The Nuts & Bolts
I commonly work with couples who are having problems in three general areas – finances, sex, and children. A fourth and major area is infidelity, in a variety of forms. In my work with couples I talk a lot about baggage. What bogs down and can destroy a relationship is baggage, which includes unvoiced needs, expectations, and assumptions as well as attachment styles. Each of us has individual baggage or burdens we’ve accumulated over the course of our lives. Some of that baggage is positive … and some is negative. And baggage conflicts often causes problems in all four of these areas.
We all have our own expectations, needs, and assumptions about relationships. Most of the time these are realistic, but at times they’re not. We also have our own primary attachment or relational style; it’s another part of our personal baggage. Finally, we’ve all had relationship classes. We learned how to have relationships from our parents, our peers, from the media, etc., etc. Sometimes those lessons were pretty good … and sometimes they weren’t.
Simply working on communication is never the whole answer to a couples’ problems, although it helps. We need to consider each person’s baggage and conflicts about baggage as well. I commonly address companionship, respect, trust, emotional and physical intimacy, expectations, needs and assumptions in those areas, as well as attachment with the couples I work with.
Put It In Words
A big part of a relationship (or recovery) is knowing yourself, your own expectations, needs, and assumptions. A gentleman I worked with several years ago told me, “I will respect anyone who respects me the way I want to be respected.” When I asked, “How do you want to be respected?”, his answer was basically “I don’t know.” He couldn’t put his expectation into words. A lady I worked with recently told me she expected good communication and honesty from her partner. When I asked her what these terms meant to her she was stumped, but she did see the point.
If we can’t put our expectations and needs into words for ourselves how can we expect anyone else to live up to them? Lack of this knowledge can cripple or kill a relationship. Unfortunately, we seldom blame ourselves for the fallout. We’re often blind to what we don’t know about ourselves.
Attachment is yet another kettle of fish. Children can have one of four primary attachment styles – secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized. Adults, however, don’t think like kids and don’t relate to other people like kids. Adults can have one of four predominant and different attachment styles than children – secure, dismissing/avoidant, fearful/avoidant, or preoccupied. But for now, think in terms of just two – secure and insecure.
With a secure attachment style, I think of myself as “I’m okay and you’re okay.” Insecure attachment, on the other hand, can lead to some negative beliefs – “I’m okay and you’re not,” “you’re okay and I’m not,” or “neither of us is okay.” These latter three negative beliefs can lead to a host of emotional, relational, work, social, and physical health problems. We can learn to have secure attachment as an adult. Our minds are plastic, we can change and we can grow, we can achieve secure attachment, but we may need some help and guidance to do so.
The rub comes in blending our baggage, expectations, needs, assumptions, attachment styles, and other lessons we’ve learned about relationships with those of another person. And none of us ever have all the tools we need to build and maintain a good relationship. Are relationships easy? Nope. Doable. You bet! Hard work? Oh yeah. Worth the effort? Oh yes!
Doesn’t matter what type of relationship we’re talking about – marriage, dating, work, friendship, etc. – there will be conflicts, often due to differences between people’s baggage, including their attachment styles. And we’re often blind to the other person’s baggage as well as our own.
We need to know ourselves, own baggage, our own needs, expectations, assumptions, and attachment style. ACES (see our Resources page) can give some additional insight. Curious about your own attachment/relational style? The two links in Resources under “Attachment” have a variety of on-line quizzes you can take as well as general information about attachment.
We may not be responsible for all the baggage we carry with us. However, we are responsible for knowing what we are carrying around, what we do with it, how we express it, and how it affects us and our relationships. But we have to know ourselves first, know what we’re carrying around, before we can do anything about it. Most times we can fix it ourselves … but at times we may need a bit of help.
Need some help or have questions about relationships, baggage, or attachment? Send me an email asking for a free consultation. Include your availability in the coming week and I’ll respond within 24-hours with a day and time that works for both of us.