Romantic Partners – Heal Thyself First

Marriage Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

In our last blog post — How Did You Choose Your Partner? — we talked about attachment styles and how they affect your choice of a romantic partner. In short, those with a secure attachment style typically enter a relationship with a lot to give. Those with an anxious, avoidant or fearful-avoidant attachment style often come to a relationship with unmet needs from childhood (more specifically, unmet needs from the environment they were raised in.

A young couple in love

Let’s take a closer look at the one of the latter types in particular — anxious attachment — and how someone with this style can heal the wounds that led to it and then be able to deepen and improve your relationship.

This is really an exercise in self-therapy that can be very valuable. Writing for Psychology Today, Hal Shorey, Ph.D. lays out a map for identifying an underlying wound that has not healed and makes you often attracted to people who have an avoidant attachment style. He begins by encouraging you to comb your memory as far back as you can to find a memory that is particularly uncomfortable — emotionally and even physically. “Accept the memory you settle on,” Shorey says, “as a ‘representative memory.’ Don’t worry if it is accurate or not because most memories are not totally accurate anyway. We are not looking to prove an external set of facts here or how bad it really was. What we are looking for is the core theme that is impacting your present-time emotions and behaviors. So, accept what comes up for you.”

The next step is very personal. You need to describe the idea or self-image associated with the memory. Shorey gives an example of simply thinking when you were a kid that you were fat and ugly. With just a little digging, Shorey says, you might then realize that, “If you feel fat and ugly, you may have been pervasively shamed by a parent who made a habit of commenting on your body or appearance.”

You may, of course, identify a very different personal theme or self-image, which is not only expected but good — you are, after all, unique. But Shorey sums up the larger point by saying, “A central theme in all of these wounding scenarios is not having been seen for who you are by your parent. They didn’t see how special, deserving of love and affection, or talented you were. They didn’t see how much joy and happiness you could have, so they did not reflect these things back to you.”

So, what do you do now? You may have identified the original wound and recognized that you’re looking for constant affirmation from a romantic partner, which is not a very helpful way to develop a deeper and healthier relationship. The answer, instead, is to affirm to yourself that you worthy of being loved for exactly who you are. You can do that by imagining yourself as a child and in your mind’s eye go back and tell that child just how wonderful they are. “Be in your adult body in your daydream,” Writes Shorey, “and imagine introducing yourself to the child. Tell them that you are their future self who has come to love, adore, and take care of them. Feel the love and compassion on your face as you look at the child and the child looks back at you. Let the child learn to trust in your love and gentle-loving-kindness.”

This is not a one-and-done process. But if you practice regularly you may very well come to find love and support in the eyes of your partner. Read Shorey’s full article here with more insights about self-therapy.