Why knowing your attachment style is a game-changer for couples conflicts

Attachment

Attachment styles are how we connect to people. In childhood, we develop these ways of connecting based on how our caregivers interacted with us. These patterns of connecting exist from cradle to grave and greatly impact our adult relationships. If you have ever wondered why conflict never gets resolved, or you feel like there’s more and more distance between you and your partner, attachment triggers may be at play.

Attachment theory originated from the work of John Bowlby and later on Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby defined attachment as “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Our desire to connect is wired in our DNA, and if you grew up with a caregiver that was attentive to your needs and provided a consistently safe and nurturing environment your ability to connect and maintain a healthy relationship in adulthood is more likely.

Attachment Styles

There are 4 main attachment types that have been identified; Secure, Anxious, Avoidant, and Disorganized.

Secure Attachment:

As a Child: You had a caregiver that responded to your needs, provided a safe and predictable environment and communicated to you that your wants and needs were important. You felt safe and cared for in relationships with others and developed the lens that people are good and safe.

As an Adult: You desire closeness and generally feel good in relationships. You are comfortable with intimacy and don’t avoid connection or become overly clingy. You feel comfortable asking for help and getting support from others.

Anxious Attachment

As a child: You had a caregiver that was unpredictable in their responses. At times they were attentive and nurturing, at other times they were insensitive or unavailable. You never knew what “type” of parent you were going to get, so as a way to get your needs met, you became overly clingy and desperate to be seen.

As an Adult: You crave closeness and love being in relationships but often feel that your partner does not desire to be as close as you would like. You tend to need a lot of reassurance that you are cared for. In times of conflict, distance makes you feel unsettled and anxious. You prefer to talk things out right away and need to know that the relationship is “good again” before you are at peace. You need a lot of communication that may be perceived as nagging or may be expressed through anger and yelling if you do not feel heard and validated. You may hear your partner say things like “I just need some space at times.” Your Biggest fear is being abandoned.

Avoidant Attachment

As a child: You had a caregiver that wasn’t attuned to your needs at all. They were distant, cold, or unavailable. This could result from a caregiver that was absent due to work, addiction, depression or anything else in between. You learned that you had to take care of your own needs and that people were not to be depended on. You felt that your feelings didn’t matter which resulted in thinking that you didn’t matter.

As an Adult: You are high on avoidance and low on anxiety. You tend to be uncomfortable with closeness and put a high value on your privacy and independence. You struggle with asking for help and communicating your needs. In times of conflict, you get flooded with emotions and tend to shut down. You may come across as uncaring and cold. It oftentimes feels like partners are trying to invade your space. Your biggest fear is rejection.

Disorganized Attachment

As a child: This is the least common and most challenging of the attachment styles. Disorganized attachment is believed to develop when a child grows to experience or witnessing abuse at the hands of a caregiver. Love and pain are intermingled which causes deep confusion when it comes to where to turn for support and love. This child exhibits puzzling behaviors such as crying for a parent but then hitting than when they show up.

As an adult: You are high anxiety and high avoidance. You crave connection but then fear to be close. You want to feel loved but your anxiety, negative self- image and confusion make it hard for others to connect with you, which furthers your sense of loneliness and worthlessness. You may be overly attached and then become very suspicious and cut off communication with a partner. You get stuck in the dance of I want to be near you but I don’t trust you.

Can attachment styles change?

Can you see yourself in any of these descriptions? Or maybe you find that you hold bits and pieces of more than one. We all tend to have one primary way of connecting, however, we can also have pieces of more than one attachment style. You may also exhibit different ways of attaching depending on the partner that you are with. Although we all should strive to be securely attached, if you are not, that doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. Attachment triggers can be shifted when there is an awareness of when it shows up, and how to not go back into your default patterns of protecting yourself. Creating a safe relationship where there is an opportunity for vulnerability is key. Of equal importance is showing respect for space and the connection that you and your partner need. When you both are aware of your attachment needs and are willing to respond in a new (yet uncomfortable) way, you can make different moves that attune to each other’s needs in a way that fosters a secure bond. You calm the inner child that gets activated, respond from your adult self, and help each other heal.

