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Couples: What could be causing us to be stuck and unhappy?

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

We are meant to connect. We come out of the womb needing to connect for food, shelter, love and safety. Biologically our brain and bodies are designed to connect, through neural connections and hormones to facilitate the connection to others. In the hunting and gathering days, the more people to help gather food, and take care of the children, the safer the entire tribe was. The more support we had the safer we were. This still holds true today.

Through our early caretakers and experiences, we learn how safe others are (or not) for us to connect with and trust. The safer we feel at our base, the more we can do and the braver we feel out into the world.

For example, when we are toddlers, we trip and fall and can come back to our caregivers for comfort and reassurance, then we can go back out and play. This is s the same for adults. The more secure at the base we feel, the stronger and more confident we feel navigating the rest of our world.

The nervous system is not formed when we are born, it develops as we navigate experiences after we are born. When we cry as babies, our bodies are aroused. As our caretakers are present, able to help us feel better and are attuned to our needs, the nervous system and brain learn that we are safe enough to regulate ourselves AND feel safe connections with others that we trust. When caretakers use the senses (sound, touch, eye contact) it tells the body and brain we are safe, calming down the nervous system.

So why does this matter for adult relationships? Because we continue this narrative in our nervous system as we create other relationships in the word. We learn what gets us the most attention and keeps us the safest with our caretakers.

For example

o if we are happy and smiling, it brings warmth to our caretakers, and in turn we are safe in our caretaker’s happiness.

o If we learn our caretakers are already stressed, we learn to be aware of the moods and not create extra stress to keep us the safest.

o If we express what we need, we are told we are wrong, this creates the same conflict pattern in adult relationships.

o If we express our needs, and they are validated and heard we believe we are safe to express these to others that we love.

The narrative continues to be confirmed as we gain other relationships. We either feel secure or insecure attachment to others.

Secure/Insecure Attachment:

A term coined by John Bowlby and Virginia Satir.

Secure attachment means our caretakers were attuned to us, and available. Our nervous system grows as it’s supposed to. We learn to regulate ourselves and when we feel upset honor our needs.

Insecure attachment gets created when our caregivers were not emotionally available or were inconsistent. The brain and body does not grow the connections as needed. The two reactions the nervous system can take are by being overly attached to others (anxious attachment) or to avoid intimacy and vulnerability with others (avoidant).

Anxious attachments create the fear that others are needed for soothing, creating a fear response when the partner or caretaker is not available or around. Avoidant attachment causes the individual to not want to create a healthy attachment to others. These individuals fear that their own emotional experiences is so intense, and self-soothing is so demanding that they are fearful of allowing anything else to be attached, by keeping an emotional distance from their caregiver and partner, they remain in control of the internal experience.

The good news is that once identified work can be done to create a secure attachment in the nervous system. A secure attachment looks like:

o Having your own friends, hobbies and time that make you happy without our partner

o Not being fearful of expressing your needs to your partner

o When you are not physically around your partner, you can enjoy your life, relax with a normal account of missing your partner.

o You know when you are doing an activity for your partner as a compromise as a part of your world, not everything you do outside of work hours.

o Conflict can have compromise from a state of truly expressing your needs, instead of waiting to a boiling point where it comes out as anger.

o You can express your fears, darker emotions, vulnerable experiences with your partner. Their comfort can help you get through the more stressful times in life.

These are examples of secure attachment. Communication, intimacy, and secure attachment all come out of each other. With work and practice these can come more easily, and relationships and the SELF can be stronger and more confident. When we feel more secure, confident we feel more resilient to be our most daring self out into the world.

Immediate openings in our Gaithersburg and Frederick locations, as well as virtual sessions are available. Contact us today for your FREE initial consultation to discuss how we can help you get unstuck and happy again in your relationship.


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