What does a “secure” relationship even look like?

Think back to a time when something really bad happened. A frightening time that stands out in many of our minds is when we first realized something really terrible was happening on September 11, 2001.  When you first saw the image of an airplane crashing in to the World Trade Center, what did you do? A human instinct in times of crisis is to reach out and connect with those we are closest to. Who did you call or turn to?

You turned to someone you hoped would be there for you. What we expect in those moments of crisis point to what we need from our relationships. In a secure relationship, the other is available for us. We can reach out and find them. They are responsive. We feel seen and heard. Both of us are emotionally engaged in our interactions. We can show our hurt and count on the other person to let us see an answering emotion in response.

With tears in her eyes and a tremor in her voice, Katie says to her partner, “I changed my plans to be home this Saturday and even arranged to have the kids go to my parents. I can’t believe that you made plans with your brother and didn’t tell me. I thought we were going to have some alone time. I can’t believe you!”  In a secure relationship, how does her partner respond?

John sensed Katie was upset as soon as he walked in the door.  He could feel his own stomach tighten up as he saw her reddened eyes and distressed expression. The tension in his stomach increased as he heard her words and realized she is upset with him.  Even in a secure relationship, it’s difficult to turn towards our partner when they are angry at us.  Even though John feels his own alarm, he is able to turn to her and discuss the situation.  Being accessible means turning to your partner and staying open, even when you experience discomfort yourself. “Oh no, I totally screwed up didn’t I. I am so sorry. I know I can be scattered. I thought our weekend was next weekend.” John says this with concern and chagrin on his face. He responds to Katie’s distress and her need for him to “get it”.

People in secure relationships feel scared, guilty, frustrated, angry, and all the other tough emotions that come up when we try to love another person.  Security is not about feeling good all the time or not having conflict or disconnection. Both Katie and John are emotionally engaged, letting the other glimpse their internal world even when it’s hard and feels bad.

The acronym A. R. E. summarizes how we can be there for each other.

A – Accessible. Security means being able to get your partner’s attention and feeling heard.

R – Responsive. Security means we find a way to come together even when we have tough feelings. We can reach to the other and trust we’ll find our partner there for us.

E – Emotionally Engaged. When one partner feels joy, hurt or fear, the other partner cares.

Relationship therapy can help you build a more secure relationship with a current or future partner. Contact me to learn more about therapy or sign up to attend a couples weekend workshop at holdmetighthouston.com




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