can think of a time when you put your trust in a stranger who let you down.

  • Has a salesperson ever made false promises about a product ?
  • Did you fall for that on-line magical diet only to find you’re still 15 lbs more than you want to be?
  • Has a vacation brochure promised sea views from your balcony but here you are looking at a brick wall?

My guess is however that you still believe strangers, buy stuff, sample new diet aids and are persuaded by good ad copy to take distant vacations.

Why do you do that?

How come you knowingly engage in activities that conned you before?

Possibly, like me, you learn from the feedback you receive each time your trust is betrayed.

You’ll probably consult the Better Business Bureau or talk to friends before believing a particular products’ claims.

If you’re in the market for some self-improvement routine for your body or your mind you’ll probably read the testimonials, or maybe talk at length to some people who have tried what you are considering.

And as for those glossy sea-views or cruise-ship brochures? Two words. Due diligence.

In other words, you cultivate discernment. Hopefully you make fewer dumb purchases, and the economy still thrives because there are so many folks who are on their own particular learning curve so shoddy products, fake diets and ghastly vacations still sell like hotcakes!

Let’s go deeper.

I expect you can think of times when you put your trust in someone you love who then let you down.

  • Did your parents ever say “I’ll be at your game!” only to never show up?
  • Did your partner swear to live within the budget you both agreed to, only to squander $1000s gambling and rack it up as unanticipated debt?
  • Did your spouse promise to be monogamous, only to cheat on you?

Now what?

  1. Did you stop inviting your parents to your events so you’d not feel let down?
  2. Did you invite your parents, give them dozens of chances to redeem themselves, and ride that roller coaster between hope and despair in your childhood home?
  3. Or did you invite your parents, but manage your expectations so whether they came or not you’d be OK?

What about your gambling partner?

  1. Do you file for divorce immediately and unravel your joint finances so you can regain control over your life?
  2. Do you have another budget conversation and trust them to “never gamble again, I swear…”
  3. Or do you create some accountability with a firm-but-fair response that connects your spouse with some version of Gamblers Anonymous and you with resources to help rather than enable the behaviors?

What about an unfaithful spouse?

  1. Do you immediately file for divorce without exploring any of the circumstances because it’s just too darn painful and you feel irreparably betrayed and righteous as in “How could s/he do this to me?”
  2. Do you so fear being abandoned that you put up a modest fight, but let them know you forgive them if they just won’t ever do it again?
  3. Do you insist on clarity, and invite both of you to therapy to explore what led to this affair, to understand what your relationship needs now, begin to heal and renegotiate the contract each of you wants going forward?

It’s not black and white is it?

And while it might seem as if I biased the answers above to favor option 3 in each case, the truth is that how we respond depends upon a whole other layer of trust. We can only end up more or less in alignment with the option 3 responses to the extent we trust ourselves.

We experience our world as predictable enough, as trustworthy enough to the extent three factors are in play:

NATURE – there is mounting evidence that people are born with different predispositions around trust. Don’t take my words for it! Here’s

NURTURE – Since John Bowlby’s work on attachment in the 1950s we’ve understood that parenting matters. Here’s

NOURISHMENT – Is the term I’m giving for this third factor in ones ability to trust. It’s the only one over which you have control, and it’s never too late to begin. Summed up by one of my favorite aphorisms:

“Trust in Allah, but tether your camel first.”

it’s about cultivating conscious awareness for all the factors in play before deciding whether, and how much, to trust.

As Frank Crane puts it ~

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We need that Goldilocks zone of trust.

Believe me, if a couple comes to me so burdened by one partner’s inability to ever trust again after a painful betrayal it greatly reduces the likelihood the relationship will ever recover.

And, if a couple comes to me with one partner totally committed to trusting their sweetie in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is unwise (refusing to recognize when addictions are present for example) it will bring about their mutual assured destruction.

More and more I find I’m working to help individuals learn how to trust themselves enough to be able to make heart-centered yet informed decisions.

This means helping a person learn how to nourish their own feedback systems so they can ~

  1. manage their natural inclination to be either more or less trusting, this Alphabet helps;
  2. manage their attachment wounds, if present, so that the fear of abandonment or abuse is recognized and healed;
  3. cultivate a clear-eyed, robust sense of self so they can wisely discern what level of trust this or that person or situation safely warrants.

What does this look like in practice? Come back NEXT WEEK where I’ll be writing about how to trust yourself more accurately


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

Independence, Co-dependence and Interdependence

So – I got this great question from a reader:

Whats the difference between independence, co-dependence and interdependence. How do you create a relationship where you can rely on your partner without losing yourself in them, or keeping too much distance? And how do you get your partner on the same page?

Let me start by admitting that – because I have long been haunted by this question – my husband Mark and I actually took separate honeymoons.

Figuring out how to be “me” in the thick of falling in love with “him” was mind-bogglingly hard for me.

We decided to marry after a relatively tumultuous 2-year courtship which I jeopardized spectacularly by testing out a different suitor. This chap (let’s call him Bill) had invited me to help him bring a small gill netter down Alaska’s Inside Passage.

