How Bonding Develops

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Greg Mortenson (2006) became lost on his way down a mountain he had climbed in Pakistan. Near death, he wandered into a small impoverished village where he was nursed and cared for. He has since returned to rural Pakistan in gratitude to build schools. One day the village elder interrupted Mortenson’s hard-pressing American work ethic and got him to sit for tea. Mortenson quotes the elder’s words in his best-selling book Three Cups of Tea. “Here we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything – even die.” Bonding is that third cup of tea.

Bonding is a continuum, a progression from distance to intimacy. The togethering begins with a meeting where a tangible connection occurs, proceeding over time to friendship. The friendship may grow into an attachment. As that attachment becomes more secure and important, bonding may result. True bonding is relatively rare.

Romance follows the same pattern. The first attraction may be physical. Nice body. Strong square shoulders. Looking good. Contact is made. A spark or meeting of minds may take place. The couple must decide whether they want to pursue the relationship. If so, they begin exploring what they have in common. The two hang out, go for a walk, attend a movie or concert, or have a meal together. They are seeing how it works to do ordinary everyday things with each other. But they are still not letting their guard down.

As they get to know each other better, the relationship develops into an attachment. As that attachment deepens and becomes more secure, and with the amplification of lovemaking, bonding may occur. “I cannot live without this person. Now what do I do?” We speak of the marriage bond as the usual outcome of this process.

In many ways, the ontogeny of bonding parallels Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (Maslow, 1943) Self-actualization can only occur if one begins with a secure and firm base. That secure base begins with the meeting of physiological needs, such as food, sleep, and housing. As those needs are met, safety becomes important. Next, love and belongingness become connected with the person or situation that makes one feel safe. Humans attach to the person who meets their needs. As these needs are met, the need for self-esteem can be pursued and gratified. People internalize the way others see them. If and when they feel more confident and sure of themselves, they may proceed to self-actualization, fulfilling their higher needs for religion and art and beauty.

The ultimate self-actualization is inter-dependence, where we find another with a soul like our own and there is a mutual meeting of needs. When two people meet one another’s needs from security to joy at sharing the finer things and moments of life, that can be called mutual-actualization. That can also be called bonding.