Theme: “Attachment” Part I Couples
I have to say that I love it when life comes in themes. Lately, the theme in my life has been attachment. Most of the current situations that have come up for the couples that I am working with and even for me in my own relationship have a strong link to how we attach and conduct our relationships based on that attachment. So to me, that means that it is time to look into what attachment does for us.
Attachment theory supposes that our intimate relations as infants will dictate how we connect with others as adults. I know…it sounds crazy but believe me it is not the weirdest way in which I have heard it (e.g. “A template for the way we love is the bond with our first caregiver”. Yikes!!!)
Attachment focuses on connection, humans are wired for connection, we suffer without it. Attachment extends to our intimate relationships but also to our parenting abilities, more on this to come.
I have found in my practice that attachment is the hidden factor hindering a couple’s relationships, they don’t know it is there (or what is there) so they don’t know how to stop the conflicts and the endless cycles, cycles such as this one: partner 1 needs reassurance of partner 2’s love, so partner 1 sends signals (John Gottman calls these signals Bids for attention) for partner 2 to respond. Partner 2 is busy, distracted and/or not paying attention so partner 1’s signals are not responded to and therefore their needs are not met, so she/he turns to negative attention-seeking (criticism, yelling, nagging, etc.) because negative attention is better than no attention at all. Then they engage in what Sue Johnson calls the ‘polka dance’…partner 1 criticizes partner 2, partner 2 runs away or hides to avoid being criticized and in doing so, partner 1 is left not getting his/her needs for attention met.
Unfortunately, this has become a frequent pattern of interaction within the couple. What is worse is that by not knowing that this it is all about attachment, both partners focus on the behaviour (superficial level) rather than focusing on the deeper level (the need for connection and safety). The bottom line is that “both as children and adults, we need a readily accessible and responsive loved one to feel secure in our bond”.
In the scenario above, it is very easy to find fault in partner 1 for “starting it” (with criticism) but consider what Sue Johnson says: “when our loved ones are unavailable/unresponsive to us this can activate an automatic primal fear response”, so then whose fault is it???…the simple answer is: Neither…the fault is in the complete unawareness of attachment issues for one or possibly both partners. Here is the same scenario taking attachment into consideration:
Partner 1 goes to partner 2 and says: “I am feeling some disconnection here. I would really like it if you hugged me or told me that you love me”…partner 2 says: “honey I love you and I am here for you…” Kiss-hug or whatever rocks your boat… or…partner 2 is ATTUNEd to partner 1’s first bid for attention. See what I mean?
BTW: to be ATTUNE is also a great way to build and maintain trust in the relationship. Check this out.
As you can see attachment is a great indicator of how we interact within intimate relationships but lack of awareness of our attachment styles is an even greater indicator of the conflicts you will experience. So the question is now…what kind of adult attachment do you have?
Here are the four types:
- Anxious preoccupied
- Fearful –avoidant
- Dismissive avoidant
Don’t get caught up in the name. Read more on attachment styles here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship
Now it is up to you to figure out which is yours and more importantly how is it interfering (or helping) your relationship.