Reconnecting to Find Real Love and Intimacy in Your Relationship

By: Fonda Lewis, MS, LPC, NCC

            I believe that our basic essence as human beings is in connection.  We need and crave connection through our relationships.  We hurt through disconnection, and are made whole again through re-connection.  In a world of discontent and divorce, where families being torn apart, there is a greater need than ever for couples to rebuild their relationships by discovering real love and intimacy.  The purpose of relationship counseling is not only to help couples who are in trouble, but to help all relationships grow, friendships to flourish, and to teach couples that through their differences they can grow into their full potential as human beings.  

While helping partners understand and heal their relationships is fundamental, it is also an intricate piece of family therapy.  The root of many family problems is most often found in the parent’s relationship.  Various therapies have been successfully implemented in counseling couples.  Of those studied, the approaches that have applied the Attachment Theory have been the most effective and significant in helping relationships become emotionally healthy and fulfilling. 

The Attachment Theory is the creation of John Bowlby, M.D.  After working with children early in his career, he developed an awareness of how important attachment with their primary caregiver was in their development.  Bowlby believed that a mother needed to provide a secure base for the child to leave from, discover the world, and then to return to.  In other words, a child needs to feel that their primary caregiver is accessible, available, and responsive.  In our adult relationships we need our partner in the same way.  The four basic behaviors associated with attachment are:

§         That we monitor and maintain emotional and physical closeness with our beloved.

§         That we reach out for this person when we are unsure, upset, or feeling down.

§         That we miss this person when we are apart.

§         That we count on this person to be there for us when we go out in the world and explore. 

            Over the years studies have been conducted researching the affects of these early childhood attachments on adults.  When there has been trauma in early attachments, a part of our brain stores this information and will overreact to signs of danger.  In other words, one partner in a relationship may say or do something that triggers an unconscious memory in the ‘old brain’, known as the amygdala.  A sense of danger is signaled and the mediating part of the cortex is passed over, impairing one’s thinking capacity.  The person feels the same emotion and threat as when the original trauma took place.  Defenses are enacted and each partner is likely to experience the other’s protective response as an attack.  This pattern becomes repetitive and results in the relationship going into a downward spiral.  Adult attachment characteristics have a profound affect on relationships. Through therapeutic insight and awareness, an adult can alter their attachment characteristic, thus breaking the cycle. 

This remarkable change can, and does, occur in couple’s therapy.  Two of the therapeutic approaches that view marital and relationship distress from an attachment perspective are Imago Therapy and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).  I have found it that by integrating both of these therapies in my work with couples, partners are able to find new ways to understand and respond to each other’s emotions and behaviors.  By identifying attachment patterns, I can help couples recognize what is triggering their feelings and why they react to each other in a defensive and protective manner.  Positive attachments promote couples to develop a safe and secure foundation, which allow them to create healthy and loving relationships.  They learn new communication skills, positive interaction, and have the opportunity to create a sense of safety, awareness, and compassion for themselves and each other. The ultimate goal is a loving, and passionate friendship.