Sally Kennedy, MA, LMHC, LMFT
According to Susan Johnson, EFT Researcher and author of the books "Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples" and "Hold Me Tight", the language of attachment is the key for understanding the couple relationship. She says that in our culture “attachment” is often characterized as dependency, but her point of view is that a secure attachment is necessary for mental health. Much of her thinking about attachment in romantic relationships is related to the research of John Bowlby, who studied attachment between young children and their mothers. His researched led him to conclude that the more consistently a child is mothered, (mothers were the primary caretakers in the culture at the time of the research) and the more secure their bond, the more likely the child would be able to tolerate anxiety and separation. If the bond between mother and child has not been secure and consistent, the child, in times of distress, will exhibit "attachment distress". These behaviors are exhibited later in adult relationships when the bond in a couple is distressed. Feeling criticized or fear of abandonment are common themes in adult distress. If partners percieve a rejecting or a critical response from thier partner, the resulting negative flood of emotion will activate any number of behaviors. Angry protest, clinging, depression, despair, avoidance or all of the above, are signs of attachment distress.
Distress responses in couples follow patterns that are identified by the the couple with the therapist's help as the couple’s “cycle”. For instance, one partner may aggressively pursue or even criticizes the other to obtain a response. The pursued partner may feel overwhelmed and shut down. When they shut down the more outwardly expressive partner may feel abandoned. The fear of abandonment intensifies the "pursuers" anxiety and this intensifies the cycle. It will be the work of therapy to identify the cycle, become conscious of it, and eventually make more empathic choices. Eventually, the couple learns to respond to their partner in reassuring rather than provoking ways, thus breaking the cycle. The hope is that as couples modify thier "dance" by offering each other more consistent and empathic responses, they are able to relax in the relationship and build trust. If the relationship is a long term commitment, those changed behaviors can continue to result in healing long after therapy has ended. A secure attachment leads to a happier life and more life choices.
If your relationship is in distress, seek the help of a therapist who specializes in couple counseling. ImagoRelationships Counseling and Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples are two approaches that have demonstrated positive results for couples.