Adult/Couple Attachment Therapy

Adult Treatment
In our work with adults, we assist individuals and/or couples to become aware of past losses, incompletions and repetitive destructive patterns in their lives. We then provide opportunities to integrate and heal these roadblocks to growth and happiness.

The lessons we learn about ourselves and others from our caregivers and early life experiences becomes the template by which we measure our self-worth and our capacity to be empathic, caring, and genuine. As children, our parents are the "all powerful" center of our universe. If they think badly of us, then it must be true. A child has no perspective from which to cast doubt on this assessment. We then "internalize" their negative opinion and incorporate it into our view of ourselves. If we were regularly criticized or demeaned we can easily develop a damaged sense of self-worth.

Harmful childhood experiences (even those not remembered consciously) can force us to close our hearts in an attempt at self-protection from further pain. There is no such thing as perfect parents. We all have "baggage" from our pasts and we construct walls of emotional scar tissue to close over our unhealed wounds. This protective barrier locks us in and others out and can inhibit our ability to develop close connections with others. The degree of this self-protection is equal to the severity of our perceived wounds.

This therapy is not a "cookie cutter" approach. Although there are many similarities in the human experience, we all have unique qualities and problems. You are an important part of the treatment team. We develop a tailor-made program to meet the individual's needs through an on-going blend of assessments and interventions.

The primary goal of treatment is positive change - new choices, perspectives, options, behaviors, coping strategies, and relationships. We explore areas such as anger management, conflict resolution, communication skills, and improved self-image.

Attachment Styles and Relationships

The attachment styles that develop in childhood stay with us for a lifetime. They influence our feelings of security, the personal meaning given to our experiences, and the ability to develop and maintain closeness with others. We all have perceptions and behaviors across the continuum of attachment styles; however, we tend to adopt one primary style.

Secure/Autonomous Adults

Adults are secure when they make sense of their attachment experiences in an honest and realistic way, understand the connection between the past and the present, and deeply value attachment. They have a "coherent" state of mind and most likely have securely attached children. Their emotional baggage does not get in the way of being a sensitive and responsive parent. They are proactive rather than reactive.

Attachment injuries can occur when needs for comfort, closeness and security are not adequately met. The following attachment styles are influenced by varying degrees of attachment traumas.

Dismissing Adults

Adults who are dismissive are unable or unwilling to deal with their prior attachment experiences in a clear and coherent way ("incoherent" state of mind). They dismiss and devalue the importance of attachment, avoid their own feelings, and reject their children. They typically have children with avoidant attachment patterns.

Preoccupied Adults

Adults are referred to as preoccupied when they are confused about and over-focused on early family problems. They are still emotionally entangled with past unresolved issues. They commonly have children with ambivalent attachments because their own issues cause them to be inconsistent and unpredictable.

Unresolved Adults

Unresolved adults had painful losses and serious traumas as children, including severe abuse and neglect, and have not resolved these early emotional wounds. They threaten, abandon, and frighten their own children, who often develop the most insecure and dysfunctional attachment pattern called disorganized-disoriented attachment.

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Couples Treatment
We are biologically designed to seek and maintain attachments with others through which we learn the lessons of love, inter-dependence and trust. The quality of our core relationships has a profound effect on our health and well-being. Studies show that the level of marital happiness is the strongest predictor of overall life satisfaction.

When we enter into relationships, both partners bring along all their unresolved conflicts, fears, hurts and expectations. There is a strong tendency to recreate abusive, neglectful, or in other ways hurtful relationships from childhood with our adult partners. These old dysfunctional patterns become indistinguishable from current emotional triggers. A stacking of emotions can occur whereby an event in a current relationship triggers the unleashing of old feelings and reactions, creating a confusion of powerful old hurts and new ones. If our emotions in a situation are disproportionate to the provocation, we are probably bringing up an old hurt.

