Attachment theory has shaped the world of mental health and pop psychology for years now. It is a theory that promotes the idea that the human need for attachment is the most relevant and important part of how we relate and also how we get into trouble in our relating. It defines our problems as stemming from the things our parents did or didn’t do to or for us. Attachment theory (and therapists) teach that it is our partner’s job – or ours – to make up for the love and security we missed as children. Our job, in effect is to soothe and love our partner’s Inner Child.
The tools associated with attachment theory and its therapies are easy to recognize. “Communicate” more. Have date nights. Have sex. Use “I” statements. Mirror back what your partner just said so she knows you heard her. Say nice things about your partner to your partner at least once a day. Take 10 minute breaks if you’re in a big fight. Use “I” statements correctly! Fill up your partner’s love tank. Learn to speak her love language. Have more sex. Etc., etc., etc.
I’m going to guess, that if you’re reading this blog, you have tried these kinds of things in your marriage, and they haven’t gotten you very far. This is precisely where Attachment based therapies fall apart – in the application of its principles to marriage.
I practice a different model – one based in human potential and resilience rather than on our childhood-based limitations. Don’t get me wrong – many of our childhoods limited us greatly. But the way to solve our problems isn’t retrospective – somehow making up for the past. The way we solve our problems is by learning how to stop missing the forest for the trees right here in the present. Here’s what I mean.
We have been taught to think our problems will be solved by just being nicer, compromising more, or communicating better (addressing the trees or the symptoms) when the real problem (the forest) is many of us are caught in an emotional dynamic or pattern wherein either we are mentally beating the crap out of our spouses or they are doing it to us – intentionally.
Attachment therapies (right alongside Disney) teach that our partners don’t really mean to hurt us (nor us them) – that we were all wounded as children and we don’t really mean to call each other names and manipulate each others minds. (Ever notice how the most recent Disney or Pixar cartoons make the villain out to be a victim in the end who didn’t really mean it?) This kind of marriage therapy – which is most of what you’ll find in the market – only works with the symptoms of a bad pattern rather than the cause. Symptom reduction – finding ways to help people calm their anxieties – without addressing the emotional dynamic or pattern in charge of the relationship is how most marriage counseling keeps people from changing. When the real problems in marriage are addressed, real change occurs and anxiety is reduced as an ancillary benefit.
What are the real problems? Lopsided power struggles.
Compromising, having even more sex, or filling up your partners’ love tanks aren’t going to solve them. In fact, these kinds of interventions are going to make the problem worse. In other words, if we treat a manipulative spouse as if they are poor children to be nurtured back to health then we are just perpetuating the problem. Most of the time in marriage we are dealing with an Inner Voldemort – not a poor, lonely Inner Child who can’t help themselves.
The wisdom here is what perhaps you already know. No matter how nicely you communicate with your spouse, no matter how much sex you have with him or her, no matter how many date nights, you cannot get either your marriage or your partner to change.
The only thing that will work is you changing first. If you’re married to a manipulator (who perhaps is better at it than you) then it’s time to wake up – way up. If you recognize your own manipulative ways and if you love him or her, even just a little, get yourselves into a good marriage counselor.
The kind of marriage counseling that makes a difference is the kind that addresses the very real power dynamics and stuck patterns that control you and your relationship. Marriage counseling that works levels the playing field by asking more of you than to use “I” statements and have date nights. Good marriage counseling empowers you to face the dark side both within yourself and in your partner. Only when the evil villain within is dead (or at least his magic wand has been taken away) can you achieve the good stuff – the intimacy, the shared plans and goals to work toward together, and the joy that comes with learning how to truly be a friend to another human being. ©
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog! More to come next week!
As always, if you want to delve deeper into material like this check out more of my blog or Dr. Schnarch’s work on transforming marriage counseling for the better. Have a look at his books or his website:
Intimacy and Desire, Passionate Marriage, or visit www.crucible4points.com
For the die-hard Harry Potter fans, here’s just a touch more on how Rowling portrayed not an Inner Child – but an Inner Voldemort!
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has a good take on what to do in this kind of situation. Both Harry and Voldemort had rough childhoods, but Harry fought his dark side while Voldemort fueled his.
Remember the scene in the last book in the series when Harry dies?
He arrives at a kind of heavenly King’s Cross on Platform 9 ¾ and discovers he is not alone. A nasty little creature – emaciated, bleeding, and raw looking – and that has “the form of a small naked child” appears flapping, flailing, and struggling and when Harry first encounters it “he [is] afraid of it. Small and fragile and wounded though it [is].” Harry is torn. He feels like he ought to comfort it and he moves toward it slowly, “ready to jump back at any moment.” But he can’t bring himself to touch it. “…It repulses him.”
Then Dumbledore arrives on the scene. “You cannot help” the creature he tells Harry. What Harry learns, among other things, is that this creature is what has become of the soul of Lord Voldemort (Harry’s arch enemy, evil power hungry villain trying to take over the world who destroys his own soul in the meantime…See nasty snake looking creature in the picture at the top). It’s not something to be pitied but respected for what it truly is. ©