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Healthy Relationships & Healthy Boundaries

What Makes A Healthy Relationship?

After relationship crisis, we often wonder, "What does a healthy relationship even look like?  What are we working toward?"  This article sites attributes and behaviors that often lead to meaningful, intimate, fulfilling relationships.  Important note: Healthy relationships can be learned.


  • Attachment Science & Interpersonal Neurobiology studies how the brain wires, structures, develops around what we see, touch, think, practice—this often happens within the context of relationships (emotional expression, personality development, “rules of engagement” with the world and others).  Genes play a role in who we are but our brain is shaped by our environment.

  • Children need love, affection, and secure attachments with safe adults as desperately as they require food and water for survival. These relationships create “templates” for how one develops and continues to engage in future relationships (its their “normal”)

  • Whatever “attachment strategies” were deemed ineffective in gaining attention, were lost or disconnected from self

  • The absence of secure attachment with others creates a lifetime of stunted physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development. (It can also be a core underlying issue in addiction and other “emotional dysregulation” issues)

  • Science shows the brains is malleable (known as “neuroplasticity”) and can repair trauma and attachment wounds.

  • Developing secure attachment behaviors is paramount to engaging in and maintaining long-term healthy relationships. It’s directly correlated with a willingness to take healthy risks, engage in creativity, and find satisfaction and meaningful relationships in life.

  • Secure attachments provide skills to allow you to healthily cope with the stress and chaos of life


Attachment Styles


Secure Attachment—Securely attached (SA) children come from an environment where there is safety and caretakers around them are mostly (not always) attuned, attentive, and responsive to the child’s needs.  SA children are not without trauma histories or struggles.  However, its more about how the SA child made sense of what happened to them.  There is repair and more examples of healthily talking about and leaning into other’s during challenging times. They are allowed to process and make sense of adversity or tragedy, develop a story around it, learn from it, develop healthy coping skills to manage the discomfort (fear, sadness) around it.  SA children see their parent as a secure base from which they can venture out and independently explore the world.  Therefore, their left and right brain can become integrated to explore both concrete and more abstract concepts into their daily experience (i.e. linear thinking, facts, logic versus imagination, intuition, feelings).  The parent attends to the needs of the SA child, not the other way around, so there isn’t an overwhelming sense of duty and obligation blocking the child’s genuine thoughts/needs/experiences.  An SA childhood has caretakers who establish clear expectations, boundaries, and accountability/consequence structures.  That, in turn, creates a sense of safety, predictability, and a “road map” for the child to successful navigate adversity.  This creates a sense of confidence and self-worth.


An SA adult creates a similar relationship with their romantic partner, feeling secure and connected, while allowing themselves and their partner to move freely. They are emotionally intelligent, while also able to pay attention to the facts (over fantasy).  SA adults offer support when their partner feels distressed. They also go to their partner for comfort when they feel troubled. Their relationship tends to be honest, open and equal, with both people feeling independent, yet loving and supporting of one another. There is a commitment to repair when necessary.


Insecure Avoidant (Dismissive) Attachment—Avoidant Dismissive Attached (ADA) children are not technically neglected or abused but parents are unable to be attuned or properly respond to ADA’s needs so ADA eliminates the drive to attach and begins to develop the (unconscious) mindset that they are the only one who can meet their needs, blocking their innate urge to seek others for comfort and connection. Sometimes ADA’s will only receive attention by caretakers when they are performing or being “tasked” by parents, so they will develop left-brained (concrete) performance focused, rather than a “whole brain” integration where they can also feel safe to explore their passions, abstract concepts of acknowledging their wants and needs and holding space for other’s wants and needs, etc.  In addition, some ADA’s caretakers may reverse roles and count on AVA to be attuned and responsive to their needs, instead.

Avoidant Dismissive Attached tend to be emotionally distance (dismissive) from their partner and others. They may seek isolation and feel “pseudo-independent.”  They often take on the role of “savior”, parent, or caretaker of others but may also appear to remain focused on themselves and may be overly attending to their creature comforts (self-soothing, rather than co-regulating).  ADA adults tend to struggle with emotional intelligence and repair work (because it was never demonstrated to them).  They want to be around others but keep loved ones at an emotional distance, often keeping secrets or not sharing what they’re thinking or feeling.  They will often become hypercritical of partners to maintain distance.  They can appear to cut emotional ties easily but struggle with being alone.  They are often highly adept at self-regulating (often through unhealthy means), but struggle with seeking others for help, connection, and co-regulation.

