Many couples struggle with feeling like there is no resolution to their fights. Some avoid disagreements at all costs due to their frustration over how arguments in the past were handled.
Today, therapists and hosts of Relationship Helpers Vincent and Laura Ketchie, offer part two of their interview with Christian psychologist and author, Dr. Jesse Gill. His book, “Face to Face: Seven Keys to a Secure Marriage”, offers insights into how your attachment style influences how you get along with your mate.
Be sure to check out Part 1 of our interview where we go in-depth with how your attachment to your parents affects your attachment style!
Attachment Theory & Your Marriage
Attachment is a bonding experience; a tangible experience of love. Each day you need to do “face-to-face t.v.” On a daily basis you need to spend face-to-face time with your spouse, along with “t” for touch and the opportunity to be “v” vulnerable with one another.
The gold standard is secure attachment. People who are securely attached are not afraid of abandonment and are able to ask for what they need. They feel comfortable being honest and open about what they need and feel.
If you had a secure attachment to your parents, these skills are available to you. But even if you didn’t, God can create a secure attachment in your marriage.
“Conflict is always a fight for better emotional connection.”
We are created for attachment and connection. You may be married to someone who is doing a lot of protesting and they are not tuned into your sensitivity. You may feel criticized and inadequate.
Others, the protestors, feel abandoned from their detached, avoiding spouse. The root for both the protestor and the avoider is the loss of connection.
A protestor in a relationship is the person who shows a lot of emotion. They may nag and talk more than their mate. They can be critical and get angry.
They are not protesting their mate. They are protesting the loss of their mate. Their mate is the person they need, they just can’t reach their mate.
The avoider in a relationship may seem to be not responding to the other person’s emotional moments. They may either literally or figuratively leave the scene.
They are “internalizers’. They have learned that sharing their emotions gets them nowhere. So they have stopped sharing how they feel. They feel that they must rely on themselves. They shut down. That’s how they cope.
The Vicious Cycle
Struggling couples often are caught in a vicious cycle. One spouse gets angry (the protestor), turns up the emotional heat and the avoider internalizes it and shuts down. Each spouse is operating out of their attachment style, and it perpetuates a negative cycle.
Neither one is left feeling understood, only more disconnected from their spouse. The protestor’s fear of abandonment is further fueled by the avoider’s distance, and round and round the cycle goes.
Your Spouse is Not the Bad Guy
Instead of identifying your spouse as the problem, Dr. Gill advises looking at the negative cycle as the problem. Conflict is always because one feels abandoned or overwhelmed in some way. When this goes on too long, couples contact marriage therapists.
Dr. Gill finds about 50% of the couples that he works are stuck in the “protest/avoid” negative cycle. Some couples, however, are composed of two protestors. They may not appear this way at first glance, it is just that one of the spouses have burned out with protesting and have pulled back.
Other couples struggle with a trauma history and can bring a lot of intensity to protect themselves when they are hurting.
Nothing Says “I Love You” Like Effort
It’s a misconception that having to work on a relationship means that there is no love in it. In fact, nothing communicates love more to a spouse than when their partner who does not naturally and easily say “I love you” puts forth the extra effort to show their love.
Dr. Gill tells of a couple where the wife needed to hear from her husband the words, “I love you.” She lets him know of her need. A few months pass by and she is putting away laundry and discovers a note tucked away in her husband’s sock drawer. The note was a reminder for him to tell her that he loved her every day.
She felt more loved because he was being intentional. These words did not come automatically to him, so it meant more to her when she discovered how intentional he had become at communicating his love to her.
If you know your attachment style, you’re better able to work towards establishing a secure attachment with your spouse. If you know you’re an avoider, you know that you need to take risks by sharing and reaching out to your spouse. If you’re a protestor, you’ll need to bring down the intensity level to a safer setting so that your avoider spouse will feel more apt to share and so that they will feel less overwhelmed.
Three Negative Cycles
The fuel of a negative cycle is two people that want to be able to be connected and are at increasing levels of despair.
One spouse is emotional, the other is distant. (See above)
There is usually a trauma background for both spouses. Both spouses are emotional.
The protestor has been trying for so long to communicate with the avoider that they burn out and give up.
How Marriage Counseling From An Attachment-Focus Can Help
A marriage therapist with a background in Attachment Theory can help a couple by interrupting the negative communication cycle. The therapist is also able to help the couple to determine their attachment needs.
The therapist can help the couple come towards each other with open hands and open hearts. The therapist makes them comfortable to come together and have that face-to-face t.v. The goal of the therapist is to create a safe environment for the couple to be vulnerable with one another.
This is healthy communication between a securely attached couple where each person is able to ask and receive without fear of abandonment or overwhelm.
Engaging the Avoider
It is important to engage the avoider first to create positive traction. Sometimes this means helping them see what they don’t like, as it is easier to determine what someone does not like first.
This may mean helping them to put words to things such as “I didn’t like how that was furious,” or “I didn’t like how that was fast.”
What has been your biggest stumbling block in your relationship with God?
I’m a recovering avoider. I’m growing into the attachment zone. My hangup is to be too self-reliant. That’s very different from “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” where I’m acknowledging my dependence and great need for the Lord. I’m getting better by God’s grace.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Not be defensive, but to stay open and curious. By being curious, we’re connecting with that inquisitive, playful side I talked about earlier.
Even though something is confusing, I’m able to find out what’s driving it—what’s driving that in my spouse, what’s driving that in my child, or what’s driving that in me. Stay open and curious.
Who do you admire other than a biblical figure?
Dr. Carmen Morrison (my marriage therapy mentor who taught me the attachment model) and her husband are doing attachment-based marriage therapy for the poor in the urban slums of Mexico City. It’s a beautiful ministry.
She’s going to devote the rest of her life to bringing this marriage model to people who desperately need it. The rates of abuse and neglect are much higher there. They have a beautiful marriage, a beautiful ministry and the heart of Jesus beats in both of them.
What is your favorite book other than the Bible and why?
Rabbi Harold Kushner’s “Overcoming Life’s Disappointments.” The story of Moses and his journey with God—some beautiful imagery of God’s desire for us to make Him our resting place. I plugged a lot of that into “Face to Face: Seven Keys to a Secure Marriage.”
What is your most effective relationship habit?
“I would say I’m a good listener. A lot of that is how I was raised. It’s a much bigger risk for me to put my own feelings out there.”
“Through the years I’ve gotten better at being more authentic in my emotional presence—just to show up with others.”
Remember “face-to-face t.v.” (Face-to-face time, T=touch, V=Vulnerable with one another) Try with your marriage, try with your kids, to bring in that gazing, that touch, that vulnerable sharing in any way you can.
Contact Dr. Jesse Gill:
Learn about his book, workbook, video series, or reach out to ask questions or to request him to do a workshop at your church at www.facetofacemarriage.com .