Building Secure Attachments in Marriage & Family Relationships

Do you feel like you are frequently clashing with your spouse and feel unsure why you react the way you do at times? Can you relate to the feeling of being unsure why you are responding to your child in a particular way in his or her time of “testing the waters”? It may be time to start building secure attachments.

If you have been noticing that you feel stressed in relationships, such as your marriage, parenting, or other family relationships or friendships, it can be very insightful to look at your own responses and family background. We typically develop a certain set of coping skills and stress responses, both either good or bad, from what we have seen modeled from our parents growing up.

Dr. Tim Clinton finds that how one answers the questions about him/herself, “Am I worthy of being loved?” and “Am I competent of getting the love I need?” forms one’s sense of self and how one views him or herself. He also finds that how one views others and the world is formed by how one answers the questions “Are others reliable and trust worthy?” “Are others willing to respond when I need them?” Based on these questions, one learns whether the world is a safe or a scary place and whether others can be trusted.

The way that a person forms core beliefs to these questions about him/herself and others significantly influence how one interacts with others in the context of marriage, parenting, family, and friends. These beliefs also particularly impact how one approaches others in times of stress. These reactions may range from feeling “muddled” in relationships, with rapidly shifting emotions; fearing others’ reactions such as rejection or not being accepted; or withdrawing from others to avoid conflict. Maybe you can relate!

You can’t change other people or what other people are doing, but you CAN change your own responses.

5 Steps To Re-Frame Your Approach to Relationships:

(from Dr. Tim Clinton’s article)

Step 1: Remember Your Story.

  • When you retell your story – factually and vividly – the thing that happened to you becomes something with a finite beginning and ending. Using words to describe an event (or series of events) can help you gain control of it.

Step 2: Recognize Your Pain/Need for Healing.

  • When you have been wounded by attachment injuries, anger swells. Often, this anger is appropriate. However, to move past the pain is a crucial step in the healing process.
  • Give yourself permission to grieve your losses and then get ready to move on.

Step 3: Re-Frame the Meaning of Your Story.

  • The objective here is to see yourself, and your past, in a different light…. Being honest and open about your attachment injuries, and then – instead of dwelling on the weaknesses you see in yourself and others, seek out the positive strengths.

Step 4: Repair Your Story (damaged relationships & emotions).

  • This is understandably the most important – and the most difficult step in the healing process. Begin by deciding to understand and stop doing the things that you know are counterproductive. Next, revise your “relationship rules. ” Begin trusting others and yourself – even at the risk of failure.

Step 5: Reconnecting.

  • To reconnect with others, one idea must be kept front and center in your mind. It is the concept of forgiveness. Begin by forgiving yourself – understand that you are not to blame. Second, you must forgive others. Forgiveness is crucial because it helps free us emotionally so we can face closeness again.

The process of change is never easy, but in this case, it could be infinitely rewarding.

You will find that it can be very insight building and transformative to take a look at how you approach others and the world and to evaluate what is working well and what can be improved. A trained professional can also assist you in identifying unhealthy patterns that affect your marriage and family relationships and provide techniques to change these patterns into healthy communication.

You can read more about how building secure attachments as it pertains to marriage and parenting, and general tips for improving the way that you relate to others in Clinton’s book Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act The Way You Do.

~Author: Kelly A. Carrier, MEd for Miller Counseling Services, PC 

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