When it comes to the mysteries of love, we all want to believe we have free will over the partners we choose. However, there’s a lot more to attraction than meets the eye, much of which has to do with attachment theory.
Clients often come to our practice after noticing troubling, recurrent patterns in their relationships. Maybe they’ve had multiple relationships fall apart for similar reasons, keep dating the same type of person repeatedly, have a hard time opening up and trusting in relationships, or have found themselves attracted to emotionally unavailable partners and they don’t understand why.
To gain a deeper understanding of why these patterns may be occurring, and to demystify those infamous laws of attraction, it’s important to understand attachment theory for adults and to know your own attachment style. Attachment theory teaches us that our early environment with our caregivers shapes how we love and are loved throughout our lifespan. According to Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, these early experiences form an instructional blueprint that is stored in body memory and becomes part of our basic relational wiring and our sense of safety and security.
Our early attachment experiences go on to shape our adult attachment style and how we interact in romantic relationships. Understanding yourself and your attachment style can have profound implications on your ability to create and sustain meaningful romantic relationships.
What is Attachment Theory?
The psychologist John Bowlby first created attachment theory in the 1950’s as a way of describing our intrinsic need for connection, a need research has proven is as crucial to our development as food and water. Attachment theory science and research taught us a lot about human development as it pertains to the relationships we form with others. As helpless infants, we’re wired to instinctively bond with our caregivers because our very survival depends upon it. Our brains are biologically engineered for closeness and connection with others. It is an innate need within us to share our lives with someone.
As infants, we develop attachment behaviors like cooing, smiling and crying to keep our caregivers close and bonded to us. When infants and children are in distress or in need, they seek out their parent, caregiver or primary attachment object for safety and reassurance. As children, we establish a connection with caregivers in whichever ways we can. How our parents or caregivers respond to our needs for connection, freedom and safety is what ultimately determines our attachment style. Our styles of attachment in our earliest relationships shape how we’ll be in our later relationships.
Attachment Theory Types
Attachment theory teaches us that the kind of parenting we receive as children predicts attachment behaviors later in life. These behaviors fall under 4 distinct attachment theory types, also called attachment styles. The 4 attachment styles are secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and anxious-avoidant attachment.
These 4 attachment theory types vary based on how we had to adapt to our primary caregivers and their emotional availability (or lack thereof). These adaptations helped us survive as children so that our caregivers would take care of us. However, if your parents lacked the responsiveness and emotional attunement you needed as a child, you may have developed an attachment style that makes adult relationships challenging. Let’s look at how each attachment style is formed and their common characteristics.
A secure attachment is developed when most of your emotional needs as a child were met by at least one of your caretakers. At least one caretaker of securely attached individuals was warm, consistent, emotionally available and flexible. They provided you with freedom to explore and be independent but also created a safe home base for you to return when comfort or guidance was needed.
Caretakers of children with a secure attachment tend to be comfortable with both closeness and space and provide a balance of both in their relationship with the child. They encourage emotional expression from their child and are supportive of sharing vulnerable emotions but do not burden the child with negative emotions of their own. Emotional support only goes one way with the parent supporting the child.
Adults with a secure attachment style find it easy to trust and are flexible and generous in relationships. They feel confident they can work through issues with their partner and don’t worry about the relationship ending because of minor disagreements. Individuals with a secure attachment are able to communicate their feelings and expect the same from their partners. They understand relationships take work and do not have unrealistic expectations of perfection from their partner.
Secure Attachment in Relationships
Securely attached adults are reliable, set clear boundaries, express their needs and wants and are able to respond to the needs and wants of their partners. They are comfortable with closeness and independence and tend not to take the need for space or reassurance from their partner too personally. Securely attached individuals tend to choose partners who are emotionally available and treat them with respect. They can also accommodate being with partners that do or do not have a secure attachment style.
An anxious attachment style is developed when love from at least one of your caretakers was unpredictable and felt unstable as a result. You may have had a parent who was loving one minute and dismissive and disengaged the next, leaving you wondering what you did to trigger their negative reaction. Or you might have felt abandoned by a parent as a child due to divorce, separation, death, mental illness, or any number of other circumstances. Even having parents who worked a lot and weren’t able to be super attentive or consistent with their love can result in an anxious attachment.
