When two become one
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The day you met your future spouse, the two of you instinctively began an emotional “dance”—the relational back-and-forth and “do-si-do” of becoming emotionally attached to each other. But long before you met, even without thinking about it, you learned the steps of this relational shuffle. Your training began early in life as you learned to form bonds with those closest to you—most likely your parents. (In the social
sciences, this process is often called “attachment,” or described as the development of“affectional bonds.”)
As you take these learned behaviors into adulthood, it can be useful to identify how the “attachment style” you developed in childhood translates into your behavior with your spouse and affects the health of your marital relationship. Ask yourself to what extent your emotional needs were met responsively in childhood, currently giving you a sense of safety or “secure attachment” with your loved ones. Or, did you receive inconsistent care, threats, or rejection that to this day cause “insecure attachments”
in your closest relationships?
Learning your emotional “attachment expectations” and tendencies can be a first step toward maximizing the closeness and trust you experience in your marriage. Whether you need to re-choreograph the dance or just add a few new steps, the following suggestions can help.
•Nurture each other in times of emotional need. When one or both spouses are experiencing stress or anxiety, it is important to identify and overcome any self-protective instincts that urge us not to nurture the other. Instead, when anxiety is “in the air,” understand that nurturing is what your spouse probably needs most and respond by hugging, holding, and comforting him or her.
•Be careful not to emotionally “push away” or reject your spouse when you feel rejected. If you’re anxious about seeking emotional closeness, don’t give up. Instead, try to understand the root of your feelings, and make an effort to reach out to your spouse to try to understand his or her feelings as well. Remember that even when we feel some emotional distance in our closest relationships, “The Lord is near” and ready to hear our requests for help (Philippians 4:4–7).
•Seek to understand (even when you’re not understood). When negative emotions flare up between you and your spouse, try to name them and understand what may have caused them rather than turning away and acting as if you are concerned only with your own feelings and not your spouse’s.
•Create mutual trust. Relational security is achieved through a fundamental trust in one’s childhood caregiver and, later in life, one’s life partner. By making a point to be both emotionally available and physically present for each other, you and your spouse can continually strengthen the bond of love and security in your relationship.
—Michelle V. Knights and Paul A. Johns