by Alisa Goodwin Snell
I’ve spent over two decades educating singles and couples on how to create secure attachments. There are many theories on the subject, but I have found the simplest and clearest way to understand attachment behavior is through the concept of “invitations and push aways.”
The idea of invitations and push aways was an attachment technique taught by Dr. James Harper, a marriage and family therapy professor at Brigham Young University. The examples below represent my own interpretation.
Test: Do I push others away or offer them invitations?
To assess whether your behaviors and words are pushing others away or inviting them in, review the questions below. Choose an answer that best describes your behaviors.
1. When in social situations…
a) I stay aloof, focus on my phone, or limit eye contact.
b) I wait for others to approach me and engage only if they do.
c) I say hi and smile warmly.
d) I approach several people and either use their name or introduce myself and learn their names. I ask questions that show I’m interested in them.
e) I approach many people, show enthusiasm, touch them on occasion, give compliments, and tell them I would love to spend more time getting to know them.
2. When others send me texts…
a) I often don’t respond by the end of the day, or at all.
b) I respond hours later with simple, short messages.
c) I use emotion words or emojis that show I’m glad they texted.
d) I ask them questions about their day or try to make them smile.
e) I respond to their texts by expressing an interest in talking or doing something fun. I give a day and time that I would love to get together.
3. When talking with others and they suggest that we should do something fun…
a) I act mildly interested.
b) I wait for them to contact me (rather than contacting them). I often cancel plans with them or fail to follow up.
c) I express excitement and tell them I’d love to do something but don’t suggest when.
d) I follow up with them by phone or text and suggest a day and time that I’d love to get together.
e) I make time for them as often as I can, and when I’m not available, I suggest another day and time.
4. When I am in need…
a) I suffer in silence and feel lonely, sad, or unimportant.
b) I find a way to take care of the problem on my own rather than wait for others’ help (so they can’t disappoint or reject me).
c) When sharing about my life, I act as if I have everything taken care of and that I don’t need help. Overall I try not to need others.
d) I share what is happening in my life, but I wait for them to ask if they can help. When they offer, I accept and show appreciation.
e) I share little ways others can help me and how much I would love their support. I encourage them to participate in my life and offer to do the same.
5. When others or I feel sad, hurt, or offended…
a) I withdraw, assume the worst, and emotionally distance myself or end the relationship.
b) I don’t hold back. I tell them exactly how I feel, how they are wrong, and why I am right.
c) I ignore the problem and just act warm or respectful, hoping the issue will go away.
d) I speak up and express a desire to talk through the issue.
e) I show faith and trust in the goodness of our relationship and express interest in resolving the problem. We come up with a clear plan of how we can avoid the problem or handle the situation better next time.
If you responded to two or more of the questions above with “a” or “b” answers, then your words and actions are sending the message that you want to keep others at a distance. They may assume that you're pushing them away because you are too busy, you’re happy on your own, or you simply don’t like or trust them.
If you responded to two or more of the questions above with “c” answers, then you're sending stalemate messages. You may be acting somewhat warm and engaging, but you are not taking any real risks. You are leaving others with the responsibility for taking action, being vulnerable, and making things happen; therefore, you are actually pushing them away.
If you responded to two or more of the questions above with “d” answers, then you are sending clear messages that you value others. They may not be sure if you really want to get together, but they feel your warmth and respect.
It is only the “e” answers that display genuine desire for closeness and connection. Invitations communicate that you want to spend time with others and are willing to make the time.
Hopefully, this self-test has helped you determine the messages you are sending to others. Many times we are more responsible for the distance we feel in our relationships than we realize. Focus on sending clear invitations and you will either create closer relationships or feel more confident when walking away. Share this article with your friends and family to initiate a healthy discussion about how you can become closer to each other.
Alisa Goodwin Snell spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist and is now a dating and relationship coach. She’s an author and public speaker and has been featured on more than 100 TV and radio programs nationwide.