Interview With Isabel Kirk: Sharing Her Thoughts on Chemistry, Attachment Styles and Much More
1. One question we get asked quite often from our subscribers especially from women in their late 30s and above is if there are enough eligible men looking for a serious long term relationship. There seems to be this belief that men around their age group are more interested in younger women.
What advice do you have for women who have a deep rooted skepticism that they can’t find love because of their age and are almost at the point of giving up?
When it is true that the older we get the smaller the pool of prospects becomes, it is not about the age.
Yes on the surface men prefer them younger why not? But what is going on is something deeper. They tend to prefer younger women because in addition to their youth, they usually don’t have the pressure of commitment as with a woman in her 30’s. Why? Because unfortunately if the man is still single and so are you it is probably and issue of attachment style (link). not age.
Attachment is an internal psychological system that determines the way we bond/relate to people.
There are 4 styles: secure which is the healthy style, and insecure which is the one that creates the problems we see in relationships. People tend to think it is a matter of luck or the lack of it or the other’s person fault. But the majority of people that are still struggling either finding a relationship or being happy in one is because they have an insecure attachment style (link).
How many people classify themselves as securely attached?
In a classic study by Hazen and Shaver (1987), 56 percent of respondent identified themselves as secure, while 25 percent identified as avoidant and 19 percent as ambivalent/anxious. So the bad news are that probably you and these men are among one of the last two categories. The good news: you can change that and find healthy love regardless of your age, looks and other external factors. Yes the longer it takes the most complicated but if you work on your attachment style, you can still be happy.
Remember that the goal is not marriage but a healthy happy marriage.
So I recommend that you do some work on your self. That way you will become more attractive to men and able to work with him the differences that any couple has. For more information stay tuned to my book : “Improve Your Relationship EQ by Improving Your Attachment Style” where I describe the issue in depth and line up the steps to achieve this.
2. Some of our subscribers feel stuck in their love lives because of their past emotional baggage. This affects them in a number of ways- they either tend to compare the next man they are dating with their ex or they have trust issues because they have been cheated on before or they just cannot seem to forget their ex and move on in life.
What are some practical ways that can help women release their past emotional baggage so that they can start attracting healthy love into their lives?
Well I think the way we expect our experiences to disappear instead of integrating them as part of our present and future lives, many times becomes an obstacle that actually keep us stuck.
Comparing the last relationship to the current one is normal.
The best and easiest way is instead of trying to forget that person is to admit that he/she might always have a special place in your heart and keep him/her there. The current person might offer new and different things and if you are happy with them it can be ok to miss the ones your ex gave you that now you don’t have them.
After all, no relationship is perfect but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t mind one. -:) Now if you find yourself constantly remembering or longing for your ex, then it might be that the current relationship isn’t fulfilling enough. Therefore, the focus should be in reassessing if this person is a good match or being able to identify areas of improvement and to talk about them.
Now if that happens way too often or there is a particular person you just cant get over, it is usually because that person triggers some of your early childhood experiences. Therapy would help you process those experiences.
In regards to cheating or other abusive experiences, you also would need some work since again we just don’t pass over traumatic situations in our lives, forget or get over them. It is just not the way the human brain works.
Cheating and abuse are one of the most traumatic experiences a person can suffer because it is a relational trauma.
People can recover from war, car accidents and natural disasters easier than from relational trauma when it comes from a person we trust such as a parent, friend or partner. So if you find yourself having problems trusting your current partner, regardless of he/she giving you reasons or not, and you or one of your parents has been victim of infidelity, getting some professional help is the best way to go.
Unfortunately it wont resolve on its own and it will sabotage future relationships because the effects of trauma remain even when situation ends if not treated. So please don't take it lightly or put all the weight in your current relationship. Neither of you deserve it.
3. One popular concern that our subscribers have is regarding sharing their feelings with the man they are dating. What we typically find is that when women like the man they are seeing, they tend to avoid bringing up difficult issues and tough conversations because they fear they might lose him. So what they generally tend to do is that they keep it to themselves and give the impression that things are just fine.
For example, they have a fantastic date with a man and he says he will call after a few days. They wait, wait and wait to be disappointed that he didn’t follow up as he said he would. But they are happy when they eventually hear back from him and don’t share how they really felt during the no contact period.
What would your advice be for women who have the fear that sharing feelings and emotions will drive a man away and make them come across as someone clingy and needy?
Oh this is my favorite topic and day to day work. You are right that is one if not the main mistake we make at the beginning of relationships. The problem is usually not the feeling or need but that we are embarrassed about it and therefore don’t communicate it or communicate it too late and not in the best way. This only sends the message that the neglecting and dysfunctional behavior is ok, or ends up in an explosion after holding back for too long and the prophecy that reenacts the negative cycle happens since the other person then with reason thinks we are crazy or too needy, because at that moment we are.
So the best way is to learn about how a healthy relationship looks like in terms or feelings and needs and how communications goes about them. Again, in my book I outline all the steps and examples of how to go about it.
