Couples Therapy: Are You Really There For Me?

Couples Therapy

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Couples Therapy: Are You Really There For Me?

By: Rita VanDooren

Published On: February 13, 2019

“No matter how bizarre a person’s behavior, it will seem perfectly reasonable once you understand his or her attachment story.”
Sue Johnson.

We enter into relationships with the assumption that because we are in love, we will intuitively nurture and respect each other and live happily ever after.  However, we also bring into a relationship the family of origin dynamics that will influence how we connect with our partner.  Marriage is for grownups but few of us are grown up when we marry. Growing up takes time, perhaps a lifetime journey, and getting there, if we get there at all, is hard.

Our capacity for connection and safety is guided by the assumption that the same motivational system that resulted in a close emotional bond between parents and children is responsible for the bond that develops between adults in emotionally intimate relationships. This model of attachment influences how each of us reacts to our needs and how we go about getting them met.  Many of us did not experience a secure connection with caregivers and needs were not always met nor was emotional distress always validated.  As a child, we may have developed maladaptive behaviors in an effort to sooth and restore our sense of emotional equilibrium. However, once we gain insight into these patterns of responses, we can begin to heal.  We can curb defensiveness and hurtful reactions because we now have insight into our “survival” style.  We develop self-compassion and subsequent compassion for our partner who experiences similar distress.  By assessing our assessment style, we can discover why we are experiencing distress in our interpersonal connection with our partner.

Using this paradigm for healing relational distress is a powerful tool for externalizing the problem and thereby, reducing blame and abandonment distress for each person in that dyad.  Once we understand the underlying fears that get in the way of being vulnerable and transparent with each other, we can deepen the emotional connection and vanquish self- blame. We can begin to test the waters, go deeper and ask “are you really there for me”?  The concern is less about the content of our arguments but more about how our partner responds to our distress.