How Attachment Theory Could Save Your Marriage

September 9, 2017

The problems in your marriage started way before your marriage.

That’s an important concept to get your head around because so many of us of are convinced that we’ve married the wrong person, or we’re incompatible with our spouse.

But it’s really not about that.

The challenge in your marriage isn’t that you’re incompatible or that your partner is a bad person. The real issue is that you’re being triggered by something in your marriage and reacting strongly. And your partner probably is doing the same thing.

That’s why many marriages get in trouble and people quit. They never really get to the root of the problem.

The real problem is how we’re imprinted.

Meeting Your Needs Early in Life

Our imprinting started the moment we were born. We learned to get our needs met thousands of times in the first few years of life by crying and getting a response that met our needs to a greater or lesser extent. Along the way, we learned what worked and what didn’t.

This cycle of learning continued right up until we became adults, and it became our model for how we get our needs met. It became our imprint.

The problems in our marriage started long before we met our spouse, when our parents sometimes didn’t meet our needs appropriately. Or they didn’t meet them fast enough. Or they didn’t meet them at all.

Nobody’s perfect, and our parents were busy, or missed a signal, or maybe they were imprinted from their own childhood and didn’t react properly.

Whatever the reason, we also learned what it looks like when our needs go unmet—and what to do about it. From this we created a template for what we need from our spouse to feel complete, and how we should react if our needs go unmet.

When Your Imprint Hurts Your Marriage

The biggest hurdle that keeps us all from getting what we want in our marriage is our reactivity to our partner–how we react when we feel hurt or disappointed or angry. Our reactivity is what keeps us stuck.

When we see our needs not getting met, we get triggered. We might react loudly, or we might go quiet and withdraw. We might start a fight, or we might close up and stop sharing. We’re trying to meet our needs the way we learned when we were young, and this takes different forms depending on what we learned.

Our spouse does the same thing. They also react based on the imprint they learned when they were young.

It gets really interesting when we combine our imprint with the imprint of our partner. Now we have the dance, that pattern of behavior that keeps repeating and making us feel confused and frustrated over why things aren’t improving.

The dance is our pattern of reactivity. One person feels disappointed, anxious or angry and sets off a series of reactive behavior that our partner unwittingly engages in as well.

The only way out is learning how to handle our own reactivity. We can’t really deal with what’s going on with our partner, all we can do is learn how to manage ourselves.

Many marriages end because we never really figure out that part. We just quit. We keep waiting for our partner to change, but they’re not going to change. They’re dealing with their own imprint, their own reactivity.

So if we want to repair our marriage, we start with ourselves.

Dancing with Your Partner’s Imprint

Learning your partner’s imprint also is important.

I don’t think you can truly know your partner until you understand their childhood. It is the source of every beginning of needing and wanting, and whether it was met or not, and how it was met or not.

You need this knowledge because your marriage is a dance between your imprint and the imprint of your partner.

You may be a combination of the Avoider, the Victim and the Pleaser imprints, for instance. Your spouse might be a mix of Controller, Vacillator and Avoider.

You have to learn those dance moves to figure out what is causing this pattern of reactivity within you—what is setting you off. You also have to figure out what is setting off your partner, and how you and your partner can show up differently so you’re not triggering each other.

Where to Start Those Dance Lessons

This concept is called attachment theory, and there’s a great book on the topic I’m recommending to everyone right now. It’s called How We Love, by Milan and Kay Yerkovich.

I think so highly of this book! It talks about the core patterns in all of us, and it makes a great start for figuring out what’s really causing trouble in your marriage. I highly recommend the book.

We’re also putting the ideas in the book into practice with our clients, and they’re responding very well. I’m seeing amazing things.

When we help clients uncover their childhood imprint and see the dance they’re doing with their partner, they’re often stunned.

“Wow, that really IS me,” they tell me. “Oh my goodness, that’s what we do!”

The results have been so good, I want to go back and work again with some of our toughest clients from years ago who weren’t making progress. I want to invite them back and use attachment theory this time. That’s how effective this approach has been.

The Yerkovich book makes a great starting point, and you can really get a lot from it that will help your marriage.

But changing decades of patterning and habits is tough. The people who wrote the book say that truly getting a successful turnaround takes two years of weekly therapy.

So you also should consider getting support in addition to reading the book, because discovering you and your partner’s imprints is only half the work. You also need to learn to dance together based on those imprints, and that can be tough.

Give us a call or schedule an appointment online if you would like help with imprints. I really believe strongly in this approach, and I’d love to help your marriage by helping you and your partner understand why you are triggered and how to better meet each other’s needs.

You may also like:

How To Have More Fun In Your Marriage

How To Have More Fun In Your Marriage

As adults, one of the things we don’t engage in enough is self-care. These are the things that we do regularly that allow us to show up well, as our best selves, for all the responsibilities we have like our job or parenting.