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Finding More Satisfaction in Your Relationships

Do you ever find yourself comparing your relationships to others and wonder if there is something wrong with you? Wonder why everyone seems to be so happy and you feel lost? Or the opposite, think that everyone seems miserable, and that you feel lucky to be alone and independent from relationship worries?

At times I am sure we have all fallen into the comparison trap, especially if we just had a fight with our spouse or got our feelings hurt by someone in our family. The times that we experience pain or hurt, a common response is to try to make sense of what we are experiencing, and often that is comparing as a means to try to make ourselves feel better. Which the truth is, it doesn't work. In fact it often leaves you feeling worse, and more isolated. Let's use an example of Jill and Bobby. Jill has an anxious attachment style and has had a terrible day at work. She is in sales and one of her major sales fell through that day. She texts her boyfriend, Bobby (avoidant style) to distract herself from the worries at work and says something like, "Hey Bobby how's it going?". He takes a couple hours to respond back to her. In the meantime, Jill has then texted him several times wondering why he hasn't responded to her yet and getting more anxious that something is wrong. Bobby who was busy at a meeting, sees all the texts, gets annoyed and feels like she keeps bothering him, which pushes him away farther. When he does respond, his text is short and abrupt. Jill sees the text and then does not respond back to him, feeling hurt and thinking that he purposely ignored her. Later that night when they meet up, they get into a fight over this, over the unmet needs for both of them.

So what did they need?

Jill who has an anxious attachment style needs affirmation and security in her relationships, and is often sensitive to other's feelings. When she reached out and after not getting a response for a long time, she started doing mind-reading, engaging in all-or-nothing thinking, and as a result started to feel resentful. Bobby who has an avoidant attachment style, prefers to have space and often needs to engage in conscious effort to think about what his partner needs without it affecting him by withdrawing. When he sees all her texts, he starts feeling controlled, thinking with malicious intent (she is really out to annoy me), and making critical remarks about Jill. Both of them were in this space of thinking and feeling when they saw each other later that night, so it was this thinking and feeling that led to the fight.

Now let's rewind and play this out if they were self-aware of their attachment styles, what they were needing in the moment, and how they could communicate those needs. Jill has a bad day at work and texts Bobby, "Hey Bobby, I'm just reaching out, having a bad day at work and could use a smile and encouragement. Hope your day is going well." Bobby sees this and thinks about her need (she is having a bad day at work and could use a laugh), he reaches out and texts her that he is thinking of her, can't wait to see her later and sends her a joke to get her mind off of work. Both get what they need, reconnection and affirmation. Because of this interaction, they both end up feeling connected in meeting their needs, instead of hurt, disconnected and rejected.

This is why attachment is so key in relationships. It can help us in understanding what we need from another person and help them know how to respond to get that need met.

Below is a short video that shows how attachment works within a parent-child relationship. Notice the difference from the first interaction when the mom is engaged with the child, and the second interaction when the mom is disengaged.

You can see right away what the child's protest behavior is to get their basic needs met (crying, screaming, physically reacting). What the child is looking for is engagement, love, nurture, and and attention. When the child does not receive this, they immediate react in way as a means to get their needs met (through protesting). In this second video below, the beginning is that same child attachment video but then it compares it to adults arguing and the same demonstration of "protest" behavior (minute 3:20 and so on).

For both the baby and mom, and the adult couple, REPAIR is what is key to bringing restoration in the relationships and assist with them with their emotional regulation. In both instances when there are moments of responding to unmet needs, you can see and feel a change in the how interaction plays out. When needs are met, you can see the individuals deescalate, calm down, and then better able to regulate their emotions. The relationship becomes safe again, and restores/repairs the relationship.

"Disconnection hurts, and it is how we respond to repairing those disconnections that can change the course of relationships."

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