Insecure Anxious (Pre-Occupied) Ambivalent Attachment—Anxious Attached (ANA) children come from caretakers who show emotional dysregulation, fear, and anxiety that causes caretakers to show up inconsistently.  Their caretakers inconsistent, unpredictable patterns cause ANA to become obsessed (pre-occupied) with how to get their caretakers to show up consistently in their lives.  This, in turn, leads the ANA child to INCREASE their drive to try to attach more.  They become “anxious” and “pre-occupied” with their caretaker leaving or abandoning them while also focusing on how to keep their caretaker in their life consistently.  Because of their obsession with their external relationships, they are not able to connect with their relationship with themselves (self-regulation, their wants and needs).  Therefore, their confidence to manage adversity on their own is limited and often triggers a deep sense of fear and despair.


ANA adults can become hyper-focused on their loved ones behaviors and choices which lead them to complain often and experience deep dissatisfaction in the relationship.   Yet they also struggle with real love or intimate gestures and may often “fantasy bond” or trauma bond with others.  They will often connect with others from a desperate place to keep the relationship rather than sharing their intimate lives with another.  They’re frequently looking to their partner to rescue or complete them. Although they’re seeking a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner, they take actions that push their partner away.


Disorganized (Fearful) Attachment—The Disorganized Attached (DA) child has a home life fraught with trauma, abandonment, and fear.  The DA child struggles with dissociation, disconnection from memory, body, what they think/feel, regulating emotions, and forming/keeping/experiencing safe and satisfying relationships.  The trauma, abuse, and neglect that were experiences was never acknowledged, processed, and the DA was never given the space to develop a story of empowerment from the tragedies.  They often struggle with interpreting other’s intentions or discern what is a safe person or situation and may also expose themselves to continue to be victimized throughout their lifetime.


The DA child and adult live in an ambivalent state in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others.  They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to. They will swing from being emotionally shut down to volatile.  They see their relationships from the working model that you need to go toward others to get your needs met, but if you get close to others, they will hurt you.   The ambivalent state shows up in unstable moods and often leads DA’s to seek substances or external sources to down-regulate, instead of other humans.


Developing Secure Attachment


The following are guideposts to practicing and engaging in secure attachment with others:

  • Come from a Place of Worthiness: Assume that you are loveable, valuable, and that the people you are in relationship with see you as a positive part of their life.

  • Practice Effective Communication: Clearly communicate your feelings and needs, allow others to do the same, avoid name calling or generalizations. Do not avoid having difficult conversations just to “keep the peace.” Listen to understand, not to respond.

  • Be Predictable, Not Perfect: Predictability equals safety, safety is required for intimacy, intimacy leads to secure attachment. Predictability comes from being honest, following through with your commitments and promises, and being consistent.

  • Seek Proximity to Others in Times of Pain and Joy: Invest in and develop your close relationships at all seasons of your life. We need others during times of celebration and times of pain and suffering.

  • Giving and Receiving Comfort: When being comforted by others or when you’re comforting others, remember the guideposts of empathy and compassion. Comfort without judgement. Don’t try to fix it anything. Pain avoidance isn’t the goal, it’s about building a tolerance for it and providing healthy coping tools to get through it.

  • See and Be Seen: Attune to our loved ones, try to understand what they’re feeling or experiencing so they can feel “seen.” This can also be done by literally being seen, showing up for your loved one’s events, engaging in hobbies together, spending quality time with one another. Being seen by others also requires us to share what’s going on with us, helping them understand our experience and reality.

  • Repair Mistakes in a Timely Manner: Repair mistakes and damage as soon as possible. There will be imperfections and ruptures in all relationships. It’s important that everyone invest in repairing and reconnecting.

  • Talk About Messy Things: Humanity and vulnerability are inherently messy. Don’t be afraid to have the difficult conversations, to discuss scary, uncertain things. Doing so can help build resiliency within a relationship.

  • Always Stay Curious: Narrate what you see, get curious about why, how, and what you’re experiencing. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. This keeps you out of your “threat state” and more in your executive/securely attached state.

  • You Don’t Have to Be Securely Attached to Everyone: Research shows that you just need a few people in your life that you feel truly safe with in order to reap the mental, physical, and emotional benefits that secure attachment provides

  • Be Willing to be Vulnerable: Loving and being in relationship with other flawed human beings is always vulnerable and always a risk. The source of our greatest pain and greatest joy often comes from the messiness of relationships. Secure attachment can only be achieved if both people in the relationship are willing to expose themselves to risk and emotional uncertainty. The risk is high, but the reward is greater.

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