"If we can teach and encourage people to get along and love well, we can change marriages, families and communities. We could impact the world, one relationship at a time."
How does the way we were loved and cared for growing up impact the way we get along in marriage, and even the way we parent? We were born into a family and there, in the loving arms of our first important relationships, we learned about love, life, ourselves and others. These relationships are a template for how we will love throughout our life.
It is in these first relationships that we learn if we'll be safe, rejected, whether we'll need to behave in a particular way to be noticed, or if we have to guard our hearts so we won't be hurt. These "ways" we bring to our marriage, and even into the way we parent.
Three key building blocks that become the "glue" that bond us and make our relationships feel close, connected, and safe. They are: trust, availability, and responsiveness.
Your early relationship experiences of other people's trustworthiness, availability, and responsiveness shape your internal template for how trustworthy, available and responsive you are, as well as how you think others may behave in future relationships with you.
Secure Way of Loving
In securely attached families, parents are trustworthy, available emotionally and physically, and responsive to a child's needs in a caring and timely manner. As a result, their children gain a secure sense of themselves and others.
If you grew up in a secure family, your parents didn't need to be perfect, just good enough. Sometimes you may have had to wait to be picked up, or you realized you couldn't get everything you wanted, but you gained an inner sense that you were loved and could reach out to those who loved you and be understood. Such an inner sense of security carries over into a marriage, where one's spouse will be seen as a good person who will be there emotionally, and where any difficulties can be resolved.
Avoidant Way of Loving
In these types of families, when a child reaches for the comfort of parents only to be rejected, it soon becomes clear that he or she cannot emotionally rely on others, and instead must learn to become independent and self-sufficient.
If you bring into marriage a sense of independence, and conclude that everyone should be responsible for taking care of themselves, you may likely believe that emotions just get in the way and that it is best to be logical during conflict. If this is the case, your spouse will probably feel you are not attuned to his or her needs, and you will come across as detached and uncaring. The avoidant person could do well to begin a journey of understanding his or her emotions and learning how to connect on a deeper level.
Anxious Way of Loving
Growing up in this scenario, the caregiving you received was possibly inconsistent, or perhaps your caregiver was intrusive. Sometimes caregivers gave you what you needed, but other times they were not there and you learned that to be noticed you had to be really "good" to get attention.
But bringing childhood uncertainty into a marriage creates anxiousness that wonders, "Will you be there for me (or not)?" and often double-checking your spouse's love and attention. "Are you sure you liked the cookies I made, you? Really sure? Promise?" The anxious spouse longs for reassurance (from themselves and their spouse) to feel confident and safe in their relationship.
Fearful Way of Loving
If growing up, you came to realize that the very person you were turning to for comfort was the person who was hurting you, you would face a dilemma: "I really need your comfort, but you disciplined too harshly, neglected me or abused me."
This, carried over into a marriage, is where you long to be loved but fear you will be hurt. So, you love like a yo-yo: "I love you, so come close, but because I fear you will hurt me, I must push you away."
Spouses who have a 'fearful' way of relating will also second guess whether their partner truly loves them, and doubt their love will last, fearing that the other shoe will drop and something bad will happen to the relationship. This is often very puzzling and hurtful to the partner. Like a scarred alley cat wondering if it is safe to curl up on the lap of its owner, it is a journey for the fearful spouse to learn that risking to trust fosters the connection they long for.
Hope for Healing Your Marriage
It is not only interesting, but vitally important to understand your (and your spouse's) attachment style—that is, the particular template you bring into marriage regarding how you love, and how you anticipate that others will either love you or not be there for you. It can help you understand a bit more why you view a situation a particular way, or why you react the way you do when you are hurt.
Getting along with the person you love the most can often be the most difficult and seemingly complicated task. Yes, as sweet as it is to wake up with the spouse you love and who really loves you, marriage is hard work. Loving well takes courage and depth of character. It requires continuous personal growth and maturity.
Because our relationships are so vitally important to our souls and lives, loving well is life impacting. We need to learn how to deal with hurts and conflicts. We must come to learn patience, kindness, the art of saying "I'm sorry" and forgiving, and face life's disappointments and differences with integrity.
Our vision at Safe Haven Relationship Center is to help you grow as a person so you can love well. Consider attending one of our Safe Haven marriage intensives, or grow2gether seminars because we know loving well is a lifelong journey. You don't have to stay stuck and unhappy in your marriage. Not only can you change your attachment style, but you can also change the way you and your spouse relate.