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What Marshall and Lily Can Teach Us About God

What Marshall and Lily Can Teach Us About God

A Look at Attachment Styles, their “How I Met Your Mother” Counterparts, and How it all Applies to Our Relationships with God 

Naomi Boonstra 

“So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us,” Acts 17:27. 

If you’ve taken general psychology, you (should) know about the different attachment styles, as identified by John Bowlby, when it comes to human relationships: dismissive-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, fearful-avoidant, and secure. I’ll refresh you on each of them just in case. These attachment styles help us to define the ways we relate to one another, and whether we’re making healthy or unhealthy connections. I’d propose, though, that they can be applied to how we relate to God as well. I would even say that as our relationship with God develops, it’s completely possible that we go through stages of each different style. His side of the relationship is always going to be unwavering, so it’s important for us to examine what we’re doing on our side. 

I grew up with the show “How I Met Your Mother,” so if you don’t mind, I’m going to relate each attachment style to one of its characters.  

Barney is the posterchild for the dismissive-avoidant attachment style in his romantic relationships. He’s completely uncomfortable letting any of the girls he’s with get close to him emotionally. This can happen with God, too. You might see it in a lack of vulnerability in your prayer life—for example, if your prayers don’t seem to delve deep into your personal life. 

People like Ted, who need constant proof and reassurance of love, have an anxious-ambivalent attachment. With Ted, this shows up in excessive romance, like learning a rain dance for a girl he’d just met, or excessive demand for romantic acts, like asking Robin to get rid of all her dogs. In a relationship with God, this might show itself in obsessive prayer and worship. While an abundance of these things isn’t inherently bad, the mindset of needing constant validation isn’t healthy in any relationship. Your relationship with God might be reflective of this attachment style if you feel constantly afraid that you aren’t doing enough to build it up. 

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How I Met Your Mother’s main character, Ted Mosby, honestly exemplifies pretty much all of the negative attachment styles. I attributed anxious-ambivalent attachment to him, but really, just don’t be like Ted all around.

This one may be more of a stretch, but it’s also the most complicated of the styles. Robin fits the fearful-avoidant attachment style the best with her sporadic relationships. She continually pushes away people who are good for her and dates ones who aren’t. Like a lot of people with this style, she has past trauma with a parent figure (her dad, in this case). People with this style both want love and push it away. In a relationship with God, it might look like wanting to invite God in but being afraid to let Him make real changes. It might look like being afraid not to pray, but also being afraid to pray.  

A secure attachment style creates a healthy relationship. Marshall and Lily illustrate this beautifully—they’re confident in their connection and commitment to one another. They’re so secure that when Marshall tells Lily about another woman who tried to kiss him, she laughs because she trusts him so much that she knows nothing would ever come of it. This is the ideal attachment style. In a relationship with God, it would look like simply loving God and not worrying about whether He loves you, too. A person with this sort of attachment has the easiest time accepting the gift of salvation, because they understand that it comes from love. 

Marshall and Lily’s security with one another is a good example of how God created us to be with Him.

In the end, all we’re asked to do is seek God. It helps us to be aware of what we’re doing within the relationship so we can better know how to jump the hurdles that relationships bring, but we have a huge advantage in knowing that God’s end of the deal is solid. He’s never far, and He’s always wanting to help our attachments to Him prosper.  

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