The Raphael Remedy

What is a Secure Attachment in a Healthy Relationship?

by | Jul 10, 2019 | Counseling

Our Catholic faith teaches us that marriage is a Sacrament, meaning that there is actual grace in a Sacramental marriage.  This grace is what assists husbands and wives to live out marriage joyfully, sacrificially, and lovingly.  However, we are still Fallen creatures so even with the grace present in a Sacramental marriage we suffer from concupiscence, the propensity towards selfishness and sin, which causes us to wound each other.  So, marriage is both the vehicle for deep wounds, and for profound healing. There are countless issues that cause couples to feel far apart from one another but thankfully there are also effective ways to bridge the gap and enable our cooperation with grace to not only survive marriage but thrive in marriage.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 19 years, I can attest to there being a wide variety of therapies available today for marriage counseling. Many of these are solid, good therapies but I practice Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a therapy that aims to heal what underlies the difficulties in the marriage. EFT is a couple’s therapy based on attachment theory which supposes that secure attachments formed in the earliest developmental stages are the foundation for the rest of our relationships, especially our intimate relationships, throughout our lives. It is not necessary to spend years “on the couch” figuring out what did or didn’t happen in those early years but instead the focus is primarily on the “here and now”. EFT aims to address the underlying relational difficulty, primarily insecure attachment. Making an insecure attachment secure will open up a couple’s ability to solve all their challenges from a position of strength and love.

What is a Secure Attachment?

Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy, talks about the essential question we ask one another in marriage and that is “A.R.E. you there for me?”, especially in moments when we feel threatened, scared, lonely, sad, and so on. The acronym stands for Accessible, ResponsiveandEngaged.  We need each of these from our spouses and if one or more of these are missing then the attachment feels insecure, our connection feels insecure, making us feel insecure. These feelings of insecurity can lead to conflict and many other relationship difficulties. Emotionally Focused Therapy aims to help couples be Accessible to one another, Responsive to one another, and Engaged with one another.

When one’s spouse is accessible one can get his or her attention. If, for example a husband is accessible to his wife, she can call him or text him during the day with something important and he can be reached. If, for example a wife is accessible to her husband, she will be with him when they are together without always being on her phone or distracted by other things. Husbands and wives need to be able to get to one another without it feeling like a major struggle, at least not most of the time.

responsive spouse will not only be accessible but he or she will respond in a way that communicates care and concern, at least most of the time. Of course, we are all distracted and “off” in our responses sometimes. However, when there is responsiveness between husband and wife, they both know that when they have a need their spouse will most times lovingly acknowledge it and try to meet it, or compassionately work it through if the need can’t be met.

Engaged spouses will be able to get to each other, they will respond kindly to one another, and they will actively and meaningfully talk to each other, look at each other, be with each other; in short, they will connect with each other. It takes a lot of work to be engaged with the people most important to us, but this active participation in each other’s lives, day in and day out, hour by hour is the life blood of relationships.

A secure attachment in a marriage means that husband and wife A.R.E. there for each other. It means spouses are Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged. Insecure attachment characterizes a marriage between husband and wife that is missing one or more of these, or one or more is in need of repair. An insecure attachment usually means that there is conflict in the marriage that is not reaching resolution, or that one or both parties feel alone and lonely in the marriage.

Every marriage goes through its seasons but there is usually a predominant relational style of security or insecurity. Insecurity can be repaired. Sometimes repair can happen if a couple makes the conscious decision together to each look in the mirror and honestly assess their own emotional and actual participation in the marriage, then make the necessary changes. Sometimes it takes some outside support and expertise for a couple to move from insecurity to security, to move towards reconnection, healing, and loving being married.

If you and your spouse cannot affirmatively answer the question, “A.R.E. you there for me?” then contact a Catholic therapist for Marriage Counseling.

Keep in mind that sometimes couples’ therapy is not always possible for a married person, or a person is single, and they want to learn more about themselves to achieve healthier relationships. Consider contacting a Catholic therapist for Individual Counseling to explore how you view yourself and others, and how these views affect your relationships, especially the most important ones.

Nissa Chadwick, LMFT
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