Attachment theory asserts that everyone has been created with a deep longing for connection with someone that will keep them safe and be there when they need them. This longing is ingrained into us from birth and keeps each of us desiring for closeness. Parents can see this need for connection in their children as they reach out for loving touch and reassurance. It is this same longing for connection that strengthens the love that partners have for one another.
Attachment theory also maintains that “closeness to a loved one offers us a safe haven–a place of peace, comfort and consolation.” Couples that feel connected, seen, and secure in the relationship have much lower levels of stress than couples that don’t. Partners that have a secure connection with their partner have more confidence to explore the world and face whatever challenges come their way. Having a secure base in the relationship provides the partners more boldness to take more risks.
When couples come into relationship counseling, the assumption is that they arrive with an insecure attachment and they experience each other in either anxious or avoidant patterns. Each partner has become hypervigilant to the other hurting them. Susan Johnson writes, “Anxiously connected partners are quicker to pick up changes in their lover’s facial expressions, and faster to assume the worst and attribute negative intentions to others. We intensify our emotions to try to ensure that others will pay attention and respond, but, lost in the flood of feelings, we often become confused and subsequently send confusing messages.”
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy helps couples identify the negative cycle that keeps partners from finding security in each other. In my Couples Counseling sessions, I guide both partners to go deeper into their emotions (sadness, loneliness, shame, etc.) and intimately share those emotions with their partner. As each experiences the other as safe, their anxiety is reduced and a new positive cycle takes over the old negative one. A Secure Attached relationship lowers the anxiety in both partners and a safer foundation to take more relationship risks.