The tendency to unconsciously attract relationships that reenact past conflicts and beliefs is called "repetition compulsion." This drive to repeat familiar patterns, no matter how painful or self-defeating, is very powerful. For example, adult children of alcoholics frequently marry alcoholics, and an abused child with a high tolerance for maltreatment may grow up and attract high levels of stress and conflict in his/her marriage. We unconsciously are attracted to people who allow us to revisit our childhood issues in an attempt to get it right.

To be successful in relationships, we must also learn how to blend our differences. When couples fall in love, differences are easily tolerated, and both work hard to please each other. However, as we become more familiar and the stresses of life take their toll, our best behavior is quickly eroded. Soon our little differences become annoyances and our predominant attachment style emerges. Partners commonly have different styles, which guides their attitudes and behaviors in relationships. We often attempt to change the other person to fit more comfortably with our own beliefs. This rarely works. The following is how the various adult attachment styles look in relationships.

Attachment Styles and Relationships

Attachment styles learned in our early years can be changed. We provide appropriate corrective emotional experiences whereby more "secure" attachment styles can be learned. These modifications can redefine the couple's relationship in many significant ways. Learning to create a healthier relationship provides an arena to heal old wounds and to establish a meaningful bond for the future.

Secure/autonomous Adults

In romantic relationships, secure adults find it relatively easy to get close to, trust, and depend on their partners. They open-up emotionally, make a solid commitment for the long-term, and are comfortable having their partners depend on them. They are tolerant of differences, compassionate, and responsive to their partner's needs.

These adults were securely attached to at least one parent or caregiver as children ("continuous" security) or developed secure attachment later in life ("earned" security of attachment). The adults with earned security experienced problems in their families growing up, but were able to deal with and make sense of those early experiences, understand how those experiences influenced their lives, and formed healthy relationships as they got older. They formed a close, trusting, and healing relationship with a friend, romantic partner, therapist, or other significant person.

Dismissing Adults

In romantic relationships dismissing adults are most comfortable being self-reliant, not seeking or accepting support from their partners. They are anxious with closeness, maintain emotional distance, and find it difficult to trust. Their partners want more intimacy and connection than they are able or willing to give.

They are often cool, controlled, ambitious, and successful. They are good in a crisis because of their ability to react with intellect while setting emotions aside. They avoid conflict and tend to be sarcastic and passive-aggressive.

Preoccupied Adults

Their romantic relationships are characterized by anxiety and uncertainty. They are so sure that they won't be loved and supported that they are excessively vigilant, demanding reassurance, jealous, and end-up scaring others away. They are often controlling, critical, and argumentative. They have a profound need for closeness but little trust in the emotional availability of others.

Unresolved Adults

These adults are afraid of closeness. They view themselves as defective and unworthy of love and are not capable of intimate, trusting, and mature romantic relationships. They are selfish, controlling, and refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions. They are often antisocial, disregarding rules, having little empathy and remorse, and are high-risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

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Laws of Couple Relationships
Relationships are one of the most challenging paths for achieving emotional and spiritual growth. Few other experiences provoke the depth of our fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities. Some people believe that it is much easier to be alone. There are easier paths, but none offer the opportunities for personal development inherent in intimate relationships. Unfortunately, most of us have no clue how to navigate through the challenges that intimate relationships provide. We are not born knowing how to create a successful relationship, we do not learn Relationship 101 in school, and self-help books offer minimal help. Most of us usually end up following what our parents taught us about relationships. Having a solid grasp of how relationships work is particularly important if you must deal with challenging children. There are four basic laws of relationships, that when understood, can make the road to intimacy easier to travel. If more couples understood the laws, then perhaps the divorce rate would not be so high.

They include:
  1. Transference: This is the unconscious identification of some person in your current life with some significant person or situation from your past. A demanding boss can elicit childhood feelings of not being good enough. Having lived with a malcontent mother may cause you to overreact to your wife's criticism. If your father was emotionally unavailable, you may be attracted to a husband who is distant and withdrawn. We truly do marry our mothers and fathers at least once. We all have expectations of behavior in current relationships based on previous experiences. We do this regardless of whether the past experiences were positive or negative. If we liked how our parents treated each other and us, we seek to replicate that in a current relationship. If our childhood experiences were less than positive, we also unconsciously seek to replicate that. If a pattern is not healed, then it is continually recreated until it is healed. This is why some people divorce and immediately remarry someone just like the previous spouse.

    The magnetic attraction that draws us to someone is not just about physical appearance. The chemistry present in the beginning stages of a relationship might really be about transference. We are attracted to people who remind us of our parents. It is not uncommon for us to see what we want to see. We can project qualities onto a person based on our expectations. When the infatuation wears off and the reality sets in, problems can occur. Sometimes the qualities that we initially find attractive in a partner later become an annoyance. For example, if we had a father who was highly achievement and status oriented, we might pick a free spirited, laid back partner. However, over time our "old programming" kicks in. When our partner is unable to meet our pre-set expectations, the relationship loses its appeal.

  2. Mirroring: "Put down the magnifying glass and pick up the mirror." Rosen. Most of us believe that we marry for ideals such as love and romance and practical reasons such as security, companionship, and starting a family. What we are also doing is picking someone who will help us recreate old familiar family patterns. By their very nature, marriages force the issues we have carried with us since childhood into the forefront. Intimate relationships are the mirror that reflects back to us all our emotional baggage. This is no cruel joke, the purpose is to help us face and heal our unresolved issues through repetition. You can not hide your "dark side" in an intimate relationship. Eventually all your hidden demons will emerge.

    Blaming your partner for your unhappiness and other problems is futile. It is difficult to see our own shortcomings, yet quite easy to see someone else's. What we do not realize is that what we do not like about the people closest to us, really is what we do not like or accept about ourselves. If we do not currently have a partner, then mirroring occurs with other players in our lives. It could be with our children, roommates, or co-workers. The more intimate the relationship, the more powerful the mirroring.

    Trying to change your partner is another road to futility. The harder you try to make someone else change, the more you alienate them, and the more powerless you become. You can not change another. The only person you have the power to change is yourself. The irony is that if you change, they will have to change. It takes two to tango. The "emotional dance" between the two of you can not continue if one partner refuses to dance. The relationship must then adapt by choreographing another dance.

    For example:
    • Mary continually harped on her husband Bill for withdrawing to his computer every evening after dinner. She felt angry, hurt, and ignored. Bill grew up in a family where he was criticized and could never meet his parents' expectations. Mary's complaints fell on deaf ears, further angering her. The more she harped, the more he withdrew. Mary eventually took another approach and asked herself - what is my husband's lack of availability showing me about myself? Mary realized that she felt empty inside and was looking to Bill to fill the emptiness. She also realized that she is not very good at meeting her own needs. She had an old script going back to childhood that said, "I'm not good enough and do not deserve attention." Mary decided to take responsibility for herself and became committed to honoring Mary. She started exercising regularly, took a class she always wanted, and took an occasional night out with the girls. Relationships are the ultimate test of our ability to love ourselves. If you do not love yourself, you can not truly love another. Mary became happier, calmer, more authentic, and less demanding of Bill. He felt the positive changes in Mary and was naturally drawn toward spending significantly more time with her. She changed herself and he changed.

    Remember, life is your movie and you are the director of the movie. Your thoughts, perceptions, and actions are the script. Change these, and your movie changes. People who are successful in life are people who take responsibility for their lives. They do not blame others for their misfortunes. Blaming others leaves you a powerless victim. Owning your experience is a key to happiness. If you believe that every occurrence in your life presents a lesson and an opportunity for growth, then nothing bad can ever happen to you. This philosophy does not take away the pain of life's tragedies, but it can help buffer them. So why not think this way? Having a personal meaning helps us to cope with life's challenges in a purposeful way.