Since young children tend to think they are the cause of everything that happens in their world, you blame yourself for the switch in your parent’s affection and internalize that there must be something unlovable about you that you need to change to get their consistent love and affection. As a result, you learned how to be very attuned to the needs and emotions of others while not expressing any of your own. You made yourself and your desires small to try to win your parent’s love. You may have taken care of your parent(s), physically and/or emotionally rather than the other way around.
Anxious Attachment in Relationships
Anxiously attached adults tend to be preoccupied with worries about the relationship when they are in one and may feel incomplete without a partner. Those with anxious attachment styles have a strong fear of abandonment and are hypervigilant about their own perceived shortcomings. They have the ability to sense even the slightest shift of mood in their partner and will often worry they did something wrong to upset them. They may even attribute the change in mood to a lack of interest in them or the relationship and act out as a result.
When an adult with an anxious attachment style feels the relationship is in trouble or that their partner is pulling away, they may perform to win back their partner’s love or they may engage in protest behaviors. Performing might look like being extra nice and accommodating, going out of their way to make their partner feel special, or using sex to bring them closer. Protest behaviors might include shutting down emotionally, pouting, pushing their partner away, or even breaking up with their partner. These are not true desires but misguided attempts to get their partner to reassure them by fighting for their affection.
Anxiously attached individuals tend to avoid speaking their needs for fear of upsetting their partner and risking the end of the relationship. They are overly accommodating of their partner’s needs, often at the expense of their own. They tend to take on the interests of their partner and conform to what they think will please their partner. Adults with an anxious attachment style need frequent reassurance that their partner still loves them and wants to be in the relationship, sometimes when things are going well but especially when they are not.
Avoidant attachment, also called dismissive avoidant, is developed when at least one caregiver was overly detached OR overly enmeshed with the child. Parents of avoidantly attached individuals often focus on achievement, success and academic excellence more than fostering the emotional bond between them and the child.
Your caregiver(s) may have worked all the time or been cold, distant or emotionally unavailable. They may have been rejecting or dismissive when you expressed vulnerable emotions like fear, hurt or sadness (e.g. “stop that crying”) and rarely expressed vulnerable emotions themselves. Anger, stress and irritation may have been the only big emotions you saw them express.
Your caregiver(s) may not have noticed or acknowledged when you were in emotional distress and needed comfort. Or they may have actively shut you down when you needed comfort from them, pushing you towards independence and self soothing or teaching you to stifle your emotions instead. You may have felt shame or judgement about needing emotional support or help from them and eventually stopped going to them for connection and comfort.
Alternatively, your caregiver(s) may have been overly controlling and involved in your life. They did not respect or allow your boundaries or have many of their own boundaries. You were often expected to care for them emotionally, either directly by comforting them, or indirectly by altering your behavior to reduce their anxiety or anger. You felt guilty when you could not or did not want to care for them emotionally. You may have felt overwhelmed by your parents needs, demands and involvement and preferred alone time to spending time with them. You could not go to them for emotional connection and comfort without feeling burdened by their own needs and emotions.
In both of these environments, the child doesn’t feel seen or nurtured by their caregivers and their caregivers were misattuned to their needs. Avoidant attachment individuals had to learn how to self soothe and auto regulate from a young age rather than seeking comfort in connection with others. As a result, they learn that relationships are not safe or comforting and they pull away from their parents or romantic partners, especially in times of stress.
Avoidant Attachment in Relationships
Those with avoidant attachment styles tend to have a lower tolerance for closeness and need more space and independence than the other attachment styles. Dismissive avoidant adults have developed defenses against having to depend on anyone and they find happiness and fulfillment outside of relationships. They may be workaholics who don’t have time for relationships or they may fill their free time with hobbies, friends, and casual dating rather than deeply intimate long-term relationships.
Dismissive avoidant adults may find it hard to stay centered while in connection with others and need space when feeling overwhelmed to regulate their emotions. They dismiss their own and others’ vulnerable emotions, preferring to stuff them away or gloss over them rather than give them space and really feel them. They may numb their feelings with drugs, alcohol, work, or sex as a way to avoid feeling the true depth of them.
