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 the reality that she may never come back, that she has forgotten about him, or that she doesn’t care. In other words, that child can’t trust his mother. His world is unsafe. When she returns, the toddler will run to his mom. Once she picks him up to say hello, he’ll hit his mother, 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. Embarrassingly, 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. There’s hope! An Earned Secure Attachment means we’ve jumped through all the hurdles and we can stand in mature love. We need to learn how to do one thing and get that secure attachment style: attachment repair. Attachment repair is when we either express how we’ve experienced a violation of some sort in relationship (or when we’re responsible for one) and we work as a team to repair the relationship. Be safety. Express security. Demonstrate seeing. Practice soothing.
Saftey 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 your words. So get your actions and show your partner that you see his or her internal world: concerns, fears, and 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 also feel stupid for hanging out. Resentment becomes the name of the game thereafter.
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 a secure attachment in the realm of behavior we develop a liberating type of emotional intimacy that propels our sex life to new heights and deeper connectedness. Safety, security, seeing, and soothing, they’re good stuff.