As human beings, we all have the need to feel loved and cared for, and to feel our bond with significant others is safe and secure from cradle to grave.
During childhood and adolescence, when these needs aren’t met by our parent(s) whose love we need the most, we start to feel we’re unlovable or defective in some way and the bond feels threatened. When we feel threatened, adrenaline pumps around our body so we can fight, flight or freeze as a protective mechanism to keep us safe.
Some fight with their parent(s) to get their needs met (attack, complain, demand, plead, control), some flight, inhibit or turn off the need (avoid conflict, withdraw, pull away, develop addictions to escape the pain), some freeze and some do all three at different times. We begin to develop these ways of coping early on in life, which are reinforced over time and lead us to cope in these ways automatically in our adult relationships.
As an adult, when it feels like our partner is threatening the safety and security of our bond, our brain sounds an alarm bell based on our perceptions, memories and expectations from this relationship and relationship with parents and others. We feel fear about our current relationship and ourselves in this relationship.
We experience a loss of safety and security of this bond, and if we are unable to tell our partner about our fears and beliefs about ourselves (that we feel unlovable or inadequate or fear rejection, abandonment and loss of the relationship) and ask for what we need from our partner (soothing, comfort, validation, understanding, safety and security in the relationship), adrenaline will flood through our system and we move into self-preservation, not couple preservation. We resort to our protective behaviours of fight, flight or freeze.
Some fight with their partner to get their needs met (attack, blame, defend, complain, criticise, demand, plead, control), some inhibit or turn off the need (avoid conflict, withdraw, pull away, develop addictions or turn to others for understanding and comfort and have affairs), some freeze (always giving in to their partner’s demands, never expressing their wants and needs) and some do all three at different times. This reaction then sounds a similar alarm bell in our partner and they will respond with their protective behaviours that again ring our alarm bell and so on.
Over time, this pattern can become more and more rigid and happens more and more quickly and the couple feels stuck in this repeating cycle of isolation, disconnection and pain. The therapists at the British CBT and Counselling service can help the couple to work together to stop these cycles, learn how each person affects the other (often unwillingly), learn more healthy behaviours and reactions that will bring the other person closer, rather than push them to protect themselves. These positive cycles will lead to mutual connection, safety, security, trust and comfort.