Close relationships are a struggle for everybody.
Conflict in relationships is a normal and healthy part of maintaining a close bond. In the same way that boot camp bonds soldiers through common pain, resolving conflict within couples can help develop that intense attachment through common struggle. It is not the amount of conflict in a relationship that determines if a couple will break up or not, it is how the couple deals with repairing the conflict. Good couples counselors try to focus on how to help clients create emotional repair
Conflict becomes a problem when a repetitive negative cycle becomes dominant and serves to spiral the couple into detachment rather than using repairs to deepen attachment. These negative cycles have a dramatic negative impact on both partners, albeit sometimes a very different impact. Usually, couples go to a counselor when one of these negative cycles has become so repetitive and insidious that one or both partners begin to feel despair or hopelessness. Recent research has shown that relationship stress and the subsequent feelings of isolation can be as dangerous to your health as smoking.When Attachment is Threatened
When our primary attachment (most important loving relationship) is under stress, conflict, or is in danger of ending, our emotional brain begins a process called “protest”. Protest is a complex, hardwired brain pattern not unlike the “fight or flight” response we have when we see a snake. It is an automatic response, i.e. not under our conscious control, and it is an intense response but also a normal response. The protest response looks something like this: 1) Angry protest, followed by 2) clinging behavior, followed by 3) depression, and finally 4) despair and then 5) detachment. Usually people go to therapy either during the angry protest phase or the despair phase.
General Points about Relationships
1) It is not conflict that kills relationships, it is the absence of repair or positive interactions.
2) Couples generally dramatize secondary emotions such as anger, usually covering up primary emotions such as hurt that would more effectively stir support from their partner.
Conflict Themes that can Dominate Relationships
1) Closeness vs. Distance
2) Dependence vs independence
3) Autonomy vs. Control
Attachment theory is a branch of psychology with roots deep into the birth of the discipline. In summary, this branch of psychology describes a way of thinking about relationships and describing how and why we act the way we do when we decide to connect deeply with another person. The following are some breif summaries of how some people feel in relationships. Take a look and if either of the types of insecure attachment sound familiar for you or your partner, it might be helpful to come in for some individual or couples counseling.
Securely attached people tend to agree with the following statements:
"It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don't worry about being alone or having others not accept me."
This style of attachment usually results from a history of warm and responsive interactions with relationship partners. Securely attached people tend to have positive views of themselves and their partners. They also tend to have positive views of their relationships. Often they report greater satisfaction and adjustment in their relationships than people with other attachment styles. Securely attached people feel comfortable both with intimacy and with independence. Many seek to balance intimacy and independence in their relationships.
People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to agree with the following statements:
"I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don't value me as much as I value them."
People with this style of attachment seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent on their partners—a condition colloquially termed "clinginess". Compared to securely attached people, people who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to have less positive views about themselves. They often doubt their worth as a partner and blame themselves for their partners' lack of responsiveness. They also have less positive views about their partners because they do not trust in people's good intentions. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships.
Dismissive-avoidant adults desire a high level of independence, often appearing to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to attachment feelings and often deny needing close relationships. They tend to suppress and hide their feelings and deal with rejection by distancing themselves from partners of whom they often have a poor view.
Fearful-avoidant adults have mixed feelings about close relationships, both desiring and feeling uncomfortable with emotional closeness. They tend to view themselves as unworthy and mistrust their partners. As with the dismissive-avoidant style, they tend to seek less intimacy and to suppress and hide their feelings.
Common Thoughts for each Attachment Style
Secure - It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don't worry about being alone or having others not accept me.
Dismissive - I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.
Preoccupied - I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don't value me as much as I value them.
Fearful - I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.
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