Tools to change

  1. Know your attachment style
  2. Know your partner’s attachment style
  3. Practice self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing and meditation, so that you can better respond in times of stress.
  4. Communicate what you need in times of conflict/stress
  5. Couples or individual therapy can help you understand the best way to communicate your needs without triggering your partner, and address childhood wounds that created the attachment style.

If you are interested in finding out what your attachment style is, here is a link to a quiz: https://www.attachedthebook.com/wordpress/compatibility-quiz/

I also recommend the book ATTACHED by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A. for anyone that is in a relationship or ever plans to be.

Saudia Turney, MA, LMFT- Supervisor is the co-owner of the Friendswood Center for Couples and Families. She has been in practice for 10 years and works with Adults, Couples, and older teens in Friendswood, Texas and the surrounding areas.

A New Start. A New Journey. A New You. How the right therapy, and the right therapist can help get you there by David Nutter, MA, LAMFT

New starts in life often happen when people decide to engage therapy. Whenever I meet new clients as individuals, couples, or even families, I ask them what their goals are in therapy. For some, they have not been asked about what they need, want, or even prefer in their lives for a long time. For others, it often feels that they have never been heard at all, let alone asked. What happens when you go to therapy? What type of model and style of therapy will the person you see provide? What is their level of formal training, how well attuned are they to meet your needs and do they rely on any other resources other than their self-perceived competency? Understanding how much someone knows about your particular issue(s) is a critical step in selecting the type of therapist and style of therapy you will engage.

For example, as I write this article I am thinking of the many different styles of therapy available. I can immediately think of 11 different styles: structural family therapy, strategic therapy, the Milan systemic approach, the Mental Research Institute (MRI) approach, Satir’s communication approach, symbolic-experiential family therapy, intergenerational family therapy, collaborative therapy, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused therapy. That’s a lot of different styles of therapy, all with empirical research associated with their model and experts in each field.

Added to this list of styles of therapy are the therapists themselves. Who are you going to see and what you are likely to experience is largely dependent on the type of education they have and the experience they have with others. There is a vast difference in the education requirements to become a life coach, mental health counselor or a marriage and family therapist (MFT). There are differences in approaches and emphasis, even within the same style/model of therapy. You and the particular issues you bring to therapy may be weighing on you. The therapist fortunate enough to have you as a client should work as hard on your issues as you do.

There are resources such as books, workbooks, films, music and other sources that might resonate with you that are not particularly useful or preferred by others. You have decided to make a new start and that new start needs the support of the developing relationship of trust you are building with your therapist of choice. That relationship is essential for discussing what you want to achieve and the ways you plan to address the changes or goals you want for yourself and your relationships. Your new journey starts with a decision about what you want to experience in the future. Often this gets accomplished by a review of the past and current life experiences you have survived or thrived from. The therapist caring deeply about your experiences and your strengths will celebrate what you have achieved and where you are going. Aspects that you bring to the therapy effort are elements of the way you might describe yourself—the many facets of who you are. When people describe their experiences in therapy, I hope they include feeling heard, challenged, respected, validated, encouraged and celebrated. Their experience should feel welcomed like a friend, with a serious focus in a nurturing manner. Sometimes people cry, reflect and reconsider critical directions or attitudes they have adopted. Sometimes they laugh and release tension in a light-hearted way. New beginnings are often encouraged by a therapist going the extra mile along side of you, so you can keep going more miles, confidently forward. Welcome to your new start.

 

About the Author:

David Nutter is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center For Couples & Families. His career experience includes military service, management and executive positions and international business consulting. He received his undergraduate degree from BYU and his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University, a COAMFTE approved program. David was inducted into two honor societies for academic and clinical excellence and is enrolled in NCU’s PhD/ MFT program. During his Master’s program he was mentored by Steve Allred, with a broad range of client ages and issues. He served as the SGPD Chaplain (board certified) to reduce the impact to personnel and citizens from significant trauma experiences. He is adjunct faculty at DSU. He has lived in every U.S. time zone and abroad, and appreciates diversity. David is married to his “girlfriend” Diane. Together, they call their 7 children, their spouses/partners and 5 grandchildren their immediate family.

