The new year brings an opportunity for all couples at any stage of an attached relationship – engaged, celebrating silver or gold anniversaries, bringing two families together, newly retired or empty-nesting – to reassess how satisfied they are with this thing called love.
Couple behavior makes sense when we look at it from the perspective of two bonding mammals. Emotional attunement and physical closeness are ancient survival strategies designed to keep us alive when threatened. Our brains encode emotional or physical distance as cause for alarm.
Alternatively, when we feel safe in our relationship, supported no matter what we do, we can make mistakes and repairs, we can rely on our partner when we need that person the most and when we call, our partner will come. This secure bond brings with it 10 benefits that we’ll call the Healthy Relationship Checklist.
Checking the list
How does your relationship stack up? Research reveals the 10 benefits of being part of a securely attached couple. Are you reaping the benefits from a secure bond? Here’s the checklist from renowned couples’ therapist Sue Johnson. Secure partners can:
1. Retain emotional balance in the face of difficult interactions. Partners are less flooded with anxiety or anger and respond less reactively or defensively.
2. Tune into their emotions and share this along with a clear, direct message of what is needed to feel better.
3. Remain flexible and open, paying attention to the process of interacting, reflecting on their experience instead of focusing on the content of the conflict. Have you noticed that any topic can lead to conflict when you’re trapped in conflict?
4. Trustingly take in and use their partner’s comfort and care to soothe themselves, returning to a calm state.
5. Deal with confusing, ambiguous responses with less catastrophizing or numbing. Be able to stay present with the discomfort and be curious about what’s happening, not imaging the worst possible outcome or avoiding the situation completely.
6. Give the benefit of the doubt and resist the impulse to tell themselves their partner is bad, selfish, uncaring, indifferent, etc. Staying with a negative appraisal impacts the way we see each other.
7. Maintain a coherent and positive sense of self. This is one place where balance shows up, where there’s no vacillating between negative and positive view of self, depending on the state of the relationship.
8. Turn toward others and respond with empathy and caring.
9. Go out in the world alone and explore, learning and adapting to new situations. Ironically, the more interdependency we build, the more independent we become.
10. More effectively coordinate the special couple tasks of caregiving and sexual connection.
Are you able to maintain your balance under pressure in your relationship? Have you ever experienced this kind of secure bond? Many of us were not in secure relationships as children and that inevitably impacts how we view relationships and our place in them. Want to improve the way you and your partner dance together?
There are multiple resources available online, in libraries, bookstores, TED Talks and professional marriage and family therapists. But knowledge isn’t enough. You’ve got to do the hard work of taking risks, sharing your feelings and being vulnerable to build a bond that pays such rich dividends.
Here’s to consciously building a better more secure bond in 2019! May your efforts lead to lasting change and happiness.
Nancy Andersen, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provides counseling for couples and individuals in her Los Altos office. For more information, call 833-9574 or visit nancyandersenmft.com.