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Finding Joy in Bonding

"I’ve been bonding with my new computer and I think I’m making progress!” Alicia tells me with pride,  “Now if I could just have a better bond with my 55 year old body I’d be good to go.”


This curious use of the word “bonding” spins my mind off on an exploration of the nature of human relating. I smile as I recall how my husband bonded with his bike just as some men become one with their sports car, how communing with nature is an experience of union, and how nursing a baby or having sex causes a release of the neurotransmitter, oxytocin, a  physiological support for attachment behaviors.  Bonding: we seem to naturally want to do it and it’s happening everywhere, all the time, in all kinds of ways.




The joy in loving bonds is universally captivating and yet often mystifying. When seen through the science of attachment, love is a dance with profound physical, emotional, and evolutionary purpose. In her recent book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson points out that love is “the pinnacle of evolution” because it “drives us to bond emotionally with a precious few others who offer us safe haven from the storms of life.” It is “designed to provide emotional protection so we can cope with the ups and down of existence” and is “as basic to life, health, and happiness as the drives for food, shelter, or sex.”




But when we are distressed in relationship, there are equally profound consequences. The flood of hormones that results from relational stress can reduce immune function and increase the risk of disease. The vulnerability of relationship goes well beyond our emotions, it goes into our bodies and undermines the very survival potential it is meant to further. Our bonds then feel like bondage.




Science is telling us what we need—close, positive connection with others. It also tells us what undermines our health and wellbeing—distress in relationships. It’s clear that managing the quality of our love relationships is imperative. Having our attachment needs met is central. Do you know what those are for you? Here’s a partial list to consider (from Dr. Johnson’s book):

I need to feel, to sense that:


·      I am special to you and that you really value our relationship.

·      I am wanted by you, as a partner and a lover, that making me happy is important to you.

·      I am loved and accepted, with my failings and imperfections.

·      I am needed. You want me close.

·      I am safe because you care about my feelings, hurts, and needs.

·      I can count on you to be there for me, to not leave me alone when I need you the most.

·      I will be heard and respected. Please don’t dismiss me or leap into thinking the worst of me.

·      I can count on you to hear me and to put everything else aside.

·      I can ask you to hold me and to understand that just asking is very hard for me.

Dr. Johnson, pg 163


Print this list out and make it available to yourself and your partner as a guide to:

         (1) Use as a conversation for the deepening of your relationship by understanding and attuning to each other’s attachment needs;

         (2) Help you identify what is at stake for yourself in troubling relational moments and thereby more clearly ask for what you need;

         (3) Provide guidance as to what need is fueling your partner’s behavior.

Although our need for love and connection is innate, understanding how best to relate must be learned and developed. Seeing those we love through the lens of attachment can help us to recognize that we all need each other, even in the middle of moments of protest and anger. It is in these difficult moments that we can choose to reach rather than withdraw, respond rather than react, cultivating the joyful bonds of love.