Why Should Couples Consistently Set New Year’s Resolutions Together? By Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D, LMFT

I have counseled couples for twenty-five years. Panicking, anxiously pacing, wringing hands, couples have wandered into my office, hoping to find some peace in their relationships. In the counseling arena we explore some very principled foundation ingredients that, when mixed together, produce peaceful, passionate relationships.

There are three fundamental ingredients that all of us need to exercise for a shot at a sound relationship. My challenge to you is to sit with your lover and assess the following three principles, and set specific goals to learn a little more, stand a little more firm, and increase your skills in these three areas:

The first foundation principle is friendship. Friendship is unilateral. Increase your friendship with your lover every couple of hours. You do this by sharing information, being trustworthy, and being transparent—without conditions.

The second principle that relationships will not survive without is influence. You must accept your lover’s influence. Men seem to have a slightly more difficult time with this, but both partners will benefit from allowing influence. Think about a time when there was disagreement in direction of relationship or activity. Did you allow your lover to have influence? Did you argue until one of you gave in? Was their healthy negotiation until a mutually satisfying result occurred? The hope is always influence and no competition. Get a little better at this in 2018!

Finally, the third principle is generating a governing purpose for your marriage. This is the North Star that holds you both accountable to a result that is desirable and cherished. If you are seeking the same purpose, you won’t go after hostile results. For example, my wife and I want to travel the world. If I sneak out and spend our travel money on a new truck and lots of clothes, we won’t have resources available to travel. That causes issues. If I save and we put our travel fund together and watch it grow together, we will eventually accomplish our common goal.

I invite you all to accept this challenge: In 2018 be a little bit better in all three of these areas. Sit with your lover and map out a specific strategy to accomplish these three goals to improve your relationship.

 

About the Author: Matt lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

Simple Ways to Improve Mood by Alberto Souza, MSN, APRN, FNP-C

We all have those days when it feels like we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. For whatever reason we are just in a bad mood. Often times these bad mood feelings are associated with difficult or stressful events in our lives such as trouble at work, financial problems or disappointment. Sometimes these bad mood feelings last for only a few hours, but sometimes they might linger for days at a time. There are many simple strategies to improve one’s mood in spite of what it is that might be bringing us down.

Be With People

Often times when we are feeling low just being with a trusted friend or family member and talking about our feelings can make all the difference. Having a sympathetic listener or someone that can get us laughing or looking at the bright side of things can make all the difference. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about our mood or admit that we need help. In fact, many times isolating ourselves can be one of the biggest culprits in a lingering bad mood.

Get Out

Whether its a brisk walk through the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store, getting out of the house can do wonders for improving our mood. Sometimes we just need a little sunshine or to breathe in some fresh air. The sights and sounds of everyday life can get our mind off of things and be a beautiful distraction.

Enjoy Yourself

When a bad mood strikes we might find ourselves not even wanting to do the things we normally enjoy, but doing them anyways can take our minds off of negative thoughts and often times will help us feel better overall. Think of simple pleasures like reading, exercising, cooking or baking, shopping or just watching a funny movie or show.

Talk to a Professional

Feeling sad or moody are normal human emotions that we all experience from time to time.  Depression is different from these emotions primarily because depression is a pervasive feeling of sadness that impacts our entire life and doesn’t just go away even when things in our lives are good. We should not hesitate to reach out to a professional to help us understand our feelings and deal with them appropriately.

Source: Psychology Today

About the Author:  Alberto has worked in healthcare for over 10 years. He began as a CNA and then worked as a registered nurse until completing his Master’s Degree in Nursing.  Alberto has been been working as a Nurse Practitioner since April of 2013.  In addition to his work as a Nurse Practitioner, he also teaches online classes for the Dixie State University Nursing Program.  He is currently working at the St. George Center For Couples & Families.