We often say that most conflict between spouses boils down to money, sex, or power–and the first two are also all about power in the relationship. I think that is true. But, don’t forget that the power struggle may be less about the two people and more about a life-long pattern of feeling powerless and unsafe in the world. In psychology terms we talk about this as the lack of secure attachment.
Here’s a few summary statements about attachment that I wrote up some time ago. I have no idea where these thoughts came from or why I wrote them so I apologize now for plagarizing them. They may well be my own thoughts or someone else’s…
1. Attachment injuries are often the culprit behind continuously conflicted couples.
2. Fights, then, are more symbolic than content driven.
3. Attachment insecurity precedes most conflict: the feeling of being alone, abandoned, rejected, etc.
4. Injuries usually are trauma based (or the perception of) in the present marital relationship or much earlier in childhood. There is a “violation of connection”
5. Two common problems result: (a) numbing, and (b) obsessional repeating/self-reminder of the experience of the violation. (example: the person repeatedly recalls the time 5 years ago that their spouse treated them as an object)
6. As a result of #5, the person experiences (a) and increased desire/”need” for a safe haven, but (b) lacks trust in the spouse, and (c) is vigilant for any sign of relational danger (i.e., reads ambiguous data in the worst possible manner)
7. The other spouse feels pushed/pulled at the same time and commonly physically and/or emotionally withdraws
8. The cycle perpetuates itself allowing both parties to solidify their labels for each other
9. The GOAL of therapy is to get a commitment to stop the cycle/script and to have each party soften towards each other so as to see the desires behind the emotion/behavior. If couples can see beyond the criticism or withdrawal to common desires of intimacy, they may be able to re-interpret and validate that desire while at the same time supporting a healthier way of expressing that desire.