“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ~Daniel Coyle
I’ve heard this saying a lot, especially when it comes to relationships. I’ve written about the dangers of aggregate data before, but in the context of examining the factors that contribute to the longevity of a relationship — it can be very misleading. For example, my girlfriend in college was for a few months my boyfriend’s roommate. We were all alone with the dreaded phrase “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Because we were. When we moved in together, we gave each other a pedigreed “until death do us part” and broke up because it became impossible to coexist in such a small house with such a toxic mix of rambunctious roommates.
What we failed to realize at the time is that this was a toxic combination of factors that contributed to our ending up together — factors that were entirely our own.
Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
We didn’t understand attachment styles or how they work.
I have an anxious attachment style, and my girlfriend had the opposite attachment style — a secure one. We were both unable to understand how the brain works, why certain things triggered us and why we were triggered. We also didn’t understand how our subconscious worked, how our mind’s cognitive models of the world functioned, or anything in between.
So, we just kept repeating the same patterns over and over until they became automatic. This led us to fail at communication, or more specifically to misunderstand each other, because the very nature of our brains being so different meant we couldn’t understand the problems that were happening to her because she was very aware of the problems that had past her boyfriend.
This was my second example of what I just said — that these types of attachment styles don’t make you do anything right. They just manifest as toxic relationships.
Because of my attachment style and the mix of insecure and secure attachment styles that we had, it was impossible for me to be mindful of what my girlfriend needed in order to feel safe, and how I needed to make her feel safe in order for me to feel respected. All I was aware of was how my brain worked, and how I had to fix that by simply being mindful of what she needed in order to feel safe.
In a way, we were trying to fix each other’s minds, but in reality, we were just trying to fix each other’s brains.
We were unable to communicate effectively with each other because there wasn’t a trust level that allowed us to open up and be honest about the problems that we were facing, or the solutions that we were looking for in order to get back on track.
We were frustrated with each other because we were at our limit with our relationship, and we didn’t know how to break the cycle of doing everything we could to keep it from ending, and getting stuck in between lives, friends, hobbies, and any other aspect of being human.
We were unable to understand each other’s thoughts, because we had different ways of thinking.
The stressful part about this is that we were able to see each other’s thoughts, but we weren’t able to understand each other’s mentalstate. This meant that there was a level of misunderstanding that only made things worse because it became impossible to empathize.
The thing is, when we are trying to fix someone else’s mind, we are only able to fix a fraction of it. We are just not able to understand it completely.
This is why, when someone is in a bad relationship, no amount of prayers, no donations to the “sisterhood,” no articles about the “power of love,” no prayers for the “savior,” no articles about the “savior” will be able to fix them.
It is not up to anyone else, as it is not up to us, to fix this other half of this relationship that we have struggled to understand and fix.
It is up to us to do the work.
It is up to us to be willing to reach deep down and fix this other half of our relationship that has resisted our attempts at fixing the first.
How To Break The Cycle
Breaking the attachment-avoidant behavior cycle is not an easy task, but it is not impossible.
Here are a few things that I have tried in my own life to break the cycle:
I found it impossible to communicate with my girlfriend when she was in a bad relationship. I was afraid that by telling her problems, I would make her think I was controlling her, or that I was a bad person. So I kept my problems to myself. I thought that it was too difficult a task for her to understand, and she would get confused.
I was completely wrong about both of those assumptions.
Communication is not about control.