Attachment: When Love Makes Sense for Adults
Most parents are aware how important attachment is for our children and we may go to great lengths to ensure we develop secure bonds with our babies so that they grow up with a sense of security in the world. We now know from current research with couples that secure attachment is also crucial to an adult’s well-being. Dr. Sue Johnson, who was called the best couple therapist in the world by John Gottman, arguably our most prolific relationship researcher, has been studying how attachment affects our romantic relationships for decades. In this video, she decribes how one partner’s sense of physical pain can be changed by secure support and is even visible on MRI : http://youtu.be/2J6B00d-8lw , and further that attachment bonds can be strengthened.
John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, first made the psychological world understand the necessity of secure attachment with parent figures as vital for the well-being of children. He and others noted some children’s “failure to thrive” in hospital and orphanage settings without consistent and loving caregivers. Although we accept these more nurturing attitudes today toward children and none of us would leave a little one alone in a hospital overnight to tough out such a stressful situation, we often overlook the healthy aspects of interdependence in our adult relationships. Our culture is one of rugged independence, self-sufficiency and fears about losing our individuality. These are valid concerns as we want to maintain our voices, boundaries, and our identities in relationship, however we may sometimes overcorrect and not allow ourselves the vulnerability and openness that healthy intimacy require. Bowlby coined the phrase “effective dependence” to describe secure adult bonds which allow us to reach for others when we need help and support. Dr. Sue Johnson and others working on Adult Attachment research are validating this healthy dependence is as vital for adults as it is for children.
I recently had the opportunity to complete a 4 day externship in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. For years I have read Dr. Johnson’s books and was excited to learn more. I am certified as an Imago Couples Therapist and value my training and years of experience, but I am always interested in learning more about the enigma that is modern romantic love and committed relationship. I find the newest brain and attachment research to be fascinating as it confirms what Couple therapists have seen for years about the value of a secure bond. We are healthier, happier and more successful when our most significant relationships are nurturing and work well.
What does a secure adult relationship look like? Dr. Johnson has an acronym to describe the goal we are aiming for: A.R.E. Accessibility asks can I reach for you, Responsiveness asks can I rely on you to respond to me when I need you emotionally, and Engagement asks will you stay close to me and value me? Essentially, a securely attached adult relationship is one of emotional responsiveness and safety, one where partners meet each other halfway and honor each other’s needs.
Luckily, there is a lot we can learn as an adult about our own attachment style individually and with our partners. We can look at our attachment history, our interactive dances and patterns, and our emotions that are triggered when we are in conflict and feel our relationship security is threatened. Conscious partners can be part of each other’s healing of earlier attachment wounds, our present emotional safety and ultimately our overall well-being. And when we feel we are solidly on that path, that is when Love makes sense.
If you would like to learn more about your own relationship patterns individually or as a couple and work toward improving them, please contact me at 706-425-8900 or email me at [email protected].