In recent years there has been significant interest in adult attachment styles and how these relationship patterns influence adult intimate and romantic relationships. Attachment styles learned in childhood tend to endure throughout life. Thus, each of the four childhood attachment styles has a corresponding adult version.
Securely attached children become autonomous adults, who are comfortable in warm, loving, and emotionally close relationships. Avoidantly attached children become dismissive adults, who are distant and rejecting in their intimate relationships. Anxiously attached children develop into preoccupied adults, chronically insecure, needy, and worried about abandonment. Children with disorganized attachment, a result of severe maltreatment, turn into unresolved adults, who display PTSD symptoms, cannot tolerate emotional closeness, and have serious psychosocial problems.
Achieving secure attachment in our adult relationship—having a partner who fulfills our intrinsic emotional needs and serves as a secure base—is vital to emotional and physical health. Securely attached adults are more calm and confident, have less depression and anxiety, have a more positive outlook, sustain a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, are able to maintain intimate and reciprocal relationships, and are better able to cope with life’s challenges and hardships, as compared to those lacking secure connections.
We have a basic need to depend on a partner who is safe and emotionally close. This need is psychological and biological – pre-wired into the limbic brain.
There are several goals in couples therapy:
1) Understand how prior relationships provide the framework for how adults view self and partner in close relationships, and and how relationship patterns (“the dance”) occur.
2) Create a secure relationship where partners are emotionally available, genuinely involved and responsive in a sensitive and caring way.
3) Establish trust and a sense of safety and comfort, especially during difficult times and distressing emotions (“fight fair”).
4) Change the dance – learn constructive communication and conflict-management skills so that partners respond to one another’s needs and emotions with empathy, understanding and support, rather than with anger, rejection or withdrawal.
5) Experience a secure relationship with the therapist, who models attunement, support, self control, patience and appropriate boundaries.
Attachment Communication Training is an effective method to change destructive patterns, such as “attack-defend” and “pursue-withdraw.” This communication format interrupts the negative feedback loop of escalating and damaging reactions in the relationship. Couples are coached in therapy and must practice at home to change the dance.