By Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.

Penguin Publishing Group, January 5, 2012


  1. How would you rate this book out of five for FDRPs?

Sina: At least a 4/5.

There are a lot of complicated principles here and this is a very good place to start thinking about them. This is definitely a go-to for

anyone who works in any dimension of family law or the practice of relationships.

Raheena: I would rank it to 4 to 4.5 /5.

If an FDRP reads it as a starting point, I would give it 4.5. As a sole resource, I would give it a 4 because the very accessible writing comes at the expense of some important academic concepts that are useful for FDRPs to understand. It’s probably a necessary trade-off, especially because the intended audience is people who are seeking to understand their romantic bonds rather than FDRPs!


  1. Here’s a challenge: after reading this book, how would you explain attachment theory in an elevator pitch?

Sina:  wow, ok, that is a challenge.

Elevator pitch: There are three predominant attachment styles: secure, avoidant, and anxious. The secure is rather ‘solid’, if you will. The avoidant style deals with conflict by not dealing with the conflict. The other is anxious style which can manifest itself in different ways. One of which tends to be that the conflict itself is the conflict: it can be crippling to someone with an anxious style. You can have a mix of both insecure attachment styles; and you can shift your attachment style. There’s an interplay between all three styles. 

Raheena: I’ll start with the caveat that I’ve taken Dr. Ennis’ Family Relations course and I’ve researched attachment quite a bit, as I think it’s a really important concept in understanding family violence, which I deal with in my blog – so my answer might exceed the scope of the book! 

Elevator pitch: There are four attachment styles, though the book leads us to believe there are three overriding ones, which Sina has covered. Attachment theory is this idea that we connect to those closest to us in an invisible way, forming attachment bonds. We first develop bonds with our caregivers as children, and continue this process throughout life. The way that we form bonds between ourselves can result in secure or insecure bonding. There are three varieties of insecure bonding in adults: avoidant (which the academic literature calls dismissive), anxious (academically known as preoccupied), and anxious-avoidant (academically known as unresolved). We’re biologically wired to attach to others as a safety mechanism. (The book offers a couple of great evolutionary explanations as to the advantages of secure and insecure bond formations.) If we have formed insecure bonds, we display ‘protest behaviour’ in order to either fix or cope with the instability of the attachments. Protest behaviour can range from stonewalling another person all the way to outright violence.

 I may have failed that elevator challenge – I hope the elevator had quite a few floors!


  1. You both read this book as lawyers-mediators. What value can mediators and other FDRPs derive from reading this book?

Sina: This, like any other theory, forms part of the FDRP’s ‘toolbox’. As lawyers, we’re trained to look at a dispute or conflict from one dimension: the legal approach. The reality in family law is that there are many dimensions to the conflict: emotional, financial, psychological, and yes, legal.  To have this diverse toolbox allows an FDRP practitioner to go through these different dimensions to figure out what to do in order to best help the parties through each of these dimensions; connect them with the appropriate resources; or determine if there are subtle or underlying concerns that need to be addressed before they can actually proceed with mediation, for example.

Raheena: I won’t repeat what Sina rightly said, but I’ll add that in family law matters, as opposed to other civil matters, the parties are almost always attachment figures to one another. As such, the way that the conflict impacts them, their lives, and the way they respond to the conflict can look significantly different to any other forms of conflict. Attachment has a real impact on the dynamic between the parties and how conflicts play out in mediation or other dispute resolution processes.  I don’t think anything FDRPs learn from this book will be a surprise so much as explain the ‘why’ of underlying behaviour we’re used to seeing in our practices.


  1. What was the most important thing you learned from this book?

Sina: The simplicity of the three different attachment styles.  We see so much of theses styles in the clients that we serve. I initially thought that this would be too simplistic an approach but when you think about the different combinations of attachment style and the dynamics between these different attachment styles, this actually creates a very diverse and complicated picture.

Raheena: The most useful thing about this book is the diagrams! They allowed me to visually consume the information and at some points see a dynamic that I sometimes see play out between our clients!

 The book explains that insecure attachment styles result in developing strategies to solve for threats to one’s own safety stemming from insecure connection to attachment figures / one’s group. The anxious attachment strategy involves clinging to an attachment figure and doing anything possible to incentivize the attachment figure to stay with the anxious person. The avoidant attachment strategy involves relying on a coping mechanism to deal with insecure attachment that both the avoidant attacher and others perceives as not feeling or caring about the instability of attachment. However, tests show that the avoidant strategy is only an outward strategy and that these people still feel significant distress in the face of attachment instability. I found this interesting from the screening a process-design perspective. Seeing the interaction between anxious and avoidant strategies, especially in a visual format on pg. 158, queued me to think about how I direct the mediation process.