  3. Balancing dependence and independence: The human infant is the most helpless mammal on earth. We are totally dependent on our caregivers for survival. Our identity is "we not me". Between the ages of 2-3 years old we begin to test the waters of independence. The terrible two's is a stage when we begin to entertain the notion of a separate "me". Children need to assert a measure of control over their own lives in order to form their unique identity and establish their will. We hear the word "no" more as a two year old than any other time in life. With too many "no's" our independence can be stifled. Not enough "no's" leads to poor boundaries. This process of balancing dependence with independence continues throughout childhood and peaks during the heightened independence seeking and identity forming times of puberty and adolescence. Adolescents must disengage from parents in preparation for independent living.

    Our relationship with our parents provides the solid foundation in which to discover our independence. Mature and loving parents create a safe environment in which children can freely express themselves. Stable families can handle the stress of "letting go" and can tolerate their child's autonomy. They encourage exploration of the environment, allow mistakes, and permit disagreement. Healthy family systems promote both connection and individuality, accountability and independence. Unhealthy family systems discourage individuality and promote dependence. They interpret individual differences as an attack on their authority. They undermine healthy development by reinforcing dependency and helplessness. Because of the parents' high levels of anxiety, stress, and need for control, individual expression is discouraged. Children are taught to conform to the parents' wishes and desires. Personal boundaries (where I stop and you start) are vague. These children are needy or "pseudo independent". They act independent on the surface, but are deeply dependent underneath.

    The lessons we learn in our families growing up about dependence and independence are taken with us into our adult relationships. People who grew up with too much independence and not enough dependence have difficulty being present in relationships. Those who grew up with too much dependence and not enough independence tend to be overly needy or smothering. They place a lot of pressure on their partners to meet their needs. If both your partner and you are highly independent, then your relationships will be comfortably distant. If you both are dependent, then your relationship will probably be very co-dependent; obviously there will be problems with a highly dependent and a highly independent match.

    Healthy couples know what they are bringing to the relationship and have an understanding of what they want to create. Each couple needs to work out its own unique balance of what works for them. How much time do we spend together, and how much time do we need alone. Without conscious awareness of our needs and expectations, the task of sorting out the balance of dependence-independence becomes a struggle strewn with conflict and hurt feelings.

  4. We take our attachment styles with us: The attachment styles that develop in childhood stay with us for a lifetime. They influence our feelings of security, the personal meaning given to our experiences, and the ability to develop and maintain closeness with others. We all have perceptions and behaviors across the continuum of attachment styles; however, we tend to adopt one primary style.

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Adult / Couple Therapy Issues and Goals
Learn Relationship Skills

Adults who grew up in families where problems were not openly discussed lack an effective model for how to solve problems and resolve conflict. We emphasize the teaching of skills that enhance the couple's ability to work out their differences in a healthy way.

Resolve Old Grief

We often need to go through a process of grieving our childhood losses and pain in order to properly move into adult roles. Otherwise we bring these unresolved feelings into our intimate relationships. We offer an opportunity for healing and mastering the original hurts rather than re-enacting them by withdrawing or attacking.

Experiential Approach

Intellectual understanding is not enough to convince our emotions to change. Our feelings rule our interactions and determine our attitudes, judgments, and perceptions. We provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to cut through defenses and try out new more productive behaviors.

Attachment Communication Training

Effective communication is a key ingredient in successful relationships. We provide the conditions and structure necessary to create safe and constructive confiding, opening and connecting. This is accomplished by practicing sharing and listening skills, which increases positive patterns of interacting. Being attuned to one another's needs and feelings promotes empathy, warmth and genuineness. Current relationship patterns are tied to prior family-of-origin attachment patterns. We assist couples in developing healthy confrontation, problem solving and conflict management skills.

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Leaders in providing safe and effective solutions for child maltreatment and attachment disorders.