Monthly Archives: May 2011

Conflict = Attachment Needs

      Adult Attachment needs what are those? Don’t only children have attachment needs? Wrong. John Bowlby an English aristocrat was the originator of attachment theory. He reported that as human beings we have attachment needs from the cradle to the grave. Unfortunately when he first developed his theory of attachment it was rejected, as people were unable to believe that had attachment needs. He then focused his research on children’s attachment needs and changed the way that we view child psychology today. Today, forty years later, hundreds of studies and been done on adult intimate relationships to prove that as adults we do indeed have adult attachment needs. Those unmet attachment needs are often lurking under every conflict.

      How many times have you come home after work only to be met with criticism from your partner? You hear, “How come you never washed the dishes?” “When are you going to take out the trash?” Or it may come across as questioning or insinuating, “How come it took you so long to get home?” “Who is that person on Face book?” “How come you always want to spend time with your friends and not me?” Often one partner feels angry, anxious, alone, while the other feels controlled, smothered, and like they can’t do anything right. In EFCT we call this a pursue-withdraw pattern. You are not alone, 80% of couples that we work with present with the same pattern. The unhealthy pursue-withdraw pattern grows stronger and stronger as one partner pursues harder with anger, criticism, and blame while the other partner shuts down, moves away and withdraws. The more one partner withdraws the more the other feels afraid of abandonment and alone and the more they pursue with anger, criticism or questioning. The more they pursue the more the withdrawer feels hurt and devalued the more they move away. Around and around they go damaging the trust and safety in the relationship.

      The good news is that this is also the easiest pattern to break. To break this pattern Couples need to realize that under the conflict we all have attachment needs. It makes sense that you feel angry or anxious when you think that your partner is not there for you, or when you think that you are not important or special for your partner. It makes sense that you feel hurt and sad when you are criticized by your partner because you need to be valued and appreciated, and respected by your partner.

      Many conflicts look as though they revolve around the kids, chores, sex, or finances; however what it is really about is attachment needs. There is a hidden agenda going on underneath the conflict where both partners are really saying, “Are you there for me?” “Can I count on you?” “Do I matter to you?” The first step to reducing conflict is recognizing the negative pattern that you are in and the attachment needs and fears that are driving the conflict. The second step is accepting your attachment needs and feelings and learning how to reach directly for your partner to get some reassurance. In therapy we support couples to understand their deeper feelings and needs learn how to reach for each other, and how to support each other and be emotionally accessible and responsive.

      Times have changed, we now know that as human beings we have basic attachment needs that start from the time we are born and last through out our lifetime. Some of these needs are:

 1. I am so special to you that you really value our relationship. I need that reassurance that I am number one with you and that nothing is more important.
2. I am wanted by you, as a partner and a lover that making me happy is important to you.
3. I am loved and accepted, with my failings and imperfections. I can’t be perfect for you.
4. I am needed. You want me close.
5. I am safe because you care about my feelings, hurts and needs.
6. I can count on you to be there for me, to not leave me alone when I need you  the most.
7. I will be heard and respected. Please don’t dismiss me or leap into thinking the worst of me. Give me the chance to learn how to be with you.
8. I can count on you to hear me and to put everything else aside.
9. I can ask you to hold me and to understand that just asking is very hard for me.

Understanding what are attachment needs are and how to reach for our partner enables us to access our loved on in a softer way that draws them towards us for closeness and support instead of pushing them away. With these new skills and tools we can avoid the anger and hurt caused by blame or criticism and the fear and insecurity cause by withdrawal or shutting down. Developing a road map for healthy communication means learning how to tune into our feelings and needs, reach for our partners, bringing them close to support us, staying close, and nurturing that bond through the years to create a stable loving family to raise our children.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist

(All the information in this article is based on the ideas of Dr. Sue Johnson and her theory of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy)