A toddler spends time with his mother. She silently exits, sneaking out of the room and away from the boy at play. If he cries, we have a little bit of a problem. A child who has an insecure attachment to his mother will feel that she may never come back, that she has forgotten or doesn't care about him. In other words, that child can’t trust her. His world is unsafe. When she returns, the toddler will run to his mom in fear. Once she picks him up to say hello, he’ll hit her, as a means to express his sentiments, “How dare you leave me like that. You scared me.” A secure attachment, on the other hand, is when a child knows beyond a shadow of doubt that his mother will return. He trusts that she’ll be back.
As a counselor, I have yet to meet someone with a secure attachment. Most of us will be angry when our loved one strands us in a predicament, hurts us, or leaves us wanting more. Emotionally we’ll strike back like that hurting toddler. Its relieving to know that there's hope. An Earned Secure Attachment means we’ve jumped over all the emotional hurdles and we stand in mature love. We need to do one thing to get that earned secure attachment: attachment repair. Attachment repair is when we express how we’ve experienced a violation in the relationship (or when we’re responsible for one) and then work as a team to repair the bond. Be safety. Express security. Demonstrate seeing. Practice soothing.
Safety is when we tell our partner, with our behavior, that they are safe in our presence. No one wants to walk on eggshells. Our goal is to create and maintain an emotional environment where our partner knows that our mood won’t swing into scary zone, our physical behavior, like rage, won’t peak, and that we are trustworthy. Don’t use your mouth to create safety. Use your actions.
Security is a statement that allows your partner to rest in the relationship. Feeling secure in a relationship means that you know, through and through, that you are not disposable to your partner- you aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Security means trusting your partner that you matter, even when your ugly laundry is visible.
Seeing is taking the time to communicate with something other than words. So get your actions and show your partner that you see his or her internal world: their concerns, their fears, and their joys. Investing in your partner’s, child’s, or family member’s life is like saying, “Hey, I see you and you matter to me.” Feeling seen is being the celebration. If we feel unimportant, as though we live behind the scenes of our partner’s life, we can feel very inadequate. And that's when resentment becomes the name of the game.
Soothe your partner. When they come home from a bad day, put down the iPhone or spatula and listen. And when your partner has a concern, don’t listen so that you can gather all the evidence claiming your position as the right one. Listen to their concerns. Put yourself in their shoes and understand how valid their experience might be. Listening, empathizing, and creating a soothing place will take your relationship to a new height.
Earning a secure attachment style means that you and your partner have built a connection wherein both members tolerate space without becoming angry or fearful- even when it feels like the other has snuck out of the room. And when we feel that earned secure attachment in the realm of behavior, we develop a liberating type of emotional intimacy- and that propels our sex life to new heights and deeper connectedness. Safety, security, seeing, and soothing, the things that make our love stronger.