I have often asked myself the question, “What are the magical ingredients for a happy and secure relationship?”
I’ve come up with a variety of answers over the years, though I never found one that fully answered the question.
Then I stumbled across a group of scientists and psychologists (namely John Bowlby) who did some groundbreaking research with infants in the 1960s that shed a lot of light on how we create attachments in childhood.
Okay, so what does that have to do with our adult relationships?
Well, the cool thing is, more recent research over the past 40 years has helped us realize that adult attachment parallels what happens in infancy. And here’s the rub: our prime desire is for a secure attachment.
“Well, what do I have to do to start one of those?”
Thanks for asking, small-voice-in-my-head, because several psychologists have actually done a lot of work in that department and have realized that the key to a secure relationship and long-lasting love is emotional responsiveness. It has three elements, and we can remember them with the handy acronym A.R.E. Perhaps we can remember it with the phrase, “We A.R.E. secure.” Let’s get to them, shall we?
I can reach my partner easily, share my deepest feelings with them and know that I come first. On the other side of that, a part of the work of being secure partner includes being available to our partner. And, yes, that often includes the times we are busy and don’t want to be available.
I can lean on my partner when I’m anxious or need comfort. I know even when we fight that I’m important. My partner will come close or let me know I matter when I need them too. In learning to be a responsive partner, we get to practice getting back to our special person at all times, sometimes even when we are incredibly busy, tired or focused on other pursuits.
I know we are close even when we are far apart. I can be close and share almost anything with my partner. I know that he or she cares about my joys and fears. One of the prime ways we can practice being an engaged partner is by being present. Notice what she needs, pay attention to what’s happening in his life, and stay attuned to your sig-o.
That’s it. The three elements of a secure relationship are this simple—and this difficult.
One of the simplest ways I think about A.R.E. is through the experience of choosing. Choose your partner. Choose someone who chooses you back. The payoff is a lasting, loving, and secure relationship. Not surprisingly, this translates into our non-romantic relationships as well.
I realize from personal experience and working with relationships for many years that cultivating this emotional responsiveness in yourself and in a relationship takes support and hard work. If you would like to take some steps in that direction, consider picking up Sue Johnson’s primer, Hold Me Tight, or Levine and Heller’s Attached.
If you are feeling particularly eager to get this party started, look into a good relationship oriented therapist (particularly one who is trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy) who can lend a hand.
Like elephant love on Facebook.
Assistant Ed: Michelle Margaret/Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Chandra Wirawan