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Oh, it’ll be fun. Should take about a week,”

he reassured me and I tried to reassure Mark.

I flew up to Ketchikan against my better judgment and dire warnings from friends. Ten days later I left Bill on a dock in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

The boat (and my relationship with Bill) had sprung a leak way beyond the reach of our resources to repair. The boat was dangerously low in the water. I had no money. I was very hungry and I was stranded in Canada without a passport. Not a good idea for a Brit on a work visa.

So when I made a collect call to Mark in Seattle (a 5 hour drive away across an international border) explaining my sorry state he simply responded:

I’ll be right there.”

Clearly I chose the right guy!

So sure, I’d chosen a fabulous man to marry but that was just the first step. Now we had to navigate that tightrope between two of the most powerful human drives – AUTONOMY vs ATTACHMENT – which, when taken to their extremes, cause a whole heap of problems for couples trying to come together.

Essentially there is a continuum that looks more or less like this ~

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with folks who choose total isolation on the left and folks who want to be fused with others on the right. If you are in a relationship and noticing issues, it’s unlikely you’re at the extremes. More likely you’ll find yourself somewhere between counter-dependence (where a person strives not to be dependent on anyone for anything, thus avoiding attaching to anyone else) and co-dependence (where a person strives not to depend upon themselves for anything, thus avoiding their own ability to be an autonomous human being).

So, let’s meet those troublemakers

On the extreme end of AUTONOMY and the “I’m all alone in the world and that’s how I like it” team we have, Ladies and Gentleman, the mighty stand-alone COUNTERDEPENDNECE


Think independent cat, totally disdainful of neediness.

This is our family cat “Mo”. The cat can sit wherever she chooses – including taking the prime spot right in front of the fire.

Counter-dependence occurs in dysfunctional families when a child experiences insufficient bonding and attachment, loss, abuse or the pain of betrayal. (To have loved and lost).

For these folks their  ~

  • Trust issues are “It’s simple. I don’t trust. Anyone.”
  • Core belief is “If I trust, I will be betrayed so I keep my distance.”
  • Favorite anything is “None of your business
  • Their favorite song is “Ill do it my way
  • Communication style is “Ill tell you how I want it
  • Daydreams “Include me, myself and I
  • Senses “What senses? I am disinterested in feedback
  • Control “Is focused on keeping me aloof and separate.” 
  • Assessment of problems “What problems? You lookin at me?
  • Ambition is “To succeed on my own
  • Worst fear is “Being controlled, manipulated, impacted by or vulnerable to anyone
  • Main move is “Whatever it takes to keep my distance”.

And on the extreme end of ATTACHMENT and the “I’m nothing without you and what do you want me to do now?” team we have, Ladies and Gentleman, CO-DEPENDENCE (and support team)

20141215_140925_LLSThink small designer pup who will do anything to please you, especially if treats are involved.

This is our family dog “Bailey”. Here she suffers yet another indignity, persuaded by her need for our love, and her fondness for treats. This is the annual compulsory enjoyment photo-op with The Christmas Antlers.

Co-dependence occurs in dysfunctional families where addiction, abuse, or chronic mental or physical illnesses are present but not addressed. The child in such a home learns to repress their feelings and needs.They don’t trust, don’t talk and don’t rock the boat.

For these folks their  ~

  • Trust issues are “I don’t trust myself to manage life separately from other people.”
  • Core belief is “I manage pain by merging myself with someone else in whose love I am whole, and by controlling the environment to keep everything OK
  • Favorite anything is “The same as my beloveds
  • Favorite song is “Love, Love Me, do
  • Communication style is “If I want my opinion Dear Ill ask you for it
  • Daydreams “Involve lots of obsessing over my mistakes and what others think of me
  • Senses “Are tuned to how everyone around me is feeling
  • Control “Is focused on getting others to think, speak and act a certain way
  • Assessment of problems “Goodness, everyone around me is in trouble.
  • Ambition is “Complete mind-meld with my Beloved
  • Worst fear is “Being pushed away, ignored or abandoned
  • Main move is “Whatever it takes to keep my beloved with me.

These are the extreme ends of the “super drives” that impact a person’s capacity for closeness, intimacy and connection. If you want to dive more deeply into these ideas you might enjoy Dr. David Schnarch – here’s a helpful intro:

One of the most important things in life is becoming a solid individual. And another important thing is to have meaningful relationships. Two of the most powerful human drives are our urge to control our own lives (autonomy), and our urge for relationship with others (attachment). One of the biggest tasks of adulthood is being able to balance these two urges, and one of the most common problems is having too much of one, and not enough of the other. People often feel claustrophobic or controlled in committed relationships, or feel like they can’t be their true self in their relationships, or feel like their sense of self is starting to disappear and they don’t know who they are any more. Others are constantly worried about “abandonment,” or “safety and security,” and constantly press their partner for “commitment,” and “unconditional love.”

Long term relationships are the perfect school-of-life for this journey. Dr. Schnarch refers to marriage as a “crucible” – you know, that feeling of being held “in a container in which two metals melt and undergo a severe trial”. Ouch!

So what new state are we hoping to emerge into after the high heat of relationship?

