These days, in the world of couples therapy, Attachment Theory is one of the ways we're understanding how well our relationship is working.
Attachment Theory, as explained by Sue Johnson, says that no matter how old we are, how successful, powerful, independent, etc., we still need to be able to re-experience those early feelings of being cared for, held, looked in the eye, touched and stroked (not sexually), comforted and told appreciative things, just like we hopefully got as babies and young children.
We are independent adults now, but apparently we still need these behaviors from our significant other; it’s the way we calm ourselves from the ongoing stressors of life. This is a concept I can identify with, and sometimes, annoyingly so, since part of me wishes I wasn’t dependent on my partner for this feeling of peace and that I could refuel my own self before going back out into the world.
Attachment Theory says that you can’t completely satisfy this need on your own; it is your partner who must help give it to you. You can’t even get it from a best friend, because the satisfactions come from the physical connection as well as the emotional.
Being able to get and give this safe, comforting feeling to each other is the emotional bedrock upon which we build the more rational aspects of our relationship. Without this peaceful, loving connection, we might wind up fighting over a myriad of issues, but where our anger is really coming from is our disappointment that our basic attachment needs are not being met. It’s hard to deny that we all yearn for this comforting experience, and it’s probably a universal experience that all couples did get this intense attachment connection in the early stages of their relationship.
So, we all want this safe haven, a place where we can feel calmed and supported by our partner. Achieving this feeling is such a basic drive that in order to be brave enough to reach out and ask for reliable, loving, protecting behaviors, we have to know that it’s safe and that our need won’t be denied, ignored or made light of; that would be just too crushing.
In order to take this risk of depending on our partner’s love and acceptance, therefore, we need to have a deep confidence that we can be our imperfect, bumbling selves, and that our partner knows who we are and fully loves and values us because, and in spite, of our less than perfect ways.
The first step in achieving attachment therefore, seems to be a willingness to share our innermost feelings, concerns, needs, fears, hopes and dreams and let our partner get to know that part of us. If we keep things in and don’t share, a distance will start to develop between us and attachment gets even harder.
How to reveal our inner selves, and how to help our partner be brave enough to take those risks in return, requires the sacred rules of communication that have been mentioned before and will be addressed again in next post.