What often happens is people get together using insecure attachment styles because that’s how they learned they could get connection initially. And it feels like connection for awhile until one or both people manage to get in touch with wanting something more genuine (life shifts seem to cause this; like getting married, having children or career shifts, etc.). When that happens it often feels like the rules change and both partners are left frustrated and confused of what to do. Let’s take just one possible combination for example:
Our current mental health culture is a skewed too far to the side of the medical model. Meaning, it reduces mental health to science alone (i.e. we have a brain but no mind or heart). Mental health is more the just the sum of its parts. Helping people get better requires science, yes, absolutely. Evidenced based research and neuroscience greatly informs any clinician who takes their job seriously. That said, helping people get better also requires art. Being with people in a way that feels healing, that feels human and not just like the zeros and ones of care requires an art form of “being with”. Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy holds the dialectic between science and art form more than any other theory I know. Today probably the most common way of doing supportive psychotherapy is through utilizing attachment theory. Many who do this do not readily recognize or identify with being psychoanalytic but guess what? Attachment theory came from a psychoanalyst (John Bowlby was a card carrying member of the London Psychoanalytic Society to the day he died)! In psychotherapy there is a balance; science informs the frame within which we work but the humanities (art, music, film, comedy, poetry, dance, theology, philosophy, drama, rhetoric, etc.) inform us about what it means to be human and how to be human with others.
Brian was a good manager, his people liked him, felt supported by him and trusted him in times of conflict. Brian gave everything to his employees; always willing to take calls at any time, going above and beyond with praise and incentives and rewards. On the flip side though, Brian constantly felt like he had to be, "on". A racing pace or a totally off pace were the only modes he knew. At times Brian could even feel resentful towards his team, like they didn't appreciate him enough and could take him for granted. He especially hated it when he felt someone on his team disappointed or saw them under performing and he knew he'd have to confront them. In normal language Brian would say he was a "pleaser" and that was what kept him always scanning people and places to make sure others were okay. This, he said, helped him feel good about himself. Brian has a strategy for relating that would fall in the anxious/pre-occupied attachment style. He leads from a place of serving others to the detriment of his own independence and needs.
Often a couple will come in and talk about a fight they're having. The problem usually is, they are talking about the issue but they're also not talking about the issue. Our fights, I mean our repetitive deeply felt fights, are about more than what's one the surface (unloading the dishwasher, helping with the kids, making plans, cleaning the house, sex, in-laws, etc.). The surface issues are really houses for the core issues. They do matter, otherwise you wouldn't be triggered by them, however just talking about the surface issues will never solve the problem.
All of these styles are not good or bad, they are amoral and simply the ways that our young minds devised was the best way to get our needs met in our initial environments. Problem is, these schemas (attachment theory calls them, Inner Working Models), become outdated as we grow up and encounter new environments but because we operate out of them unconsciously we continue to react to our world as if it was the same as the one we grew up in (an act that tends to turn our current environments into our initial ones).
Trauma is a word that probably gets thrown around too much. When that happens words often lose their accuracy and impact. So what is trauma and what does it have to do with repetitive relational struggles?
While fighting is inevitable and can even be a healthy thing in a relationship, bitter or habitual fighting is indicative of something deeper, something older. We all have a past and that past impacts our present thoughts/feelings and behavior. If someone hurt us in the past it primes us to (before we think) quickly put on our fighting gloves or hide behind our protective walls when someone in the present does something that reminds us of that hurt. Often these ways of relating ("gloves on" or "retreating") become so ingrained that we don't even know the patterns that are there.
Our most repetitive experiences of fighting or conflict point to not just whatever it is we're fighting about but something else that's deeper, older and more important. Learn how to identify and meet those deeper needs in order to stop the repetitive, bitter fighting or deafening silence.
In pretending we’re perfect we get a shroud of security that we can use in order to feel less needy. In short, we project the picture-perfect because it makes us feel more desirable (and more secure about keeping our relationships)...not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard.