Αrticle: George Brekoulakis

Psychologist – Psychotherapist

Τranslation: Evi Diamantopoulou

Revised article: Harriet Spala

‘’ We all are much happier when life gives us the opportunity to achieve small or large explorations, starting from a safe base’’ (Bowlby, 1998)

In western society, the majority of adults state that their love relationship is the most important regarding their emotional needs, safety and care (Levinger, & Houston, 1990), while failure of an interpersonal relationship affiliates with increased possibilities of a series of psychological problems to occur, such as depression, especially women (Joiner & Coyne, 1999), alcohol excess, mostly by men (O’Farrell, 1998), and low self-esteem (Brennan & Morris, 1997; Collins & Read, 1990). As it also happens in research of emotional bonds (attachment) regarding infants, concern and interest between two partners occurs in two ways: by offering security, with which the other partner feels protected and by offering a safe haven where the other partner is able to face the world. Ideally, both partners ought to effortlessly exchange between them comfort and security when needed. We provide a solid base of security every time we try to rescue emotionally our partner, either by helping him solve a problem that saddens him, or by comforting him, or by just listening to him. When we feel that a relationship offers a certain foundation of security we are free to face challenges and achieve some small or large explorations.

These explorations may be simple, like a day’s work at the office or complicated, like a worldwide accomplishment. However, let’s not forget the speeches of them who are honored with great awards, almost always thank the person who provides them a safe haven. This data shows how important is the feeling of security and certainty that one has to feel in order to succeed. The feeling of safety and the urge for exploration are compatible. According to the theory of British Psychiatrist Bowlby, the larger the paradise of certainty that our partner offers us, the more explorations we try in the world. The larger and discouraging the target is of these explorations, the more we will need to count on this support to reinforce our energy and focus, our self-confidence and courage. These theories were tested to 116 couples which maintained a relationship for at least four years (Feeney, 2004). As estimated beforehand, the more the two partners felt they were a safe haven for each other, the more willing they were to chase with self-confidence life opportunities. Videotapes of the couples discussing the life goals of each partner revealed that the way they talked also mattered. If one appeared to be sensitive, affectionate and positive during the duration of the discussion, the other one logically felt more certain in the end and often boosted the forearm of his/her pursuits. If one of the partners though seemed to be tactless and dominant, the other one tended to be more negative and insecure about his/her aims and often ended up backing off from his aspirations and feel less self-confident. The ones who seemed to be dominant were considered rude and judgmental by their partner, while their advice was not generally taken into consideration. On the other hand, a person with low confidence when considering his/her ability to face the world, can actually rest assured having a companion who controls everything, while can easily allow his/her partner’s domination and feel relieved once he/she has the chance to be dominated and controlled. However domination violates the basic rule of providing a safe haven: someone intervenes only when asked or in case it is completely necessary. When we allow our partner to dare anything in his/her own way, we offer him non verbal trust. The more we try to control situations the more we lose this non verbal trust. Interference especially when it is annoying reduces the will to explore.

Emotional support and the types of emotional bonding vary. Anyone who is anxious about their emotional relationships may have difficulty in relaxing so as to allow their partner to have their own space within the relationship. Instead they want their partners constantly attached to them, like overprotective mothers do with their children. These partners may provide a secure basis for their relationship but cannot function themselves as a secure basis for a relationship. On the other hand, the personalities that belong to the avoiding type may not have a problem to let their partner free, but have a hard time giving him comfort and never rush for emotional support.

Feeney researchers (2003, 2008) recognize the same patterns of emotional bond in every intimate relationship. Personalities with a safe emotional bond tend to commit adult and equal relationships with their partners and in case they choose to have children, they transfer to them a sense of safety. Personalities with insecure relationships carry their negative experiences to their children when their intimate relationship fails to give them emotional fulfillment.  Then, the children become responsible in playing the remedial figure in their parent’s lives. A couple that explores and discovers the balance together, tries to deal with the relationship, and by seeking professional help can reduce the impact of emotional insecurity that each partner inherited from his/her parents.

In order to better demonstrate the categorization of the general population according to the types of emotional bonding, the results of several surveys are presented (Davila, Burge & Hammen, 1997; Feeney & Noller, 1990, 1991; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Kirkpatrick & Davis, 1994; Van Ijerdoorn & Bakermans- Kraneburg, 1996):

Safe Personalities (low stress-low avoidance, 55% to 65%) who enter a relationship expecting that their partner will be emotionally available and in harmony, that he/she will stand by them to support them during difficult or distressing times and that they will reciprocate this. They feel comfortable when they come close to each other. Individuals in safe emotional relationships believe they deserve the interest, care and affection and confront others as reliable and with good intentions towards them. Τheir relations as a result, are usually intimate and based on trust. They understand their partner’s sadness and rush to emotionally support them.

Aloof (avoiding) Personalities (high avoidance, low stress, 22% to 39%) don’t feel comfortable when they come emotionally close to someone, they have difficulty in trusting a partner or sharing their emotions and they show nervousness when their partner is trying to emotionally approach them. They tend to suppress their feelings especially the feelings of sorrow. These personalities expect their partner will prove emotionally untrustworthy and therefore feel that intimate relationships are unpleasant. They face difficulty when having to feel compassion as they self protect from distressful feelings by suppressing them as they have not developed empathy.

Anxious or Selfish Personalities (high level of stress, low avoidance, 15% to 20%) from the moment they enter a relationship, they are tormented by fear that their partner will abandon them or that they will remain in the background, they are always alert and feel obsessive cautiousness and jealousy for their lover’s previous relationships. They identify with a hypersensitivity of their partner and are quite vulnerable to the weariness that compassion causes since they are overwhelmed by their own agony when they face their partner’s problems.

Disordered Personalities (high avoidance, high stress, about 5%) from the moment they enter a relationship they express mixed attitudes of aloof (avoiding) and anxious or selfish personalities. More specifically sometimes they find it hard to trust a partner or share their feelings and sometimes they feel continuously anxious and fear of abandonment, or are obsessive regarding their partner’s previous relationships.

Couples that seek professional consultation, often feel trapped in defensive procedures, in games of dominance, in reactions and in blame games. Each partner feels as the other partner’s victim, while the dominant feelings are frustration and weakness. Reconciliation procedures are weakened as one criticizes and constantly judges the other.

The scientific research for couples, explains the important role of responsibility for a couple’s relationship, the development of consciousness regarding “togetherness” in a couple and the limitation of confrontations. Love in a couple entails also the conflicts and disconnection together with the commitment to solve these issues. Trust is important for a functional ‘’togetherness’’ and for the personal evolution of each partner in a relationship.

Recommended Bibliography

Atkinson, B. (2005). Emotional intelligence in couple therapy: Advances from neurobiology and the science of intimate relationships. New York: Norton

Berman, W. H., Marcus, L. and Berman, E.R. (1994). Attachment in martial relations. In Sperling , M.B and Berman , W. H. (Eds.), Attachment in Adults, pp. 204-231. NY: Guilford Press.

Bowdly, J. (1998). A Secure Base. New York: Basic Books.

Clulow, C. (2001). Attachment Theory and the Therapeutic Frame in Adult Attachment and Couple Psychotherapy: The Secure Base in Practice and Research. Philadelphia: Brunner Routledge.

Collins, N. L. & Read, S. J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 644-663.

Feeney, J. A. (2003). The systemic nature of couple relationships: an attachment perspective. In. P. Erdman & T. Caffery (Eds.), Attachment and family systems: Conceptual, empirical and therapeutic relatedness. New York: Brunner/ Mazel.

Fishbane, M.D. (2007). Wired to connect: neuroscience, relationships, and therapy. Family Process, 46, 395-412.

Jonshon, S.M. (2000). Emotionally focused couples therapy: Cheating a secure bond. In F.M Dattilio (Eds), Comparative treatments in relationship dysfunction, pp. 163-185. New York: Springer.

Jonshon, S & Whiffen, V. (2006). Attachment processes in couple and family therapy. The Guilford Press.

Powers, S. I., Pietromonaco, P.R., Gunlicks, M.J. & Sayer, A. (2006). Dating couples’ attachment styles and patterns of cortisol reactivity and recovery in response to a relationship conflict. Journal of personality conflict. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 613-628.

Solomon, M.F. (1994). Lean on me: the power of positive dependency in intimate relationships. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Wile, D. (2002). Collaborative couple therapy. In A.S Gurman & N.S Jacobson (Eds.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (pp. 91-120). New York: Guilford Press.