Many people are left wondering why they seem so detached from their feelings. Or why they can’t seem to make a relationship work. The blind truth is that a large percentage of our society has been raised with parents that were completely unaware of what children’s attachment needs are and why they are so important. Research now shows that our attachment needs are essential in childhood to build healthy self-esteem and when there are not met people often struggle with having long-term relationships.
Most people don’t realize that a lot of their conflicts within relationships are directly related to unmet attachment needs. One partner is often complaining about chores saying “Didn’t you see the list I put on the fridge?” “I ASKED YOU YESTERDAY to take out the trash what happened?” Meanwhile the other partner is feeling defensive and that nothing they do is ever good enough. What couples don’t realize is that it’s never really about the chores. It’s really about attachment needs and not knowing what they are and how to ask for them. Attachment needs to feel important to our partners, to feel special, to know we can count on them or rely on them, to know that no matter what we are number one with them and that they will always be there for us. You partner may be criticizing you about the chores but underneath that they are feeling very afraid and they are really saying “Are you there for me?” ‘Can I count on you?” “Do I matter to you?”
Many people come from homes where little to none of their attachment needs are met and this has a big impact on them. Little children need to be able to go to their parents for comfort and nurturing; they need to feel special, to be cherished by them; they needed to believe that they would always be there for them no matter what. They needed to believe that they really mattered to them. That spending time with them was important, that they were important to them.
So what happens when these needs aren’t met? Children need to maintain their relationship and connection with their parents for survival. So when their needs aren’t met they sometimes blame themselves (they can’t blame the parent because they need to believe in them). They may say to themselves, “there must be something really wrong with me that my mommy or my daddy doesn’t want to spend time with me; I must be really bad.” As adults they carry around these deep negative core beliefs that say “I’m unworthy,” or “I don’t deserve for others to care about my needs or feelings- they are not really important,” or “I am unlovable- no one could really love me.”
Some people will blame others and have a hard time ever trusting people. They say “you can’t really count on others to be there for you.” Others are untrustworthy, undependable, unresponsive and inaccessible. They try and deal with everything on their own; and have huge problems relying on or trusting in other people.
How does this play out in adult relationships? What most couples don’t understand is that If you did not get your childhood attachment needs met then those attachment needs will be even bigger as an adult. If you didn’t get your childhood attachment needs met then you come in to adult relationship with this BIG yearning to have those needs met.
Now this wouldn’t be that big of a problem except for the fact that most people don’t even realize that they have these needs. They weren’t met in childhood so maybe they don’t exist?- Wrong! We all have adult attachment needs to be special, important, valued, to matter to the people we love the most, to believe that we can count on others to be there for us, to be #1 to our partners. These unmet attachment needs are underlying a lot the conflict in your relationship. Your partner has deep hurts because of these deep yearnings. So when they are not met AGAIN it hurts even more.
For example, one partner comes home and they walk in the door and nobody says hello, or “hi honey” or comes to the door to greet them and give them a hug or a kiss or to show them they are happy to see them. Now some people that would have walked through the door would understand that they have a need for acknowledgement and they may go and find their partner and give them a kiss or a hug. For someone who has been neglected and did not have their attachment needs met they might walk through the door and feel ignored, feel hurt and think that they don’t really matter, that they are not important to their partner. However they might not be aware of this so instead of expressing those feelings and needs out comes criticism and questioning, “Did you take out the trash like I asked you to?” “You haven’t started dinner yet?” And inside they are thinking “I have to do everything myself!” and feeling that deep sadness, hurt, and loneliness that comes from believing that “they will always be on their own, no one will EVER be able to be there for them.”
The good news is that couples can come to understand what their adult attachment needs are and learn how to ask for them directly. “Honey when I come home and you don’t respond to my call I feel afraid that I don’t matter to you at all. I sure wish you would come to the door and greet me and say hello and give me a kiss and a hug because it makes me feel important and special to you, like you are happy to see me and want to spend time with me.” As adults it is never too late to learn how to slow down enough to really listen to what are feelings are, accept our attachment needs, and learn how to reach for and lean on our partners. It is all ok… your partner can learn how to be there for you when you need them the most.