By Jerry Lankford, MBA, MACC, MDiv, LPCS
Relationships are complicated.
We come together seeking to share our lives with another person and needing to feel loved. We want to be supportive, responsive and make our best friend happy. Why do we end up fighting?
One way to explore the problem is through the lens of Attachment.
We all need to feel that someone has our back. That is how we can take the risks necessary to explore opportunities and succeed in life. When someone is supportive, we can risk failure. When I go for that new job, it helps to know that – no matter what – my spouse will be there to encourage me. She will celebrate with me when I succeed. She will hold my hand when I don’t.
In children, we see this operate very clearly. A secure child explores their world without fear. They play and interact without difficulty. An anxiously attached child becomes fearful if mom or dad leave the room, and they become upset until they return. An avoidant child may show no external emotion when left but will become angry and punishing as soon as the adult returns. This plays out in adult relationships as well.
An Anxious spouse may complain that you are never home, or you don’t do anything to help around the house. What they may really be saying is: I’m afraid you don’t love me or that you may leave me.
An Avoidant spouse, meanwhile, may respond by spending extra time at work. At work, they feel they get rewarded for the things they do. To these individuals, it seems that home is a place where they never do anything right. Thus, at home, they withdraw and avoid the conflict.
Life can become a downward spiral where one spouse complains and the other withdraws or responds with anger. Is this any way to live? Of course not, yet the solution often requires a bit of retraining to unlock and release a new way to partner.
How did we get here? We both just want to be loved!
This is where the trained therapist helps. Once we are guided by the right professional to figure out what we really need, not just the superficial stuff that we seem to talk about, we begin to reconnect and learn that we really are loved by our partner. Then, we can learn how to respond to a relationship stressor in a way that is helpful rather than harmful. Each couple has a unique mix of responses that will work to build friendship, trust, loyalty and deeper support – the interdependency of true love. A trained therapist helps the couple unlock that communications support structure.