Sina: This can also help not only inform screening procedures but the overall efficiency of the mediation as well. In mediation, when you start to pick up a shift in someone’s style, the diagram on pg. 158 is very useful because you can actually see parties shift to different parts of the dynamic.


  1. How has reading this book impacted the way you practice?

Both: Caucusing!

Raheena: When I see parties descend from what the book calls the ‘comfort zone’ to the ‘danger zone’, it immediately cues me that it’s time for a break or to caucus.

Sina: This is yet another one of those tools that helps a mediator pick up clients cues, behaviors, mannerisms that gets the mediator thinking: ‘I might need to caucus’, or ‘I need to check in with the parties to see how they’re doing’, because the outward signs may not always physically be there.

Raheena: It also helps me use theoretical language to see and name what is happening in the room, and informs how I re-connect or reinforce rapport with clients based on what I perceive their attachment style to be.


  1. What was the most surprising thing you learned from this book?

Sina: I was surprised that people with secure styles dealing with people who have in-secure styles, that there is a spill-over. What I found surprising was that an anxious or avoidant person might become more secure after attaching with a secure person, and vice-versa. I thought there would be more rigidity of attachment styles.

Raheena: Given that the book is written in the context of romantic attachment, I was surprised by the extent to which I saw the theory applying in all sorts of relationships. We’re constantly forging relationships in every setting: at work, in our communities, in our social lives; in our families, etc. Understanding attachment theory is useful in understanding how we all inter-relate. It gave me a different vantage point from which to view interpersonal dynamics.


  1. When you think about parenting disputes, what did you learn from this book?

Sina: At the end of the day as FDRPs, we have a duty to ensure the safety of the child. This is a difficult time for the parties as well as the children. How the children attach with the parents can inform what outcome is in their best interests. It also helps inform how the parents and children navigate conflict between each other.

Raheena: Particularly when it comes to mediating communication between the parties, this theory can inform how parties communicate between themselves and with their children. I think we can educate clients about attachment theory just as we do about other relevant issues.


  1. The book talks about ‘secure relating’ and lays out effective communication between the styles. Please comment.

Sina: This is especially important when we think about the longevity of the co-parenting and how parties communicate. It’s really important that parties learn some of these skill-sets in order to communicate with the other parent, where appropriate, of course. Parties need to be able to raise the child, make decisions, co-ordinate things  – all of the things parents would normally do, except in separate households.

Raheena: When parents can learn to relate securely and have discussions using secure-relation principles with one another, they end up modeling how to relate securely for their children. Conversely, when parents relate insecurely, their child may be incentivized to relate to each parent in line with the parents’ attachment styles, which may not be healthy for the child.


  1. Was there anything about the theory that you disagreed with or that you felt needed more refining?

Raheena:  As I said before, professionals are not the intended audience for this book.  One thing in the book that differs from the academic literature is that they name the fourth style ‘anxious-avoidant’. A glaring gap is that the authors didn’t explain the strategy that results from this attachment style. I had to go digging through the academic literature to learn that this attachment strategy is often trauma-informed and is the result of having no clear strategy to achieve safety. This is why the academic literature calls this attachment style ‘unresolved’. There’s no real resolution to safety-seeking for people who have this attachment style. The book’s failure to provide this information was a really significant limit.  

Sina: The cynic in me says people don’t generally change so, reading this my knee-jerk reaction was to question the extent to which an insecure attacher could become more secure.  I had to pause and think about the concept that attachment styles can change; and to reflect on those moments where I’ve seen people actually changing the way they communicate and trying to adapt, knowing that if they talk a certain way, their message will get through to the other. After that reflection, I think it’s definitely possible for people to change in that way. I guess there’s a distinction to be made between the core values of a person changing versus their approach to dealing with a specific person. These skill-sets can be taught.


  1. Would you recommend this book to clients? Or anyone else?

Sina: I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t live in a cave! It provides an interesting opportunity for self-reflection.

I would probably recommend this to every single client. Given the nature of the conflict they’re going through, it is helpful. It can guide them towards some insight about themselves as well as help them figure out what might be going on for the other party.

Raheena: I agree. I think this is a great read for family law clients; and humans in general!

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