Couples, Relationship, and Attachment Counseling

“Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.”

Judith Lewis Herman

M.D.

“We’re really looking at the integration of the body, its movement and structure and posture and how its shaped itself in the context of early attachment. So we know that the brain develps in that context but so does the body.”

Pat Ogden

PHd

Maintaining a healthy relationship has its rewards and challenges. Life is full of change, and people in relationships must adapt to new circumstances: jobs change; priorities shift; finances fluctuate; loved ones die; moves occur; children are born. Coping skills we have counted on in the past may not be effective in the present. Couples also bring the attachment patterns and core beliefs they learned in childhood into adult relationships. These patterns can both be painful or yield growth in adult relationships. When these patterns become destructive in the couple’s dynamic, relationship counseling can assist in getting couples ‘unstuck’ from these ineffective patterns of relating. A strained relationship may be marked by repetitive power struggles, unrelenting resentments, loss of desire, communication breakdowns, and isolation. Left unattended this strain can turn into a chasm. Couples begin to feel helpless or worse, hopeless. The relationship no longer provides energy, support, creativity or growth. Recognizing these patterns and learning how to change them can heal the wounds from the past as well as bring a couple back into connection.

Relationship Counseling can help:

•    Identify past negative core beliefs and patterns that become repetitive and non-constructive.
•    Identify what may change and what may not change.
•    Broaden individual perspectives about ourselves and our relationships.
•    Gain the tools to engage in healthy communication even when addressing difficult issues.
•    Alter the story we tell about ourselves and our relationships.
•    Create hope and flexibility where there was none.
•    Move away from past hurts and unresolved issues.
•    Identify new tools for coping with life’s challenges.
•    Increase understanding and deepen the connection between partners.

Attachment Wounds: All humans are hard wired for attachment in order to survive, thrive, and grow.  Children are dependent on their adult caretakers for all of their needs. When these circumstances are not adequate for a stable and secure attachment experience, children adapt with different relational coping styles that will continue to manifest in their adult relationships. These coping styles are often defined as insecure-anxious, insecure-avoidant, and in more extreme situations, disorganized attachment.

When someone has a secure attachment experience in childhood, as an adult, they tend to be flexible and are comfortable with both closeness and separation within relationships. When someone has a more insecure-anxious style of attachment, they have difficulty with separation, difficulty being soothed upon reconnection and are overly dependent on others for comfort. When someone has a more insecure-avoidant style of attachment, they have difficulty trusting others or depending on others. They tend to avoid their emotional needs, often not knowing that they have any. Disorganized attachment occurs when a child experiences severe and/or chronic abuse and neglect. When someone has this type of early childhood experience, they often experience dissociation, internal confusion, a push/pull in wanting connection but also being terrified of connection; they also tend to be hyper-vigilant and have limited or no ability to self-regulate their emotions.

Everyone has the capacity to react from any of these styles, depending on the circumstances. However, most people have a predominant style. Once understanding one’s primary attachment style, healing attachment wounds can lead to more secure and stable connections with all relationships whether partners, children, colleagues, or friends. Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) developed by Stan Tatkin along with Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, attachment theory, and somatic models of treatment, can heal these attachment wounds, allowing for more enriching and healthy relationships through the lifespan.

Sexuality is dynamic and fluid and includes desires, fantasies, as well as self-gratification. Our sexuality is influenced by genetics, hormones, self-concepts, socialization, age and external events. Concerns about arousal, desire, an inability to orgasm (inorgasmia), and painful sex (dyspareunia) affect many, but are often not discussed because of shame or embarrassment. Each of these concerns can frustrate and dishearten individuals as well as couples. Medical and psychological issues can be underlying causes. Therapy, both couples and individual, can help identify causes and facilitate proper treatment.

Similarly, concerns about sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex and gender expression may arise during the life span and in the context of particular relationships. Therapy can provide an opportunity to explore these issues within a safe environment.