But in general it looks like this:
1. Own your needs and feelings.
Nobody can tell you it is wrong or that you shouldn’t feel or need this or that. People’s needs and feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. Obviously you have to be the first person to believe and respect that. It is a big red flag when a guy doesn’t respond to your requests and then judges or shames you.
2. When noticing a behavior such as the one presented in the example above, take the risk to be vulnerable and assertive (healthy option, not passive: nothing happened or aggressive: screaming or calling names).
Being vulnerable is important because is needed for creating intimacy. If you dare to mentioned that you were a little disappointed, or whatever you felt because of he not following through which is normal and valid then you can evaluate his response to that. But oh no how are you going to show him that you are interested?Guess what? By accepting to continue to talk or see him you are admitting that you are interested and by not saying anything about his behavior you are admitting that he can treat you as he wants and you wont say anything. So which one do you prefer?
3. Use “I” statements instead of accusations.
When we use harsh tone or words about the other person it raises their defenses and therefore doesn’t open up the space for a constructive conversation. Instead share your experience. E.g. I am confused…, I found interesting, I thought…is that right?
4. Be curious.
Instead of jumping to conclusions in your on head, ask open ended questions and listen to his responses. It might be something that legitimately makes sense or not. Ah and look for apologetic vs defensive answers. That would show that he recognizes it is not ok and act differently in the future. If he doesn’t you are better off without him. Trust me! If this is the beginning, the future doesn’t get any better.
So yes say something for sure but learn the way to do it since it can make a big difference.
4. From our subscribers, we often hear “lack of chemistry” as a leading reason why they aren’t willing to go out on a second date with a man even though he seemed to be a decent guy and they were comfortable and treated with respect during the first date.
Can you share your thoughts on chemistry- how important is it for a relationship to succeed long term and can chemistry grow over time? Is it worth persisting with a man with whom a woman feels comfortable but doesn’t quite share the chemistry?
While some chemistry is definitely needed and important it is not the main element.
A lot of people base their decisions on that and i understand it. But unfortunately if you have an insecure attachment style (anxious or avoidant), the highest chemistry could be in this case misleading.
Because the chemistry is going to be driven by the unconscious unresolved issues of your childhood. Harville Hendrix, the author of famous book “getting the love you want” and creator of the Imago theory ( http://www.imagorelationships.org) explains it really well.
Also in the book “Reinventing your life”, it mentions how if in scale of 1 to 10 you like a guy 10 you should run the other way, because it is probably going to be because he reenacts some frustrations from earlier in life.
“Loving in an unstable relationship feels comfortable and familiar to you. It is what you have always known. And the instability keeps activating your life trap, generating a steady flow of chemistry. You stay passionately in love. Choosing partners who are not really there for you ensures that you will continue to reenact your childhood abandonment.”
Now I don't think you should always run but definitely be aware. The higher the chemistry the more the issues you might have to work through.
Furthermore, healthy love, people in stable relationships don't have or need that high or chemistry so much. It is not like a drug. If you felt that chemistry you know what i am talking about -:)
So my recommendation is go with a guy that you are attracted enough even when the chemistry is not the highest, not so much because it will grow (as people tend to say) but because if you want a stable and healthy relationship there are other wins that that offers such us trust, stability and respect.
Chemistry is usually associated with other things more opposite such as instability, intensity and not secure enough but feeling like you are always on the chase. Contrary to popular belief you aren’t settling down, you are choosing healthy love.
5. Some experts recommend women wait till they get to know the man they are dating and not have sex until you both are committed to exclusivity. Some experts believe you should go with the flow and be spontaneous and not have any rules regarding when you want to sleep with a man.
Can you share your thoughts on the right time to have sex especially if the woman is interested in pursuing a long term committed relationship?
My opinion is that it doesn’t matter.
Even though it is recommended to not go with it the very first night it is not because of the popular beliefs of the man thinking you are easy or undeserving of respect.
It is mostly because if you cant control yourself it is probably a sign that you cant control your emotions and that you are not able to use your logic as appropriate.
So that would probably would come up in other interactions and give signals of your instability which is probably wider than in sex life. Food for thought!
6. Some of our subscribers have the tendency to ignore and overlook the red flags especially when they really like a man. In the process, they create an idealized version of the man and overestimate the feelings he has for them.
For women who have a history of fantasizing and idealizing a partner, what can they do to evaluate the man and their relationship for what it is truly worth rather than what they ideally like it to be?
The best way is to learn and accept that relationships have stages.
The first stage of romance is supposed to be that way and it feels great and people are perfect. We are actually supposed to not see the red flags so we get together. Now what we need to learn is that it is only one stage that has to happen but that it doesn’t last forever and that the truth will come up which will have positive and negative traits.
People tend to feel disappointed and confuse and even deceived because the other person is not who s/he was at the beginning.
And yes even though we all try to show our best, the signals are there and we have to learn to be able to see them and work through them together or leave if that is best. So we don’t go into reproaching ourselves for not having seen them and feel worse with ourselves, but enjoy that phase while it lasts but be ready for the reality to take place and then accept it in ourselves and our partners and live by making the best of it.