No matter how we’ve emerged from our childhood experiences – whether they were traumatic enough to plunge us to the far reaches of these positions of counter or co-dependency –  it seems a not unreasonable goal (or at least desire) to find some middle ground, where we can be both ~

  • the best version of our unique Self, &
  • mutually interdependent with the person we love.

Dr. Schnarch again:

The ability to balance our needs for autonomy and attachment is called differentiation. Differentiation is a scientific process that occurs in all species. For humans, it is about becoming more of a unique individual and a solid person through relationships with others.

So, back to that honeymoon.

20150717_161830_Richtone(HDR)Our plan was to spend an open-ended time in Europe, partly touring in our VW camper; partly working on an Uncle’s organic farm in Portugal; partly learning French and skiing in Grenoble; partly working on an Israeli Kibbutz; and partly spending time with our Europe-based family.

For my leaning-toward-the-far-end-of-Independence-since-I-lost-my-mum-whom-I-adored-so-was-reluctant-to-entrust-my-heart-to-anyone-ever-again Self, this was a challenge.

While one happy day passed to the next, I was also increasingly aware of another voice, my “be careful, don’t get too close!” warning voice, that worried I was eroding my ability to ~

  • enjoy my own company
  • make my own decisions
  • sit in silence
  • be spontaneous
  • not care how I impacted anyone.

So, perhaps under the guise of “fun & adventure” (a clarion call for both of us) we hatched plans for a month apart. Mark took himself off to hike the high Alps in Austria. I took myself off to hike part of France’s Grande Randonee.

We took 4 weeks apart (our total Honeymoon was 18 months) and I spent every day of that month witnessing my own enormous inner battle. On the one side was my major Independent Part who dreaded the vulnerability, mourned the loss of my single freedom, worried about the future compromises and found fault with how Mark did things (in his absence of course!). On the other side was my major Dependent Part who yearned for his arms, the closeness, the delight of being seen, known and appreciated, the easy fun we had together and the future plans we were hatching.

Looking back, I think this is what we all have to do – in our own way and on our own time frame – to resolve this issue.

The art of differentiation is finding this middle place where we learn how to become fully ourselves, in the context of another.

Easier said then done – I know.

Here are my TOP FIVE TIPS for finding a happy balance point between isolation and fusion, in your relationship for you and your partner.

1. Wrap your head firmly around these concepts. If it seems like you and your partner might be struggling because you have very different needs regarding time together and time apart, or connection versus independence, check out the links in this article and continue to research the five main terms I’ve been using in this article ~

  1. Counter-dependence
  2. Independence
  3. Interdependence
  4. Dependence
  5. Co-dependence

We don’t talk about them all the time, but they are super helpful to grasp.

2. Be honest with yourself. Figure out where you are on this Autonomy to Attachment Scale.

Autonomy to Attachment Scale

If you’re on the Autonomy, or minus side, you may find yourself ~

  • with an avoidance mindset
  • distancing
  • hiding emotionally
  • withholding
  • keeping your distance

If you are on the Attachment, or plus side, you may find yourself ~

  • with an approach mindset
  • pursuing
  • demanding intimacy
  • giving
  • seeking to blend
  • closing distances

3. Talk About This With Your Partner. It helps to know if your needs for autonomy & attachment are similar, complimentary or problematic. Talk together about what that center ZERO point might look like in your relationship.

4. Do your own personal work. Just because you’ve “caught” your partner does not mean you should give up becoming a more conscious, compassionate “best version” of who you have the potential to become. In fact, you owe it to your partner to keep up the good work. Not sure where to begin? Well – one place to start is with the very first posting in this relationship series with, Part of Me Wants.

5.  Get Help If You’re Stuck.  That’s what folks like me are for. As long as you can do this on your own, that’s fantastic. But a good therapist will help you figure out what needs to happen to help move you over any relationship stumbling block you may be encountering. This is tough stuff – give yourself a break!

So how did the marriage go?

It’s been 32 years since Mark and I tested our capacities for tolerating closeness and separation on our independent honeymoons. Looking back – since I’d not known about these issues nor created the Autonomy – Attachment scale back then – we figure Mark’s a +4 and I’m a -4, so we’ve had our fair share of bumping into one another’s preferred boundaries there.

We’ve achieved a close-enough to Zero balance for interdependence that we’re ever going to attain. We’ve loved and raised 2 children; started and folded companies and earned our living a variety of ways in a variety of countries; we’ve interwoven our lives with extended family and celebrated births, weddings and funerals; we lived with a variety of exchange students, long term house guests and animals; we take vacations together and apart; have overlapping and independent interests; and we work to never be boring – to ourselves or one another. That ever present juggling to foster each of our individual paths in the context of our marriage has become less and less an “either / or” feeling and more and more a both / and.

It’s a journey well worth the taking.

PS: A dear friend (thank you Stuart) who helps edit these posts wrote this:

The journey to zero is not an easy one even when the desire for it is evident. It is a journey that requires a sense of “worthiness, authenticity and vulnerability” that can be elusive at times. It also requires intentionality –  it doesn’t just happen.”

Good point!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness