Every partnership or marriage is different. We have different personalities, challenges and perspectives. However, when we consider relationships from an attachment perspective there are five certainties when we make a connection with our romantic partner. Some of these certainties strengthen our bonds and help to build healthy and resilient relationships. Others, are the factors that create the greatest challenges and conflict. Most, can have both positive and negative effects on the relationship.
- It is an unparalleled opportunity – If life is a school, relationships are graduate school. We are biologically designed to seek and maintain attachments to others. The area in which we experience our most intense feelings as adults is with our love partner. We learn, grow, and heal most in our intimate relationships. At the same time, they bring up all our buried doubts, fears, judgments and insecurities. In intimate relationships, all our hidden demons eventually emerge.
- We repeat patterns – The quality of our adult relationships is based on our first experiences of closeness. What we learn from our parents about life, love, sexuality, and marriage is brought with us to our love relationship. We all have expectations and attitudes in current relationships based on our family experiences, both positive and negative. We have a compulsion to recreate the past in the present. We unconsciously seek partners to act out our parents’ old familiar roles, or we take them on ourselves. If a pattern is not healed we will continually recreate it until it is healed.
- Mirroring – Intimate relationships are the mirror that reflects back to us part of ourselves that we have trouble accepting from our past. What we like and don’t like about another is usually something we don’t like or accept about ourselves. The purpose of mirroring is to bring into awareness unresolved past emotional baggage for healing. The more intimate the relationship the more powerful the mirroring. Stacking of emotions – If our response to a person or situation is greater than what is appropriate to the situation, or if we have a strong knee jerk reaction, it is usually emerging from the past.
- Balance of dependence and independence – All relationships must deal with issues pertaining to dependence and independence. Mature and loving caregivers create a safe environment in which children can freely express themselves. They encourage self expression, safe exploration of the environment, allow mistakes, and permit some disagreement. Healthy family systems promote both connection and individuality, accountability and independence. Unhealthy families discourage individuality and promote dependence. Individuality is seen as an attack on authority. They reinforce dependency and helplessness. Individual expression is discouraged due to parent high level of anxiety, stress, and need for control. Personal boundaries can be vague. Children develop pseudo-independence. These lessons are taken with us into our adult relationships. People who grew up with too much independence have difficulty being present in relationships. Those who grew up with too much dependence tend to be overly needy or smothering. Two independent partners are comfortably distant. Two dependents create an unhealthy co-dependency.
- We take our attachment styles with us – The attachment styles that develop in childhood stay with us for a lifetime. They influence our feelings of security, the personal meaning given to our experiences, and the ability to develop and maintain closeness with others.