Dr. Harville Hendrix’s Imago theory sustains that the purpose of the unconscious, in marital choices based on romantic attraction, is to finish childhood (Getting the Love You want, 2008). So it makes sense that we idealize and that there are red flags.
The goal is to find a balance.
So we don’t continue to fight to maintain that ideal that is only a product of our minds and we don’t run away because there are red flags. There are supposed to be there as signals of the work that needs to be done and not to run away or be scared of unless one partner doesn’t want to join the journey.
In conclusion, know that that ideal man you found is only temporary and be happy with him but then be ready to do the work that real love requires, which involves looking into yourself and working with him towards a healthy relationship.
7. Can too much honesty negatively affect a relationship especially when you have just started seeing the other person? How much of the past and even the present should you reveal to the man you are dating? Should you share details like cheating in the previous relationship, the fact you are currently seeing a therapist or you are a recovering alcoholic etc? Some of our subscribers have been too honest and in the process lost out on many men because it freaked them out.
Can you share your thoughts on how women can balance the fine line between honesty and giving themselves the chance to date men and pursue a long term committed relationship?
Like anything else in life balance is best and depends on the subject.
For example being separated, divorce and having children i think should be disclosed within the first or second date at the latest so the other person knows what the reality is and if is ok for him/her. The rest should be part of a moderate rhythm which is mostly recommended.
Again, coming from the attachment style perspective most people with anxious attachment would tend to disclose too much too soon and people in the avoidant category to not share much. So see where you fall into the continuum and adjust accordingly.
Things about your own growth and treatment should be disclosed mainly because you are comfortable for being there and therefore want to share and be accepted for who you are.
If the other person runs then it is better now than later because whatever develops isn’t based on the truth and therefore will fall apart sooner or later. Now it doesn’t mean you have to disclose all your single mistakes but try to be fairly honest, not brutally though.
We are all human and judgmental to some degree so the more compassion and understanding the subject requires the more cautious you need to be.
Now depending on the receiver if somebody is not going to accept you the timing doesn’t matter at all so at some point you have to decide what is best for you.
8. What are some best practices when it comes to clearly communicating your deal breakers and boundaries and when should you be having these conversations? I have heard from quite a number of my women subscribers who initially set the bar low and then find it incredibly difficult to raise the bar in the relationship because their partner has been conditioned to the earlier low standard.
Many women find it quite difficult to have these conversations because they fear coming across as someone too uptight and rigid and worry about driving men away.
Yes the problem is as you mentioned that we are too worried about the other person’s reaction and do everything to try to get it regardless of our own needs, feelings and self-respect and then it is too late to change that.
It all depends on the way you do it, so if you present them in a cordial but firm way there is nothing wrong with you communicating things since the beginning and again if the man leaves when you do, it is because he wasn’t going to be able to attend to you in the first place.
So you are better off anyway. To be honest it is also confusing if in the beginning you are ok with certain things, and all of the sudden you are not. Who is the real you? In order to be in a healthy relationship you have to dare to lose it. Otherwise, you will always be slave of the fear of losing the other person and the price is pretty high.
9. Our subscribers also run into a situation where things are going great and just when they think the relationship has great potential or feel he is the one, the man starts developing cold feet. He pulls away, doesn’t respond to phone calls or text messages and in some cases disappears for a while.
What advice do you have for women who deal with men that suddenly pull away and act inconsistent?
This is the typical dynamic with an avoidant style man.
When they start feeling close or too invested, their sense of independence kicks in and they start creating the space they need to feel ok. Try to collaborate without negating your needs.
Give him sometime to regulate and realize that you can be without him and that you wont suffocate him with your needs as his unconscious is telling him.
In other words, make it safe for him to reengage and most importantly, don’t shame him.
Then maybe at a different moment you can express your feelings and needs but do not do it trying to communicate that he is a bad person for not contacting you because he wont be able to tolerate that.
It is better if you just express them and remember that when he pulls away it is not because of a lack of interest or decrease in love. It is about him and his survival mechanism being activated so hang in there.
Be assertive about your needs but with the understanding of his and when you are both calm try and persuade him of working together in a collaborative way so they can coexist and both be attended.
10. What are your top 3 relationship tips that you would offer women who are single and looking for a long term committed relationship?
1. Invest on yourself. The more you know and work on your attachment the better prepared you would be to be in a relationship.
2. Be direct and secure about who you are, your needs and feelings, strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to talk directly.
3. Really stop looking for perfection or pleasing to get the man. Be who you are, be ready to compromise and more importantly do the work that creating a relationship takes. They shouldn’t be work but they are.
About Isabel Kirk
Isabel Kirk is a bilingual licensed professional counselor psychologist serving the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC metropolitan area. With almost 10 years in the counseling field, she believes her own personal journey as well as her professional intuition and extensive training are the main skills she possesses to help people improve their lives.
She works with individuals, couples, families and groups from different backgrounds and situations, helping them not only to solve problems but to have more fulfilling lives. She is also the author of Improving Your Relationships EQ By Improving Your Attachment Style.
To know more about Isabel, visit her website at www.dcvacounseling-psychotherapy.com.