You have probably heard from relationship experts, me included, that itís only a Hollywood fantasy to think your partner will "complete you." For most people, relationships are very important, but itís a very wrong expectation to think that Prince (Princess) Charming will come into your life and make everything right.
Yet, there is more and more research about relationships that indicate itís essential there be a good attachment between one another if your partnership is to be strong. Clearly, this can be very confusingóattachment is good but wanting to have your partner make you whole is bad? Yes!
A Bit Of History
Years ago Mary D. Salter Ainsworth, an American developmental psychologist known for her work in early emotional attachment, conducted a study entitled, "The Strange Situation." Children between the ages of 12 and18 months were put in a room with their mothers and a stranger. The toddlers were observed to see their reactions when Mom was asked to leave. At this age, if a child has become securely attached to his or her Mother, they only want Mamaóno one else will substitute. In other words, they cry when Mama leaves the room and are only comforted upon her return. (Note that at this time in history, Mom was the one who traditionally took care of the child.)
A more prominent finding in the study says that the kind of attachment the child has early in life proves to indicate what their style of attachment will be in their adult relationships!
Some Newer Thoughts For Me
I am well aware of Ainsworthís study and the correlation between early and later year attachments because I teach it in my undergraduate Psychology course. However, this past summer, I learned something very interesting at a SmartMarriages conference. Dr. Sue Johnson, a renowned relationship expert from Canada, gave a keynote address. In her talk, she emphasized the point that no matter what a couple is arguing about, the underlying issue is always about attachment. Since I spend a great deal of time teaching my couples how to better communicate their needs, it certainly gave me a reason to pause and think.
Upon getting back to my practice, I started to listen to my couples with a "different ear," so to speak, and offer them a model that was aligned with Johnsonís thinking. In fact, it did resonate with them!
Let me clarify for you more specifically what attachment is. Regardless of gender or age, itís a basic need that everyone has. And itís quite a powerful one: Itís the need to feel that you matter; that your needs are important; that you are secure with your significant other; that your loved one feels that you value him or her and that you see him or her as adequate. When you do not experience these feelings, it is replaced with a sense of being disconnected. Does this ring true for you as well?
But hereís the emotional paradox: As much as you want to be connected to your partner, exposing your needs is risky. Humans are emotionally frail, and to expose your needs makes you feel vulnerableóto protect yourself you act clingy, withdrawn or lash out at your mate. In reality, each partner has the same fears of not being wanted, of being abandoned or of not being loved any more.
However, if you realize whatís really going on, things can be different. Start to take a chance and be open about your experiences. When you do, a whole new type of relationship can start to evolve. Rather than blaming the other person, think about whatís going on with you. Rather than withdrawing, try sharing your feelings. The strange part of it is that each of you is probably going through the same thing in a slightly different way. Approach it more honesty and a whole new world becomes available.
When you truly embrace this concept, you have not placed the burden of responsibility for completing you onto your partner. To do so is really too much of a burden. However, when each of you is doing your share in the relationship, itís very healing as well as very emotionally intimate.
Next time, Iíll discuss why someone has a problem with commitmentÖand offer some ways to get past it.
Click here for part 2, "Commitment and Your Spouse"
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com