Those with an avoidant attachment style may desire closeness and deep connection when they don’t have it but then get overwhelmed by too much of it when things get serious in a relationship. This may lead them to cut the relationship off or pull away abruptly, leaving their partner confused and hurt. When things start to get too close, they may do things to create physical or emotional space in a relationship like pulling away, shutting down emotionally, working or hanging out with friends more, starting fights, comparing their current partner to idealized ex partners, or even cheating.
If you have an avoidant attachment style, you may find yourself moving really quickly and having strong feelings in the beginning of a relationship, only to feel suffocated and doubtful about your partner once deeper intimacy has been established. You might ignore your partner’s shortcomings in the beginning then hyperfocus on their flaws as things get more serious. This helps you sustain emotional distance in a relationship and eventually may lead to you ending it. Torrential passion is reduced to claustrophobia time and again as you move on to the next person.
Anxious-avoidant attachment, also known as fearful avoidant attachment, describes someone who has both anxious and avoidant tendencies. The caregiver(s) of someone who has an anxious-avoidant attachment style probably behaved inconsistently. They may have been warm and attuned sometimes and abusive and rejecting at other times. Or they might have been intrusive sometimes and neglectful at other times.
For instance, you may have had an alcoholic or mentally ill parent or step-parent who was loving one minute and explosive and abusive the next, leaving you constantly on edge, wondering which side of them you would see that day. They may have used you for emotional support as a child but were not supportive of your emotional needs. The key is that you never knew what to expect and learned that connection is unsafe, confusing and unpredictable.
Anxious-Avoidant Attachment in Relationships
If you have a fearful avoidant attachment style, you crave intimacy yet find it difficult to trust others. You experience anxiety after growing close with someone and are fearful of getting hurt, used, abandoned or overwhelmed so you tend to pull away and avoid your feelings. You may even find yourself in abusive relationships over and over again, either as the perpetrator or the victim of abuse.
Attachment Theory and Relationships
Attachment theory teaches us that we all develop relationship attachment styles based on the way we were loved as children as well as the way we saw our parents loving each other. These attachment theory types dictate who we do and do not feel chemistry with. Our brain automatically connects the feeling of love to the styles of attachment our parents modeled to us, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy that modeling may have been. This may lead to an endless cycle of dating one doppleganger after the other without the knowledge of how to break free.
If you find yourself with a partner who doesn’t meet your basic attachment needs, or who has a dramatically different attachment style than your own, it can lead to a chronic sense of tension or anxiety. You might be wired to feel chemistry with partners who you’re the least likely to be compatible with or with whom you re-enact the same wounds of childhood repeatedly. Our attachment style in relationships isn’t logical and often drives us towards people who feel familiar, even if that familiarity is unhealthy.
For example, if your parents were unpredictable and inconsistent in their affection for you, it’s likely you will be attracted to partners who are inconsistent or emotionally unavailable because this will replicate the experience of your childhood. If someone who is emotionally available and consistent pursues you romantically, it might not feel like love because it doesn’t match the attachment you had with your caretakers. You might know that you “should” be with them but feel that the chemistry is missing and the relationship seems boring.
Research shows that people with an anxious attachment style tend to gravitate towards partners with an avoidant attachment style. If you’re anxious, you thrive in partnerships that are stable, supportive and long-lasting yet you find yourself drawn to those who are often unable to meet your needs. What is comfortable and familiar is not always what is healthy for us when it comes to adult attachment. Therapy with an attachment-based therapist can help you change this pattern and start choosing and loving partners that are healthy for you based on your attachment style in relationships.
Understanding My Attachment Theory Type
Which of the above 4 attachment theory types describes your attachment style in relationships? How about your partner’s style of attachment? If you’re uncertain, a simple attachment style quiz can help. Understanding attachment theory and your attachment style is a huge step towards creating the kind of healthy relationship you crave.
The good news is, regardless of your attachment style, you and your partner can both move towards being more secure. We all have our go-to attachment styles which we can easily default to if not being conscious about it. However, research has shown that attachment style can be fluid and flexible. You can break your anxious or avoidant patterns by experiencing a stable, connected, and supportive relationship with a partner who is willing to grow and change with you.
Being with a partner who is able to meet your attachment needs enables you to become more securely attached. Even if you aren’t in a relationship, you can work towards becoming more securely attached on your own and recognizing partners that may or may not be a good fit for you based on your respective attachment style.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your relationships and move towards a more secure attachment, any of the therapists at Couples Learn can help. All of our couples therapists have advanced training in attachment and helping you uncover patterns in love that are leading to unhealthy relationships.
