Proximity to an attachment figure tames fear and offers an antidote to feelings of helplessness and meaninglessness.
The key issue in distressed relationships is each partner’s accessibility and responsiveness to emotional cues.
The spouse becomes the primary attachment figure in the majority of adults and as such, their main source of security and comfort. The attachment to one’s partner may be especially crucial in a times of where we live in “a community of two” rather than past societal rituals of living in the “bosom of the family or village.” Today it is perceived adults have no one else to count on for emotional support besides their spouse.
Isolation, separation, or disconnection from an attachment figure is inherently traumatizing. Distressed partners who are emotionally disconnected tend to become immersed in fear and insecurity, and adopt the stances of fight, flight or freeze that characterize responses to traumatic stress. The more distressed and hopeless the relationship, the more automatic, rigid, and self-reinforcing the emotional responses and the interactional dance between partners will become.
We affect our partners profoundly. Each of us is always looking for cues of emotional connection and safety with our partner. In moments of disconnect, for the more secure couples, partners re-attune and reconnect when one reaches for the other and takes the risk of sharing vulnerable feelings, and the other responds.
There are many strategies and much understanding we can obtain working in therapy to note the cues our partner sends to us, our responses which are successful and those which are not.
For example, the more each partner feels criticized, the more one defends by criticizing back. Each partner is protecting themselves by attacking, accusing and blaming the other. Sometimes one partner is trying to connect and get a response that is reassuring, as one partner pursues, one partner may withdraw. The more one may protest the loss of connection, the more the other feels the loss of connection, and feels criticized and distances. The more one distances, the other protests and pursues.
Thus the cycle of pursue/withdraw or blame/defend is the enemy here, not each other. A trained therapist is the most equipped to identify these various cycles of disconnect. The spiral of insecurity can be stopped with help, and basic safety recreated.
Connection can again begin for once distressed partners. You can learn to see the whole game, the whole dance that you and your partner is doing, not just the last step.
Begin to see your dance, the cycle, as the problem, not your partner.
Taken from excerpts of writing of Dr. Sue Johnson