Why Do Some People Move Immediately From One Relationship Into The Next?
We all know people who seem to need to be in a romantic relationship no matter what. The short answer is that typically people who “cushion” the end of one relationship with the beginning of another do not have a clear but rather a fragmented sense of self. So they need another person in order to define themselves and feel grounded. Sure, many of us prefer to be in a romantic relationship, but if we can’t exist without one, it is much harder to make grounded dating choices.
It was interesting to discuss this topic with WJLA in Miami last month and we hope that the conversation can be helpful to others.
The piece explored the term cushioning — strategic, pre-meditated rebounding where the blow of a breakup or the blow of a relationship challenges is cushioned by leaping into the arms of another who has been lined up to wait in the wings
If someone has a pattern of cushioning, what’s interesting is that what on its surface of conscious awareness looks like a fear of being alone – of clinging – may really reflect a deeper, unconscious fear of true intimacy as the cushioning strategy sabotages a current relationship and creates a missed opportunity to be direct and vulnerable and address a problem head on.
What’s interesting for those of us who study attachment styles is how cushioning demonstrates two different attachment styles at the same time – the person is simultaneously anxiously attaching to a new partner while actively avoidant with the current partner.
Attachment theory has gained a lot of attention through the 2010 book Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. With no publicity effort, during the pandemic the sales of this book skyrocketed – it pulls on neuroscience to track how attachment dynamics in infancy and childhood correspond with attachments styles in adulthood and it theorizes that we tend to fall into one of 3 different categories – anxious which is what we think of in popular culture as clingy and tends to be driven by conscious or unconscious fear of abandonment, AVOIDANT – which looks distant or shut down, or Secure which is optimal and most conducive to intimacy and healthy secure relationships. I study attachment theory but I’m a systemic therapist which uses a slightly different frame and suggests basically the same thing, but is more curious about the degree to which we are anxiously or avoidantly attached, it suggests that we all of some level or one or the other but also that the greater the degree, the greater the volatility in our relationships, the more likely we are to toggle back and forth between our primary attachment style and the opposite style. So in that frame cushioning is an interesting example of how in one’s most reactive state, we can simultaneously demonstrate both an anxious and an avoidant attachment.