Emotional connection and attachment in adults and adult relationships
Previously we looked at how children develop a sense of security and safety in early life through emotional connection and attachment. We saw what happens if instead of security, children develop a sense of insecurity. Here we look at adult emotional connection, and how to start improving it.
How can we strengthen adult emotional connection?
For adults and adult relationships, partners in securely bonded relationships can reciprocally ask for and give care, love and support of their partner, knowing that their call will be heard. This freedom allows each to explore their relationship and feelings in the reliable knowledge that they will not be rejected or criticised.
What does it look like when it goes wrong?
If in our adult relationship we find that we do not feel heard, if we feel overlooked or unimportant, taken for granted or criticised for our needs, like the uncertain child, we build our own defences and create our own security blanket.
That might look like silence and withdrawal or reluctance to be participate in a physical relationship. If our calls for attention are ignored, our defences might also express as frustration and anger. Unfortunately these have the effect of pushing our loved one further away rather than drawing them close as we really wish.
What can we do about this?
Remember, Safety First. These suggestions do not apply if there is any domestic abuse or violence or if there’s an ongoing affair. These factors affect our ability to positively engage with our partners and that’s what we’re working towards.
Learning to meet your partner at an emotional level can work lasting magic in your relationship. But, do both partners want to meet each other at that level? Are you both prepared to make changes in yourselves? Changing the relationship can only happen if partners make changes in themselves.
The first thing is not to try to hammer out a solution when the emotional temperature is high. Don’t try to reach the soul of your partner during an argument, or when you are feeling picked on or ignored, unloved or unheard or irritated or taken for-granted.
Honesty is always worthwhile however, and it can help if you can find a way of gently letting your partner know how you are feeling in that moment and that you’d find it helpful to talk, but later. Something like, “I can hear that you’re irritated with me. I’m not really sure why that is and I hope you’ll be able to tell me later. It makes me sad and lonely to feel excluded from you when you’re angry with me.”
This kind of approach can help to cover a number of bases:
- It allows the angry, irritated person to know that they’ve been heard. (Their irritation may be a symptom of some emotional need)
- It allows them to know that their partner wants to understand why they feel irritated, when the time is right.
- There’s no judgement or criticism of the angry partner. No striking back verbally or rising to the bait. (This can just wind things up to a higher pitch)
- There’s an offering of honest vulnerability. Finding and expressing an underlying feeling of sadness and loneliness is hard to do. It opens up the precise emotional raw spot that we might otherwise try to numb, blunt or divert by any of our usual defensive tactics.
Finding the underlying feelings
This sort of sadness and loneliness creates a deep hurt. It’s a lack of that precious emotional connection. It’s about feeling excluded from your primary supportive grouping; your couple. The place where you should feel most at ease, accepted and welcomed. This feeling of exclusion and being “cast out” could also happen for people rejected by their family or in-laws.
After de-escalation, how do we start working on re-creating lasting adult emotional connection? We will explore this further in part 3., to follow.
There are lots of resources out there to support you if you wish. If you are affected by anything mentioned here and would like to talk it through with an experienced relationships counsellor please get in touch via the contact form on the home page or email anytime.