After meeting with my accountant today as we were finishing up, he asked me what I thought was the main reason couples these days separate and divorce. He sees a people who separating and dividing up the financial assets after it is too late for couples therapy. I said, “It is my experience that many couples neglect each other, often not deliberately, but because of their busy work schedules and activities for their kids. Work, kids and other things get priority over their relationship. By the time they realize how bad it is, they have grown emotionally distant. Then they avoid dealing with each other and may not know how to have the necessary conversations to get things back on track.” My accountant nodded, knowingly. He said, “My second wife is really appreciative of my first marriage – I really neglected my relationship there and it taught me something.”
Research over the past two decades about what is needed for successful enduring relationships has made some interesting findings about what
love is. The have discovered that love is an aspect of the human experience which is the pinnacle of evolution and the most compelling survival mechanism of the human species. Love is not just a force to promote reproduction. Love drives us to bond emotionally with someone who will offer us psychological shelter from the storms of life. When we feel a loving attachment, we feel safe, confident and secure.
When our partner is emotionally unavailable or unresponsive, we face being out in the cold, alone and helpless. We are more likely to feel
intense emotions like anger, sadness, hurt, and above all, fear. Fear is our built in alarm system which turns on when our survival is threatened. Losing connection with our loved one jeopardizes our sense of security. According to neuroscientists, the alarm goes off in the brain’s amygdala. This almond shaped area in the midbrain triggers an automatic response. We don’t have time to think. We feel and then we act.
We all experience some fear when we have a disagreements or arguments with our partners. But when we feel secure in the relationship, it is
a momentary blip. Our fear is quickly calmed and easily managed as we realize there is no real threat or that our partner will reassure us if we ask. When we feel insecure in our relationship, the fear can be overwhelming. According to Sue Johnson in Hold Me Tight, we are swamped by what is called “primal panic”. Then we generally do one of two things: we either become demanding and clinging in an effort to draw comfort and reassurance from our partner, or we withdraw and detach in an attempt to soothe and protect ourselves. What we are trying to say is: “Notice me. Be with me. I need you.” Or “I won’t let you hurt me. I will chill out, try to stay in control.”
Research has found that these strategies for dealing with fear of losing connection are unconscious, and they work, at least in the beginning. But the more distressed we get, the more, we end up in vicious spirals of insecurity that only push us further and further apart from each
other. The more this habitually happened, the more neither partner feels safe, each becoming more defensive, and each is assuming the very worst about each other and the relationship.
In the busy lives of many couples, who frantically trying to balance work and home responsibilities, we are not tuned in to our partners. We
are often distracted or caught up in our own agendas. We do not know how to about our emotions and think about our attachment. We may not give clear messages about what we need or how much we care. Often we tend to speak tentatively because we may feel ambivalent about our own needs. If we do speak about our needs for connection, they are tinged with anger and frustration and may sound like more complaints and criticisms than invitations for close conversations or intimacy. If we wind up demanding rather than requesting, we can end up in
power struggles rather than embraces. Some of us try to minimize our natural longing to be emotionally close and focus instead on actions, such as a focus on sex, when what we want is the experience of feeling connected that being physically and emotionally close can bring. Disguised and distorted messages keep us from being exposed and vulnerable, but they also make it harder for our lovers to respond.
The A.R.E. Questionnaire
This questionnaire is a great way to begin to see your relationship through an attachment lens. Simply read each statement place a check mark in the appropriate box. You can use this questionnaire on your own or you and your partner can each complete it and discuss your answers together. This comes from Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson.
|Accessibility, Responsiveness, Engagement)||True||False|
|From your viewpoint
is your partner accessible to you?
|1. I can get my
partner’s attention easily.
|2. My partner is easy to connect with emotionally.|
|3. My partner shows me I come first with him/her.|
|4. I am not feeling lonely or shut out in this
|5. I can share my deepest feelings with my partner he/she
|Accessibility Sub Total|
|From your viewpoint
is your partner responsive to you?
|1. If I need connection and comfort, he/she will be there
|2. My partner responds to signals that I need him/her to
|3. I find I can lean on my partner when I am anxious or
|4. Even when we fight or disagree, I know that I am
important to my partner and we will find a way to come together.
|5. If I need reassurance that I am important to my
partner, I can get it.
|Responsiveness Sub Total|
|Are you positively
emotionally engaged with each other?
|1. I feel very comfortable being close to, trusting my
|2. I can confide in my partner about almost anything.|
|3. I feel confident, even when we are apart, that we are
connected to each other.
|4. I know that my partner cares about my joys, hurts, and
|5. I feel safe enough to take emotional risks with my
|Engagement Sub Total|
A R E
Scores are: ___+____+____=_______
Partner’s Scores are: ___+____+____=______
If you scored:
7 or more: You are well on your way to having a secure bond with your partner and can use therapy to strengthen it.
Less than 7 You are probably feeling insecure in your relationship and therapy can to help you strengthen your connection with
Understanding the emotional connection between you and your partner and sharing how you see it is the first step to creating the connection
you both want and need.
- Does your partner’s view of how accessible, responsive and engaged you are fit with your own view of yourself?
- How safe do you feel in your relationship? (Try to remember that your partner is speaking about how safe and connected he/she feels right now in your relationship, not about whether you are a perfect partner.)
- You can now take turns talking about the question/answer that was most positive and important for you. Keep the conversation to five minutes each. If you feel comfortable, try to discuss the answer that brought up the most difficult emotions for you. Do this in the spirit of helping your partner tune in to your feelings. Avoid criticism and blame. Keep this conversation to five minutes each.