When it Takes Two to Make a Personal Life Work

When it Takes Two to Make a Personal Life Work

    When it Takes Two to Make a Personal Life Work

    Experts in the therapeutic field believe that therapy is an important part of a  couple’s  relationship  and that  couples  should  seek  therapy  well  before they believe it is needed. Couples therapy will give partners the tools and techniques  needed  to  improve  conflict  resolution  and  keep  small  issues from growing in size (Kerner, 2018). Couples should view therapy not as a solution to a crisis, but as an integral part of a healthy relationship, a safe space to discuss sensitive topics, and as a place to learn how to effectively communicate  with  each  other,  particularly  during  times  of  major  life change and transition (Kerner, 2018).

    Attachment-Based Therapy 

    Research  demonstrates  that  the  origins  of  couples  therapy  and  some scientific-based therapeutic practices, such as attachment-based therapy, emotionally-focused  therapy,  and  the  Gottman  method,  began  with  the basis  of  attachment  theory,  which  states  that  individuals  need  a  safe relationship  in  which  they  can  turn  to  when  life  becomes  too  much (Johnson,  2019;  Dashnaw,  2017).  Secure  and  close  connections  with others, shaped by mutual emotional accessibility and responsiveness, can be  a  source  of  strength  and  personality  integration,  giving  securely connected  individuals  a  more  articulated  and  positive  sense  of  self (Johnson, 2019).  Attachment theory examines how individuals’ early relationships with a primary  caregiver  create  the  expectation  for  how  love  and  relationships should  be  (Feuerman,  2019).  The  attachment  style  that  an  individual brings  into  a  relationship,  whether  it  be  secure,  anxious,  dismissive,  or disorganized, will  often  dictate how an individual acts  and  interacts in a relationship and (Feuerman, 2019).

    Secure Attachment 

    Individuals that are securely attached as adults grew up with parents who made  them  feel  safe  and  loved,  met  their  needs,  displayed  generous amounts  of  attention,  and  were  reliably  responsive  and  empathetic (Dashnaw, 2019; Feuerman, 2019). As a result, these individuals tend to be more  empathetic,  less  aggressive,  more  responsible  and  reliable, understand  themselves  and  others  better,  and  exude  a  calm  self-possession,  thus  creating  a  healthy  template  for  intimate  relationships (Dashnaw,  2019;  Feuerman,  2019).  Individuals  that  grew  up  with unresponsive  parents  are  more  likely  to  form  an  insecure  attachment pattern  which  can  manifest  itself  in  one  of  the  main  three  ways (Feuerman, 2019).  Anxious/ preoccupied attachment. For these adults, they grew up with parents  that  were  inconsistent  with  attention,  occasionally  reliable,  and inconsistent  and  poor  in  meeting  their  child’s  needs  (Dashnaw,  2019; Feuerman,  2019).  As  a  result,  partners  with  anxious  attachment  can  be clingy and demanding in relationships and are unable to foster a sense of calmness  within  themselves  and  trust  their  partner,  even  with  a  partner that  is  reliable  and  securely  attached  (Dashnaw,  2019;  Feuerman,  2019). Perpetual  anxiety  can  also  make  these  individuals  crave  intimacy  from their relationship partner while simultaneously doubting their own value as a partner and accept that they are loved (Dashnaw, 2019). Dismissive/  fearful  avoidant  attachment.  Adults  that  display  a dismissive, fearful or avoidant type of attachment were raised by parents who  met  their  physical  needs  but  were  neglectful  as  a  lifestyle.  These individuals were often left to entertain themselves and had no meaningful interactions with their parents, often feeling like their needs would never be met so they should take care of themselves (Dashnaw, 2019; Feuerman, 2019). As adults, these feelings translate into ones that make getting close to  another  individual  scary,  of  feeling  constantly  let  down,  and  the dismissal of intimate bonds, often preferring to be alone and independent rather than with others (Dashnaw, 2019; Feuerman, 2019).  Disorganized  attachment.  Disorganized  attachment  can  develop  from abuse,  trauma,  or  chaos  in  a  child’s  home,  leaving  the  child  fearing  a parent and eliminating their ability to develop a sense of safety or security with  intimate  others  (Dashnaw,  2019;  Feuerman,  2019).  As  adults,  these individuals typically have chaotic relationships filled with turmoil, lean on others  to  manage  their  feelings,  have  difficulty  asking  for  help  and showing vulnerability, and continuously struggle in relationships. They see people  as  not  only  unreliable,  but  dangerous,  which  can  result  in  the triggering of traumatic memories, even when parenting their own children (Dashnaw, 2019). 

    Couples Therapy 

    From  an  attachment  perspective,  the  negative  spirals  that  distressed couples create and feel victimized by as a result of their attachment style are characterized by separation distress and the emotional starvation that results  from  emotional  disconnection  (Johnson,  2019).  When  an individual  in  an  intimate  relationship  cannot  get  their  partner,  or attachment  figure,  to  respond,  they  begin  a  hard-wired  sequence  of hopeful  and  then  angry  protest  that  then  turns  desperate  and  coercive, leaving the individual seeking any and all attention (Johnson, 2019).  Attachment-based  therapists  help  partners  in  distress  listen  to  their emotions, clearly speak their needs, and reach for their  partner in a way that  will  aid  their  partner  in  responding.  Creating  these  safe  emotional connections  can  assist  each  partner  positively  cope  with  stress  and distress  from  within  and  outside  the  relationship  itself  (Johnson,  2019). When  attachment  therapists  help  partners  tune  in  emotionally  to  each other,  their  relationship  is  able  to  reach  a  safe  physical  and  emotional balance that promotes optimal performance (Johnson, 2019).  

    Gottman Method 

    The  Gottman  Method  and  The  Sound  Relationship  House  Theory  were built  upon  scientific  research  that  examined  patterns  in  observational data among more than 3000 couples that distinguished there were indeed patterns of behavior, or sequences of interactions, that could discriminate happy from unhappy couples (Gottman, 2015).  

    The Sound Relationship House Theory  

    According  to  the  Gottman  Method,  key  behaviors,  known  as  the  four horsemen  of  the  apocalypse,  can  make  a  difference  in  whether  a relationship  is  successful  or  comes  to  an  end.  Behaviors  that  do  not contribute  to  a  healthy,  long-lasting  relationship  include  (1)  criticism  or complaining about a partner and attributing problems in the relationship to some defect in  them; (2) defensiveness -  not  hearing or considering a partner’s  feedback  and  not  taking  ownership  or  responsibility;  (3) stonewalling  or  mentally  withdrawing  from  a  conversation;  and  (4) showing contempt or displaying disgust towards a partner and/or putting them down (Lewis, 2018; The Gottman Institute, 2019).

    Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy 

    Emotionally  focused  couples’  therapy  (EFT)  is  an  empirically  validated and  structured  approach  to  couples  therapy  that  is  used  with  distressed couples including partners that suffer from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic  stress  disorders,  and  chronic  illness  (Johnson,  2008). Research  demonstrates  that  when  involved  with  EFT,  70-75%  of  couples move  from  distress  to  recovery  and  approximately  90%  show  significant improvements (Johnson, 2008).
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