Who’s the Problem?

Who’s the Problem?

When couples come for counseling more often than not, their explanation of the problem is that their partner is the problem and the solution, of course, is that the counselor change their spouse.

Little do they know that when they fell in love the seeds of their conflicts were already present. They both “carry their personal history wired into their brains, and these neural networks are waiting to be activated by reminders of early attachment failures.” Attachment is John Bowlby’s theory of how we develop internal working models of self and others through daily interactions with parental figures. Bowlby goes on to suggest that the interactions between married partners often reflect the interaction each partner had with their parents.

Marion Salomon and Stan Tatkin go on to say that, “The bonds of intimacy bring up the very same needs, yearnings, disappointments, and protective defenses that occurred in the primary bond of infancy and childhood. For this reason adult primary attachment partners have a unique power to hurt or to heal, to weaken or augment resources of the other. ” As a result, their belief that changing their spouse will resolve the problem of the relationship will never yield the hoped for results. What would bring change in their relationship is their recognition of those unmet childhood needs and their willingness to support and encourage one another as instructed in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another…”

This is not to say that misbehavior is justified with excuses of what was missed during those formative years, but that as each partner recognizes that their fears and demands are the result of protective childhood defenses, they seek to correct their own way of interacting and stop blaming each other as being the problem.  As marriage partners learn to understand attachment needs, and to compassionately appreciate each other, they create a secure and safe harbor where change and healing is possible.