In the development of a relationship, partners struggle to define the relationship as a safe haven and secure base for one another.
Humans, for generations, have evolved to deal with fear and anxiety by proximity to another safe person. What this means is that proximity or closeness to an attachment figure (parent, lover, spouse, partner) tames fear and becomes an antidote to feelings of helplessness and meaninglessness.
A key issue in relationships that are distressed is in each partner's accessibility to the other,
their responsiveness to the emotional cues of, "Are you there for me?"
Over the generations ideas have arisen that have guided the idea of couples therapy.
For example, that love relationships mirror past relationships with parents, and that we even re-create the negative elements of these relationships to resolve inner conflicts in our own relationships. And, that problems in relationships are due to developmental delays that cause partners to enmesh rather than differentiate; or that partners lack skills, either communication skills or the negotiation skills.
From an attachment perspective, the patterns of distress in couple relationships are quite finite and predictable and reflect the process of separation distress. A lot of the time one partner will pursue for emotional connection, but often in an angry critical manner, while the other will placate or withdraw to "keep the peace" or protect him or herself from criticism.
Negative cycles of critical complaining and negative and defensive distance can predict the continued deterioration of the relationship. The therapist can see beyond the negative cycles, slowing down the couple, seeking the softer emotions and eventually identifying the pattern of behavior as the enemy. Most of the time most partners want the same thing, safety, security and connection.
Dr. Sue Johnson
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy