Security, Love and Intimacy
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | November 2016 (edited 2018)
Past trauma intrudes on new relationships, provoking insecurities and defensive reactions.
Love songs, poems and stories glamorize instant connection—soul mates. “Happily, ever after” is a mainstay of love folklore. Beautiful images of love imprint magical expectations in our hearts dulling the sparkle of reality. The normal struggles of relationships can’t compare with the idealistic images popular in the arts. Not every relationship is fit for the silver screen or scripted in beautiful prose. New love, however, solidifies childhood fairy tales with the accompanying rushes of intense emotions. “Finally,” we think, “this is the person of my dreams. Now life will be all better.” We only discover, as we walk down the challenging road towards connection, that fears remain, differences must be confronted, and sacrifices made.
Biologically equipped with desires to mate, we chase, flirt and seek partners. Sexual attraction excites; new romance feels good, stirring hopes of a different biological desire—a secure future. But instant attraction doesn’t predict future success. Once the hot embers of early desire cool, we are tasked with developing a secure future by employing skills that create security, intimacy, and acceptance.
Relationship success through creating bonds of trust and warmth of companionship requires work.
"Once the hot embers of early desire cool, we are tasked with developing a secure future by employing skills that create security, intimacy, and acceptance."
Bonds strengthen from loving behaviors. A nurtured and developed connection navigates conflicts without shaking underlying foundations. Each partner feels the reassurance of respect even when issues remain unresolved. When the conflicts are non-threatening, the relationship is secure. David Richo in his book, How to be an Adult in Relationships, says that relationships strengthen through Acceptance, Appreciation, Attention, Affection, and Allowance (the Five As). (2002). We create secure bonds by resisting emotionally spurred impulses that intrude on these five A’s of relationship connection.
John Gottman in his “love labs” found that the strength of a relationship is not created by lack of conflict but by how conflict is addressed. (2011). Managing conflict is an essential relationship skill. Does conflict set in motion uncontrollable fears, leading to regrettable behaviors or does it signal an obstacle that simply needs constructive solutions but does not shake the security in the relationship. Several factors play into our response to a conflict, skillfully improving how we respond at these critical junctures is essential for a healthy relationship.
"When you and your partner can’t lean on each other, disconnection will ensue. Disconnection breeds fear, anger, and conflict."
Giordana Toccaceli | Thrive Global
The stabbing emotional darts, shooting from insecurities, erupts in fear and anger puncturing the warmth of companionship. The conflict evolves from a manageable negotiation, discovering the best avenue for the relationship to a battle for power.
The personal ebb and flow of feelings when unmanaged victimizes partners. The safety that intimate relationships should provide is destroyed. When mundane behaviors sporadically invite condemning wrath, relationships become unpredictable, losing stability and inviting protections. The openness is curtailed and intimacy damaged.
"The personal ebb and flow of feelings when unmanaged victimizes partners. The safety that intimate relationships should provide is destroyed."
Calmness requires predictability. We manage internal resources in accordance with life unfolding according to plan. When extreme moods inject into the interactions, out of proportion to the situation, partners are startled. They find themselves confronting a storm unprepared, not that they did wrong but because an emotional storm brewing in their partner. Like an abused child, living with an alcoholic parent, abuse (emotional or physical) is unpredictable when dependent on factors beyond our control. No security lives here.
The emotionally volatile person often contributes their extreme emotions to the environment. If they feel bad, they attribute the cause to their partner. Fits of jealousy or insecurity, instead of seen as flowing from pasts, are expected to be eliminated by the partner.
"Those who are insecure, however, may be anxious and worry that others do not love them completely. These people are easily frustrated or angered when their attachment needs go unmet."
Linda and Charlie Bloom | Psychology Today
These mis-directions are subtle and destructive. Like a malignant tumor, these damaging accusations spread, infecting the entire relationship. One partner feels falsely accused, while the other feels ruthlessly ignored. Each conflict furthers the divide, demanding more calloused tactics, and deeper hurts.
The impact of a behavior is magnified or diminished by the meaning we give to it. Some behaviors are inherently bad and hurt the relationship whether we paint it brightly or not. Other behaviors have little impact until we interpret the act as hostile or mean spirited. The meaning hurts or heals. Our assumed meaning of a partner’s behavior directly impacts the relationship. Even if we weren’t ignored, but simply felt ignored, we store the emotional memory of being ignored. These memories accumulate, tainting new experiences with accompanying biases built upon past interpretations. Negative assessments in the present influence our views in the future.
We can create downward spirals in a relationship where the behaviors alone could sustain a healthy connection providing many blessings of companionship. The small rifts morphed into accumulating hurts, magnified by faulty assessments, leaving the relationship in crumbles of resentments and guilt.
As humans, we have moments of disconnection, distraction, or moodiness. Those moments are not the entirety of our character—a temporary deviation. By labeling these deviations as more, over simplifying the entirety of character, we begin the distancing that is so harmful. Our judgments, especially during heightened emotions, ignores the complexities of personality, creating devastation. We and our partners deserve more than a moment by moment assessment of character. Strong relationships tend to error in the opposite way, evaluating with greater generosity, similar to that common in early connection.
The emotional waves, faulty assessments and character assassination redirect focus from the necessary work to strengthen a relationship; instead we are engaged in partner fixing. Discussions no longer are resolution focus but an endless battle to affix blame.
We must be prepared. New relationships typically are not the answer in themselves. Eventually, the new relationship will the subsiding of euphoria. If not anticipated, the loss prompts fear—a fear that the relationship is sinking. The fear may motivate positive behaviors (Acceptance, Appreciation, Attention, Affection, and Allowance); but may also elicit destructive and defensive behaviors. Intense fear demands action—controlling, manipulating, clinging, jealousy, and emotional outburst. Many dismiss these unhealthy reactions as normal consequences to intense love. But this justification cripples our honest acceptance, limiting our ability to address harmful behaviors early before they accumulate and destroy. Beware!
We should continue to enjoy the sentiments of a timely love song; but also remember the strength of the bond is dependent on skilled work, employing energies towards David Ricoh’s five A’s—Acceptance, Appreciation, Attention, Affection, and Allowance. Our mindful work to connect provides necessary nurturing behaviors that write our own love song; one that goes on, even through the conflict, to create a secure and lasting relationship.
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Gottman, J (2011). The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition
Ricoh, D. (2002 ). How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving. Shambhala. Kindle Edition