At Couples Learn, we offer online couples therapy and online individual therapy for relationship issues to help empower you to create the love you deserve. Book a free 30 minute consultation with one of our marriage counselors today!
If you are feeling anxious and unsure about what to do while you are at home because of the coronavirus self-quarantine, you are not alone! At home activities for couples and families are at the top of everyone’s minds as we hunker down and do our part to help flatten the curve.
This is the first time in history that something like this has happened, and many of us were simply not prepared for our lives to be turned upside down like this. While, just a week ago you might have been worried about what to wear to a friend’s birthday party, now you are wondering when we might be able to see that friend in person again! Or go to another party for that matter!
To make matters worse, this is also a really strange time to be in a new relationship. Lots of couples who were not used to seeing each other daily are now having to choose between not seeing each other at all or sharing the same space 24/7 if they quarantine together. This can lead to anxiety, irritability, and even fights if you don’t know how to handle being together during the coronavirus self-quarantine. Ironically, even though you’re being told to practice social distancing, many of you are finding yourselves in closer quarters than ever before! The increased time together along with all of the fear and anxiety that this new disease is causing can wreak havoc on your relationship without the proper tools.
Since our main focus at Couples Learn is helping couples work through all kinds of challenges, we figured it was right up our alley to give you some tips on how to handle being quarantined with your significant other and give you some ideas for at home activities for couples.
First, let’s address the basics. What is social distancing anyway?
What Is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is the act of creating more space between people so that we can slow, or ideally stop, the coronavirus outbreak. Since we don’t yet have a cure for coronavirus, our best line of defense is to try to stop people from getting it in the first place. If we all carry on business as usual, we will all get the virus at the same time. This would completely overwhelm our hospitals and cause a lot of deaths. If we slow the spread, fewer people will get coronavirus at the same time and the hospitals will have a better chance of being able to help everyone who needs it.
Some examples of social distancing measures include:
- Cancelling events that are likely to draw big crowds
- Working from home
- Closing schools or instituting online classes
- Closing restaurants or offering drive-thru or delivery service only
- Staying at least 6 feet away from other people in public
- Cancelling or postponing conferences or large meetings
- Visiting with people through skype, zoom, or other online platforms instead of meeting in person
- Cancelling or postponing travel
- Cancelling large sporting events, concerts, and gatherings
Basically, social distancing involves doing everything that you can to stay healthy, while protecting other people at the same time. This is especially important with this coronavirus outbreak because you can be sick without even knowing it. Since it’s possible for you to have the virus with no symptoms, if you continue to see lots of people, you could be passing the virus on to them without ever realizing it. This means that you could pass the virus on to someone who is more vulnerable, like an elderly person, or someone with a compromised immune system. This is why social distancing is so important for you to be practicing right now, and exactly why we could all use ideas for at home activities for couples.
Fun At Home Activities For Couples
Alright, so you are doing your part, practicing your social distancing strategies and staying home with or without others right now. If you found this article, you might be wondering what are some at home activities for couples that you and your partner can do together to make the most of this time during the coronavirus self-quarantine?
Try A New Hobby Together
Try to think of this time as bonus time that you wouldn’t normally have together. What are some fun things that you would like to do since you have this time? Of course, sex is one great way to pass the time, but you could also try a new hobby together! I’ve recently discovered gardening and painting mandalas are two hobbies I really enjoy. You can do these alone or together. Sometimes, it’s really relaxing to be in the same room with someone else while you are both working on projects. Maybe you and your partner could both work on art projects, or maybe you could work on making jewelry while your partner does a crossword puzzle. It doesn’t matter if you work on the same project or different ones, as long as you are both taking a break from the news and enjoying your down time.
Learn A New Skill With Your Partner
You could also take this time to learn a new skill like a card game or a different language with your partner. Part of what will help you feel better about your time in this coronavirus self-quarantine is keeping your mind active and thinking about things other than the virus. Learning something new is a great way to take that pent up energy that you have and channel it towards something good.
