Deepening the Attachment Ties in Couples

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

When counseling couples I often hear, “I love her, but…” or “He’s a good man, but….” Usually the “but” is my first clue that there may be a disruption in the attachment bond.

Strong attachment ties are the stuff of life. We are born into a web of relationships and it hardly seems we know who we are outside of those relationships. But (here we go again) those attachment ties can be difficult to maintain.

Over time attachments change, they morph into something we often don’t recognize and we are surprised at the person we find underneath rose colored glasses.

We hurt one another through the hard years of living together, raising a family, and balancing work with play. We begin to see each other not as super humans who “complete us” but as ordinary people with great strengths, and extraordinary flaws.

The couple that has been married for one year is not the same couple that will be married in 15. They will both change and so will their ideas of each other. Their attachment bond will deepen, and if God allows, with grow into something much more meaningful than a happy life together…they will come to know themselves and each other is ways that psychologically and spiritual mature one another.

Building strong attachments start with possessing the attachment capabilities written about in my previous article on attachment. Being your true self and knowing that you can be authentic and responded to in a genuine way, leaning on and trusting others in times of need, and drawing soothing from others are all important attributes of attachment. But how do these internal capabilities play out in our most intimate relationships?

First, if you are not being “real” it is difficult for your partner to respond to you in an authentic way. For example, if you are not sharing your true feelings with your partner, how can he or she be expected to respond to your needs?

Hiding behind your defensive feelings (i.e., anger, shame, guilt), or not sharing your “real” thoughts with your partner is not being your “true self” and is not fair in your relationship. Truth can be spoken in love. It is also the only thing that can be responded to that will help you feel that your partner truly understands you. Otherwise it’s all smoke and mirrors.

Secondly, if you lack trust in your relationship with your partner it is difficult to come to a place where you can resolve issues and move the relationship forward. Not trusting your partner may involve working through some hurts in the past and coming to a place of forgiveness. The more energy your use on resenting your partner the less capable you are of healing those hurts and ultimately the relationship.

Furthermore, those hurts tend to appear in every interaction with your partner whether you intend it to or not. It shows up in small conversations about where to go for dinner, or how to coordinate the kids’ activities this weekend.

What starts out as a rather benign discussion, turns into an argument of epic proportions. The content may be different, but the underlying feelings of resentment and mistrust are the same.

Finally, if you are unable to go to your partner for comfort and soothing this can be damaging to the relationship. Not being able to draw upon the soothing of your partner fosters a sense of alienation and aloneness in the relationship.

For example, I hear many couples who have a spouse who struggles with empathy. They report that they pour out their heart to the spouse and all they get in return is a laundry list of things they should do to solve the problem.

Guys can be especially prone to this relationship error. Having a sense of empathy for your spouse, putting yourself in their shoes to understand how they see the situation can go a long way in repairing attachment ties.

Empathy is not often spoken about in relationship, but it is essential to any strong attachment tie. We have to know that our spouse has our back and will be able to empathize with our view from time to time.

Attachments change over time. They deepen and become more nuanced and rich as we learn more about our spouse and ourselves in our relationship with them.

Take a look at your relationship to see if you can determine, based on the three attachment capabilities listed above, the strength of your attachment tie. If there is something lacking, maybe you need to inject some forgiveness or empathy, or truth into the relationship that is not already there.

Maybe you need to provide your spouse with some grace for their extraordinary flaws, while learning to appreciate their tremendous strengths.

If a spouse does not appear to be competent in one of these, it does not mean they can’t learn, but you may need to call a Tulsa licensed professional counselor to help them learn. To take the first step toward a healthier relationship call us at 918-398-7678 or request a counseling appointment online.

- Tom Philp, LPC, NCC

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