Attachment – The Tie That Truly Binds

Two lovers come into the therapist’s office, raw and wounded from months, or years, of painful conflict.  Perhaps they are in their seventh year of marriage.   Maybe they’ve been together 20 years.  (Marriage expert John Gottman says that the two peaks for divorce are in the first 7 years of marriage or in the 16-20 year range.)   Whatever their time together, there is one thing that most of these very sad and stressed couples have in common:  Their relationship shares the basic need for Attachment that this mother and child display .   What is “attachment?”   As John Bowlby first explained to us, attachment is a fundamental need for connection with another.  It is as biologically driven as food.  Children deprived of a safe, secure bond with a caregiver (usually the mother, but not always) will suffer dearly.  This need doesn’t go away just because we grow hair under our arms.   It prevails throughout life.   Attachment for a one year old means a secure base.  Touch mom.  Know she’s there.  Then explore your world.  Without that base, life is overwhelming and the child is lost.  Attachment means a safe haven.   When life threatens, our attachment figure is where we turn for security.  If you think this is just about babies ask yourself: Have I been more productive and comfortable in the world as an adult when I was in a secure relationship (if you have been so fortunate)?  Ask as well:  Who did adults call on their cell phones when the airliners slammed into the Twin Towers on 9/11?  Their husbands/wives/partners/closest friends…first call was to attachment figures.  The godmother of adult attachment theory and how it affects our intimate relationships is Dr. Sue Johnson.  Her approach to marital therapy for these desperately struggling people who are bonded, yet alienated, is Emotionally Focused Therapy.  Her book  Hold Me Tight is a guiding light for couples seeking reconnection.