Modeling Attachment Between Parents

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Marriage, Partners & Parenting - API Forum Chat, April 6-10Q: Why doesn’t my partner love me a better?
In our dreams, maybe we imagine the perfect partner to be the one who we fall in love with, and it really is “happily ever after!” Why couldn’t we find that perfect partner?

There’s a reason why we fall in love with the partner who doesn’t seem quite able to match our dreams. We see in them an ability to love us, in a way that we learned from people who loved us in our earliest years. We recognize that kind of ability to love in the partner we choose.

But however strongly we were loved, there was always a little bit of love we didn’t get. And it turns out that this partner we choose isn’t very good at providing that bit of love either, just like those who loved us when we were children. That bit of love we didn’t get as children often goes back to some painful memories from childhood. When our partner can’t love us that way either, it touches some tender spots inside and can bring out some of our deepest fears that we may have tried for years to hide away.

There is no doubt that parenting is the most fulfilling job in the world. But, it’s also hard work. While Attachment Parenting gives parents that warm, fuzzy feeling of following our instincts — not to mention, the wonderful emotions of having a close attachment bond with our children — it does require parents to be “on call” all day and all night. It feels good to fall into a full schedule of caretaking of our children, but we need to make sure we’re also taking time to care for ourselves and our partners.

A Need for Balance

The eighth of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting — Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life — is crucial to making AP work in every family. Just as API Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker discuss in their new book, Attached at the Heart, “it’s easy to lose yourself in the care of your child” and have little emotional reserves left to take care of yourself or your spouse or partner.

From the AP perspective, none of the other principles are possible in the long term without this eighth principle — parents must take care of themselves to be able to care for their children in a nurturing, compassionate way. Parents who fail to maintain balance in their lives suffer from exhaustion, impatience, short tempers, eventually depression or anxiety, even physical illness, and ultimately burnout. This certainly affects a person’s ability to work on her relationships with her children — and her partner.

Adult-Adult Attachment Just as Important as the Parent-Child Bond

Parents need to take the time and energy to take care of each other. The health of a marriage or significant adult relationship in the home provides an additional barometer in measuring the need for balance in the family.

As busy parents striving to stay attuned with our children, it’s easy to neglect connections with our primary adult attachment figure — our spouse or partner. As a result, even if the relationship between us and our children remains positive, our relationship with our partner can turn sour. Our adult relationships will falter, some even ending in the devastation of separation or divorce, without love and attention. Adult relationships, at best, will maintain a mood of hurt, anger, disappointment, and bitterness. Communication becomes strained, tempers flair easily, companionship and intimacy fray.

Just as our children sense our emotions, they can feel tension between adults in the family. This greatly affects them. Children depend on security within the home, and they feel secure not only through their relationships with their parents but also by watching their parents love and respect one another. Conflict undermines security, both on the adult level and the child level.

How Can Parents Reconnect?

Attachment Parenting International promotes the importance of maintaining a strong, emotional attachment between parenting partners and acknowledges the struggles spouses or partners sometimes find themselves in, in trying to rebuild that relationship. A downloadable audio interview between API Co-founder Barbara Nicholson and Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Relationship Therapy, is available by clicking here. !

About Imago

Imago was founded by Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, who are best known for writing the New York Times best-selling book, Getting the Love You Want. Imago-trained therapists found worldwide and offer weekend workshops and ongoing counseling for individuals and couples. API supports Imago’s AP-compatible approach to conflict resolution and reconnection between parenting partners, which uses a process that first identifies and understands the source of the original hurts that underlie conflicts. Often, these hurts have origins in unsolved childhood experiences.

Imago promotes healing through understanding. The most powerful healing can happen when couples are able to support each other through the often simultaneous process of healing and conflict resolution. One of the most valuable skills taught by Imago is how to get inside each other’s point-of-view and fully understand it and validate it without necessarily agreeing. The results are a reduction in conflicts, more positive relationships, and deeper bonds.

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