This book is well-written and easy to read, which is more than you can say about a lot of self-help. And it has some useful insights. But most of it iThis book is well-written and easy to read, which is more than you can say about a lot of self-help. And it has some useful insights. But most of it is the authors' very subjective opinions about relationships, resting on small bits of science that are nowhere near solid enough for the philosophizing piled on top.
The description of anxious attachment is insightful and sympathetic. As someone who has manifested examples of all three styles in different situations, and has mostly dated anxious people, I found it useful for understanding both myself and my partners.
Unfortunately, there is a pervasive suggestion in the book that an anxious partner's problems can and should be fixed by the other partner: "if you feel unsettled in a relationship situation, all that is required is a minimal reassurance from your partner... to get back on track." (ch 5, Kindle loc 842) This may be true in some instances, but it glosses over the deep and persistent roots of many anxiety issues.
The description of secure attachment is deeply uninsightful. "People with a secure attachment style... are programmed to expect their partners to be loving and responsive and don't worry much about losing their partners' love." (ch 7, Kindle loc 1418). So half of all human beings are just naturally good at relationships and don't have to worry about them? The self-help industry would be far less profitable if that were the case.
But the description of avoidant attachment is actively toxic: "avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness." (ch 1, Kindle loc 121). "While people with an anxious or secure attachment style seek to resolve a disagreement to achieve greater emotional closeness, this outcome is uncomfortable for the avoidant who actually seeks to remain distant." (ch 8, Kindle loc 1687) And the examples of avoidance they present are indeed toxic. But there is little-to-no suggestion in the book that wanting boundaries or space in a relationship can be legitimate, that it's possible to seek varying degrees of intimacy, or that avoidant people's needs deserve any respect or accommodation similar to anxious people's.
In my opinion, the root of the problem is the way the authors describe secure attachment: "People with a secure attachment style view their partners' well-being as their responsibility." (ch 7, Kindle loc 1565) They would have benefited from a deeper review of the codependency literature, which instead they actively dismiss: "Today's experts offer advice that goes something like this: Your happiness is something that should come from within and should not be dependent on your lover or mate. Your well-being is not their responsibility, and theirs is not yours. Each person needs to look after himself or herself. ... While the teachings of the codependency movement remain immensely helpful in dealing with family members who suffer from substance abuse (as was the initial intention), they can be misleading and even damaging when applied indiscriminately to all relationships." (ch 2, Kindle loc 322)
This straw-man dismissal--which ignores ideas of mutual support and dependency vs inter-dependency that are discussed in any book on codependency--is justified with a very tenuous reading of the science: "Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities. The emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today's popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective." (ch 2, Kindle loc 339) This ignores the fact that all of our emotional and social connections affect our biology, not just our intimate relationships. The only study cited in this section is a comparison of the effect of women holding hands with strangers vs their husbands. If someone demonstrates that holding hands with friends is also comforting, would Levine and Heller conclude that friends are not separate entities?
Fortunately, the book ends with good general advice on effective communication--most of it not really specific to attachment styles--and the exhortation that: "Your attachment needs are legitimate. ... Above all, remain true to your authentic self." It would be nice if they had remembered that principle through the rest of the book....more