Does your spouse have a hard time opening up to you? Or maybe you feel anxious about the state of your relationship? Both of these come from our attachment style and feeling emotionally safe in our relationship. How can you feel emotionally safe in your relationship? How can you try to help your spouse feel emotionally safe? Find out how on this week’s episode.
I’ve seen some common threads a lot with my clients that I wanted to talk about today. See if any of these sounds familiar to you.
- I try to talk to my husband, but he won’t open up to me
- My husband criticizes me constantly and makes me feel bad about myself
- I have a hard time talking to my husband about important things.
- My husband smothers me. He’s so needy and wants to be with me all the time.
- I worry all the time that my husband is going to leave me.
- My husband controls everything I do
What do all of these have in common? Attachment and emotional safety.
The origin of emotional safety
Attachment is how we create close bonds with each other. But some people have unhealthy attachment styles, usually because of past trauma in childhood or a previous relationship.
“In an ideal situation, a newborn would bond with the parent from the moment he or she leaves the comfort of the womb. Each of his or her needs were met, for comfort and nourishment in utero. Sadly, that is not always the case once the little one is in the world. In circumstances where abuse and neglect occur, a child is at risk for developing an insecure attachment style, identified as ‘anxious’ or ‘avoidant’. It could easily set the tone for adult relationships.” PsychCentral.com
Psychotherapist Allison Abrams said, “When our needs aren’t met consistently by our primary caregivers, we form the belief that they won’t be met by any significant other, [and] that we can’t ever rely on others.”
So a lot of attachment issues come from childhood. But then you also have the trauma of past relationships. Someone could have been securely attached in a relationship, but their significant other created trauma for them, like having an affair.
As this article pointed out, two things usually happen in an insecure attachment. I want to talk a little bit about each of those, and then we will talk about what to do if you are dealing with a spouse that has an insecure attachment style, or if you do.
1. The Avoidant Attachment Style
- They avoid putting themselves into harms way in a relationship, so they are very detached and won’t open up for fear of being hurt or abandoned.
- They put themselves into relationships that inevitably fail or push away anyone right for them.
- They keep themselves at a distance.
- They are scared that their partner will leave them, so they leave first.
They do this so that no one can hurt them, even though they usually end up alone and hurting anyway.
- This is the spouse that tends to
- Dwell on things they aren’t satisfied with
- Try to control their environment so they can feel better
- They won’t open up and talk about things that are vulnerable for them
- Avoid sharing feelings
- They usually attract a spouse that has an “Anxious Attachment Style.”
2. The Anxious Attachment Style
- They want to be close
- They give up their own needs to please and accommodate their partner
- They constantly worry about their relationship and whether their partner wants less closeness from them.
- They take things personally
- They often play games or manipulate their partner to get attention and reassurance or to provoke jealousy.
- They can become jealous if their partner isn’t 100% attentive to them.
This is the spouse that tends to
- Be clingy and always wants to be with their spouse
- Worries constantly about the relationship and if they are making their spouse happy
- They take everything personally
These two dynamics do not create a healthy relationship. With either one spouse avoiding emotional intimacy altogether, because they fear hurt and abandonment, or the spouse that is clingy and fears they aren’t enough for their spouse.
Both of these attachment styles come from a place of fear and insecurity.
3. The Secure Attachment Style
- Confident and self-possessed.
- They meet their own needs.
The attachment style comes from a place of confidence.
Making a change in yourself
So how do you change? It takes effort to change, but you are more likely to have a healthy relationship if you are aware of your tendencies and willing to make some adjustments.
1. Observe yourself. Recognize your tendencies – take a hard look at what you are doing in your relationship. Do you avoid getting close to your spouse, or are you overly clingy? What are your thoughts and feelings that are driving these actions you are taking?
2. Work on your relationship with yourself and your confidence.
3. Learn to speak up and express and honor your own needs.
4. Be willing to be vulnerable and tell your spouse what is going on for you. Take the wall down.
5. Have compassion for yourself. Know that you were doing your best under the circumstances, but now that you know better, you can do better.
Helping your spouse
Now that you understand the different insecure attachment styles, you may recognize that your spouse has one as well. So what can you do?
1. Have compassion for where they are coming from.
2. Create an emotionally safe place for them.
An Emotionally Safe Relationship
So what does an emotionally safe relationship look like?
Empathy is at the heart of emotional safety. Empathy helps create emotional safety by affirming to our spouse that their struggles are ok.
- Trust that the other person has your best interest at heart and treat them as if you do.
- Accountability and reliability.
- Saying what you mean, meaning what you say, but not saying it meanly.
- No name-calling or use of demeaning language.
- Taking responsibility for your feelings, not casting blame.
- No verbal threats.
- Treat your relationship as if it is a living breathing entity.
- Give it room to grow rather than stagnate from neglect.
- Be your partner’s most ardent cheerleader.
- Don’t hold your partner hostage with demands for how a relationship should be.
- Negotiate your individual needs.
- Touch by consent only.
- Don’t withhold resentments only to use them as ammunition.
- Be open to having inevitable difficult conversations, going for a win-win solution.
- See your partner as an ally and not an adversary.
- Recognize that relationships are not 50/50, but 100/100 with each partner bringing all of who they are to the table.
- Be willing to break destructive patterns, knowing that history is not destiny.
- Look to marriage role models for what to emulate and what to avoid.
If you are in an emotionally safe relationship, you are likely to have more
- positive emotional experiences
- to be more happy and outgoing
- to express what you feel
- to be able to depend on others when it is appropriate, and yet able to function on your own when that is appropriate.
- to raise children who themselves will have a secure attachment style.