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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

The Love Doctor is in!

Do you like to cuddle in bed while your partner likes more space? Does your partner reach for your hand when you walk together while you prefer to keep your hands in your pockets?

From romantic relationships to parents dealing with empty-nest syndrome, Dr. Amir Levine has seen it all. He is also starting an attachment clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to treat all aspects of adult attachment with counseling and therapy. As a researcher, he is exploring the molecular mechanism of emotional memory and psychiatric disorders but in his clinical work, it is the emotional health of relationships that excites him.

Dr. Amir Levine book

“This is completely new,” he says. “There is a demand for a focus on relationships between adults and what we’re hoping to do is to give people tools and strategies to work on, to give specifics on how to train yourself so that you can improve your relationship with your partner.”

Dr. Levine is a co-author of “Attached – The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep – Love”. It explores the science behind why some are lucky in love while others struggle to find a meaningful relationship. So what does science tell us?

According to Dr. Levine, we are hard-wired for attachment. “As human beings, we are programmed to choose someone from the crowd and attach to them. From an evolutionary standpoint, having a partner gives us an advantage in our survival,” he explains. “The whole idea in attachment science is that we are programmed to want, to need to be with another person so it’s not a question of whether that’s good or bad. It’s simply the truth.”

But being in a healthy relationship is not only good for your heart but also good for your health. He points out that researchers have found that if you have hypertension, your blood pressure will be easier to control if you are in a good relationship. The same thing happens if you get a cut; it will heal faster. “Dependency is there whether we like it or not, as we can become almost like one physiological unit,” he says. “On a psychological level and physiological level, we become dependent on another person. It’s not a sign of weakness if you are dependent, it’s simply science.”

To find and sustain love, Dr. Levine says we need to identify what attachment style we are as well as the style of our partner. Anxious people tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back while avoidant people equate intimacy with loss of independence and constantly pull away. He says the most challenging combination is the pairing of someone anxious and an avoidant person. In contrast, secure people are comfortable with intimacy and that’s the type of attachment style that usually ends up anchoring the most successful relationships.

So how do we find our happily-ever-after? The secret is to pair up with someone who is secure, says Dr. Levine. “The secure person is like the universal blood donor in relationships.” And being secure means someone who is reliable, calls you and shies away from drama. “But sometimes people interpret that as a lack of interest or passion. People mistake reliability for boring but that’s reading it all wrong,” he advises. “You need to hang in there to uncover what is underneath.”

If you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, you should start with science. It’s in our genes to want to love and be loved in return. “The attachment system has a life of its own; once you have formed a strong romantic attachment, it runs very deep because it’s meant for safety and survival,” says Dr. Levine. “When you are looking for a partner, there is a science of how to look. We are programmed to get attached but it’s the quality of that attachment that is in our control and if you know how to navigate that, you are more likely to find a healthy relationship.”

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