An Ounce of Prevention Equals a Pound of Relationship Cure
What kind of relationship education have you gotten over the years? Has it been through experience? From mimicking other couples who appear to be happy? How about from the church? From books? How much time and thought have you given to getting your relationship foundations right from the start? Have you been in miserable relationships and wished for the “relationship cure“?
Is this your story? Read on…
Jason grew up alone and learned to not need anyone for emotional support.
Katie grew up being emotionally heard and responded to by her parents. She had a strong identity going into her marriage with Jason. She expected to be emotionally heard and responded to by her husband.
For the first five years of their marriage Jason would close up (shut down) when Katie asked him questions. She began to feel more and more insecure. She worked harder and harder to get him to engage with her. She remembered cleaning the house constantly and trying to be the perfect wife to earn his attention.
The harder she tried the more he pulled away. He seemed to resent her for wanting to know what was going on inside of his head. This created distance in the relationship and their intimacy began to decline.
Katie tried even harder to earn his love. Then things got even worse. Katie noticed that Jason had completely shut her out. He was constantly angry with her and kept her at arms length.
This devastated Katie. She felt like she lost her identity and moved into a dark place of despair. She didn’t know how to exist as herself without being loved, seen, and heard.
Katie remembered wanting to do anything to get a sliver of attention from Jason. When she discovered that he was having an affair, she felt like the last part of her love was crushed. Even in her darkest dreams she could not have imagined that this could happen to her!
Katie’s despair was worsened by feelings of rage toward him and anger at herself for not seeing the signs of what was happening. Could she have headed the affair off? Could this problem have been prevented?
Most couples do not understand how attachment styles cause relationship problems. Even Katie, who was a psychologist, didn’t understand.
Katie had a secure attachment relationship with her parents growing up. Being ignored and not listened to was not on her radar. It made no sense to her why Jason would treat her this way.
Jason had an angry father who was a strict disciplinarian. His mother was insecure and didn’t know how to give him the attention he needed.
Jason grew up alone. He learned not to bring his needs to his parents. He developed what we call an avoidant attachment style. He learned to stuff his emotions and not ask for help.
After they got married Jason began to relate to Katie the way that he related to his parents growing up. He kept his thoughts and feelings to himself. Opening up to Katie felt dangerous. He resented her care and concern. He could not trust her reaches for connection.
Most couples can do a lot to change their insecure childhood attachment patterns if they understand them. We have to know why we are the way we are. When we make sense of love we can change our behavior.
In our Emotional Connection book and online course, we help couples head off the disconnection that leads to relationship failure.
When couples get Emotional Connection education early in their relationship, it can empower them to make changes on their own. Couples who have a disconnected relationship may also need the help of an Emotionally Focused Therapist.
Having received both the help of relationship education and therapy, Jason said that he now enjoys learning how to love Katie. The couple agrees that the relationship has made a major turn for the better. They feel that they are on a path for learning together how to meet each other’s deepest needs and wants.
It seems like people in love should know how to keep their relationship connected and safe from betrayal and heartache. The truth is that they don’t. I became a marriage therapist after my 25-year marriage fell apart. I now help couples in crisis, as well as therapists who want to help couples, learn the foundations that protect and grow relationships.
Most people don’t understand how emotional disconnection is the root of most relationship problems. People who feel disconnected and lonely get sucked into addictions and affairs. Few people set out to betray their partners. They are simply trying to feel less alone.
When couples don’t understand their root problem, they often resort to behavioral fixes like date nights or flowers to bring them closer. While these romantic gestures are great, they do not solve the problem of emotional disconnection.
I tell couples that there is no place lonelier than being disconnected on a “romantic” island vacation. I know. I’ve walked many beautiful beaches by myself.
So how do you protect your relationship from disconnection and devastation?
It starts with an honest gut check about your relationship’s health. Has trouble started yet?
If you have not started fighting, you may be able to change the course of your relationship with education alone. This can save you thousands of dollars in therapy expenses.
But I do have a word of caution here! While education will tell you what to do, it will not give you the willpower or often the skills to do it. Everyone knows it is healthy to eat right and exercise, right? Doing it is hard at first. It requires painful pushups and giving up old, unhealthy habits.
It takes time and effort to rewrite the brain. Psychologists say that it takes 90 days to lock in new behavior. It takes time to lock in healthy relationship habits.
Changing behavior often requires help from an expert. When I was doing CrossFit it took the careful supervision of a trainer to keep me safe with the overhead lifts. I could not change my form without their help.
The goal of good relationship education is to give you the big picture of what a strong relationship looks like. You’ll still have to find the willpower to do the heavy lifting. And depending on your skill level or amount of conflict, you may need the help of a couples therapist.
Maintaining a healthy relationship is so doable once you’ve identified and changed bad habits. And there is nothing more gratifying than learning how to be fully happy with the person you love.
Your next steps to healthy relationship:
Want to learn more about Emotional Communication? We’ve got an amazing resource for you . . . It’s not therapy or counseling. It’s cutting edge online relationship education. Now you can learn how to build healthy Relationship Foundations and feel excited about your relationship.
Learn more about our Emotional Connection Relationship Foundations Online Course.
Michael W. Regier is a clinical psychologist and certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in Visalia, California. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. They have developed an online learning course based on the science of attachment and healthy relationship.