When people come to see me for relationship therapy they often describe feeling "stuck" in the same fight over and over again. This pattern of being "stuck" in a perpetual fight might be due to one or all partners not having their attachment needs met and/or understood.
When we think of attachment we often think of the parent-child bond. Attachment Theory was developed by John Bowlby and supported by the research work of psychologist Mary Ainsworth. This theory suggests that secure attachments to our caregivers are promoted by having an emotionally responsive caregiver, and maladaptive attachment patterns are the result of inadequate responsiveness from our caregiver. Follow-up research has suggested that attachment styles are most likely the result of care giver responses as well as innate factors such as temperament. Jerome Kagan's research supports the interconnectedness of biology and environment in attachment style development; or nature and nurture rather than nature or nurture.
Our committed, romantic relationships are our adult attachment relationships. Our attachment style has some impact on our relationship, and our adult relationships have an impact on our attachment style. Couples therapist, Sue Johnson, developed a theory of therapy centered around the concept of attachment. Her theory of therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy , walks couples through the steps it takes to recognize what she calls the relationship's attachment "dance" and then adjust the "dance" to foster a stronger bond and more secure attachment. She emphasizes that couples need to recognize the attachment needs of each person and work to meet each other's attachment needs through emotional responsiveness.
People communicate their attachment needs in different ways. A person's temperament, communication style and attachment style are all factors in how we attempt to get our attachment needs met. Reflecting on your own attachment style can help you make choices about relationships and behavior. Attachment styles are not fixed, and can even change from relationship to relationship.
Every person deserves a relationship where they feel safe and secure. We will all attempt to meet our attachment needs in some way, as well as protect ourselves from potential attachment injuries. Understanding how yourself and your partner(s) meet their attachment needs in your current relationship can help us empathize with each other and better understand behaviors that get in the way of building connections.
-Kori Hennessy, MA, LAMFT