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Winter Edition
Volume 100, Number 3

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Attachment, family of origins, and later love relationships

My friend, Jane, just renewed her marriage vows after 10 years of marriage. I was incredibly proud of her, and only wished I was half as successful as she was. This is why I was so perplexed when I received the phone call that two weeks later Jane and her husband were in counseling and considering separation. Jane claimed that she has never been able to feel close to her husband and while she loved him she cringed every time he held her. In examining why Jane felt and behaved this way, she realized how important it is to face some childhood events, e.g. her father’s rejection, which were affecting her marriage and the closeness that she was unable to feel in an intimate relationship.

Ever wonder how your early childhood relationships with your caregivers affect your marriage relationship? This happens mostly through the process of attachment and forming bonds with those who mean the most to us: a special attachment “dance” of bond formation. Our relationships early in life are critical for building strong emotional ties later in life.

Central to this attachment process, the process of developing affectional bonds, is the family of origin. As interactions occur between the developing person and the attachment figure, this leads to the development of one’s internal working model, i.e., cognitive construct, regarding attachment and thereby guides the course for future interactions and relationships.  

Since our attachment behaviors affect the marital relationship, here are some points to consider:

  • Understand your attachment behavior: What’s my attachment style and why do I behave as I do with my spouse? There are four general classifications of attachment: secure, avoidant, anxious-resistant, and disorganized patterns. Each results from the quality of early relationships. In patterns of secure attachment, we rely on our spouse as a secure base knowing that responsive and attentive reassurance and safety will be received, when needed. Patterns of insecure attachment, i.e., avoidant, anxious-resistant, and disorganized, develop as a result of inconsistent care-giving, threats, and rejection. These early attachment patterns guide our behaviors in close adult relationships, including marriage.
  • Nurture each other during times of emotional need: During times of emotional stress and anxiety we need to overcome the messages in our head that tell us not to be nurturing to our spouse. Instead respond by hugging, holding, loving and comforting your spouse as this is probably when he/she needs you most.
  • Seek relational proximity and responsiveness: Be careful not to push away, and reject when we feel rejected. Also, when we feel anxious about seeking relational proximity or “closeness” don’t give up. Instead try to understand the root of these feelings. Scripture also helps us understand the critical nature of relational proximity and responsiveness. The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:4-7, states: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
  • Examine your love triggers: As children we learned how close relationships work. We then develop expectations about love responses based on past experiences. We learn if we can depend on someone to meet our needs, particularly during stressful times. This remains evident into adulthood as adults seek proximity to their partner i.e., their attachment figure, during times of stress.
  • Examine your conflict and strife triggers: Try to understand without always being understood. How capable are you with handling negative or difficult emotions? Are you able to name and discuss the negative things that you are experiencing, or do you tend to use distraction to manage your emotions? Are you eager to achieve resolution or is it easier to “push away” and act as if you don’t need each other?
  • Seek relational security: Regardless of our past attachment relationship histories, when the Lord is “near” and we can commune with Him, He guards our hearts and minds. Similarly, relational security is achieved through a fundamental trust in one’s caregiver and, later in life, one’s life partner. God created us with such a need, desires to fulfill the depths of it Himself, yet gives us a taste of security when consistent and nurturing love characterizes human relationships. What a creative God we serve!


    by Michelle V. Knights and Paul A. Johns

    Michelle Knights Paul Johns
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