Encouragement for the Journey

Why is it so difficult to have healthy relationships?

We are hardwired for relationships. In fact, we were created to relate to God and to others. Genesis 1:26, 27 presents a God that lives in relationship with the Godhead. The heart of the universe revolves around relationships: God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.

Human beings are created in the image of God, and since God is a relational God, they are created likewise. Before the Fall, this original relationship was perfect. However, since the Fall we have been carrying the pain and dysfunction of our broken relationships. The question remains, “if we are hardwired for relationships, why is it so difficult to develop healthy ones?”

One way that psychologists explain the process of relationship formation is through the lens of attachment theory. The theory states that attachment is the deep emotional bond that connects people together. This theory describes how our early relationships with primary caregivers, most commonly a parent, creates our expectations for how love should be. This bond is formed in close relationships with infants to adults, and as adults it is the way they relate to significant others.

God, in His wisdom, created an attachment behavioral system in the human brain. This attachment system is a wonderful blend of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs. All are programmed in the brain to help you stay connected with the ones you love. This attachment system is naturally and purposely designed by God to keep spouses, parents, and children emotionally and physically connected. The attachment system is the relationship’s thermostat. The goal of the attachment system is to maintain the relationship in a comfortable environment of closeness, intimacy, emotional availability, and accessibility to each other.

For example, in marriage this system is naturally and purposefully designed to keep the couple emotionally and physically connected. However, since the partners in marriage are not perfect and are full of mistakes and vulnerabilities, sometimes cycles of conflict hinder one partner from being able to meet the attachment needs of the other. When the attachment is threatened, the attachment behavior system is triggered in an attempt to get the attention of the spouse. This emotional reaction is often a desperate cry from one spouse to the other so that they will reach out and restore his or her heart to its rightful place of safety.

It is clear that God designed us hardwired for connections, so why does it appear to be so difficult? As we have seen so far, when the attachment relationship of a couple is threatened by negative behavior, the spouse might normally respond with a predictable reaction. The response is typically charged with anger because he or she is responding to the loss of the attachment figure. Following the display of anger, the next step in separation distress is clinging and seeking, which can turn into depression and despair. Finally, if restoration does not occur, the relationship is damaged, and detachment will follow.

What can you do to bring healing to your relationship? Learn about your adult attachment style. It will help you to be mindful of the way you are relating to yourself and to your spouse. For example, if you have an insecure attachment style, your insecurities will flourish every time you feel vulnerable in your relationship.

Identify your attachment needs. This experience could be painful because it requires opening a dark room in your mind that many don’t care to visit. However, unless you practice self-awareness, you will not know your attachments needs, and it will be difficult for your spouse to provide for your emotional needs. Often seeking professional help can be incredibly helpful. Express your attachment needs in ways that move your spouse to respond and connect to you. Be clear and specific about your emotional needs. When your spouse responds sensitively, it will touch you emotionally and calm you on a physical level.

Prioritize emotional safety in your marriage. This means connecting to your partner and showing that their emotions, especially attachment needs and fears, have an impact on your relationship. It is imperative to provide a safe haven to your spouse when he or she calls for connection. Be brave enough to forgive your spouse. Forgiveness is essential for the safety of your relationship, and only happens when partners can make sense of their own hurt and how their significant other connects and also feels that hurt.

As with any relationship, love needs constant attention. For this reason, learn how to love. Knowing your attachment needs and responding to those of your spouse can make your marriage last for Eternity.