What is one thing many people turn to when bored? Food! I’ve already seen articles calling “The Quarantine 15” the new “Freshman 15” in terms of weight gain. However, this could be a great time to learn new recipes and get creative in the kitchen. Whether you are just learning to cook, cooking interesting meals, or figuring out the most creative ways to use whatever is in your cabinets, cooking and eating together is one of the best at home activities for couples. Plus, not eating at restaurants as much is great for your health and your budget.
Bonding At Home Activities For Couples
Because of the way our brains work, just thinking about doing things can have the same effect as actually doing them. That’s why during this coronavirus self-quarantine, it can be really helpful for you and your partner to do a lot of planning.
What do I mean by planning?
You can create a budget, plan future dates, future vacations, even research recipes and plan things that you want to cook in the future. Get out a calendar and actually write down fun things that you and your partner will do in the next several months. Even if you can’t visit all of the places that you want to go right now, just thinking about doing these things will give your brain a boost of feel-good chemicals.
When you get tired of thinking about the future, bring yourselves back to the present by asking each other these 82 fun questions to deepen your connection. I also love the free app from The Gottman Institute called Gottman Card Decks. This free deck of virtual flashcards will help you and your partner connect by providing fun conversation starters and helping you learn everything you ever wanted to know about each other but didn’t think to ask.
By the way, this is also a great time to catch up on reading, either alone or with your partner, Try reading a book on relationships together. All my favorites can be found here on my Amazon Affiliate page (if you buy from this page, I will make a small commission but it will not increase the cost for you).
Isolation And Mental Health
As much as I want to help you have fun with at home activities for couples during this coronavirus self-quarantine, I also realize that it’s just as important for you to keep your own mental health a priority during this time. Being that isolation and depression are closely related, I feel like it’s important to offer you some strategies to improve your mental health while you are at home.
Some of the things that you can do to make this coronavirus self-quarantine more manageable include figuring out how you are actually feeling and then starting a healthy practice to manage or express those feelings.
In order to figure out how you are feeling, try assessing your happiness, on a scale of 1-10 in the following areas:
If you find that you are less happy than a 6 in any of the above areas, make a list of concrete things that you can do to raise your number. Even raising it to a 6.5 is progress!
Start A Daily Practice
One thing that helps when things feel out of control is to have some kind of routine. Making sure that your basic needs are met is a great place to start. Get out of bed, shower, get dressed, try to eat healthy and get some movement into your day. Just doing these basic things will make a world of difference!
There are many online apps, for working out and meditation that you can access for free. I love Insight Timer for free guided meditations. Be sure to check out my favorite teacher, Sarah Blondin. She has the most soothing voice!
This is also a powerful time to start a journal or create a relationship vision. Having places to write down what is happening and to reflect on how you are handling things can be very therapeutic. There are even online journaling apps like Day One, that allow you to keep photos and text together in a way that looks really cool!
Don’t Go It Alone
Lastly, remember, you are not in this alone! If you find that the way that you are feeling, either individually, or as a couple is too much for you to handle, consider starting online therapy. Our therapists are here and happy to help you through this difficult time. I believe that there are opportunities in all of life’s challenges and this one is no different! Together, we can get through this.
When you are searching for a couples therapist, it can be challenging to know if a therapist is good and what modality of couples therapy would be a good fit for you. To find a skilled therapist, I recommend seeing someone who has advanced training in a specific couples therapy method like Imago Therapy, PACT, The Gottman Method, or EFT.
Many therapists say they offer couples therapy or marriage counseling but if they don’t specialize in it, the odds of them being really good are not great. Couples therapy is much more complicated than individual therapy with a lot of moving parts to consider so it truly does take a higher level of training to do it well.
My (Dr. Sarah Schewitz) preferred modality is Imago Couples Therapy and I am a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. That means I went through extensive training and supervision to learn everything there is to know about using Imago Therapy. The whole process takes about a year and a half (this is in addition to the 7 years spent getting my doctorate in psychology) and is a major investment in time and money. The certification process is no joke but neither are the results this method of couples therapy produces.
Many couples who have participated in Imago Therapy swear by it, Oprah Winfrey being one of them. She credits Imago Therapy for the long-term success of her relationship with Stedman. She has done over 17 shows promoting the modality because she feels so passionate about it. In fact, the first Emmy she ever won for her talk show was for the episode where she interviewed Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy.
Ok so, if you have never heard of this type of therapy before you are probably wondering what the heck is it?!
What is Imago Therapy?
Imago Relationship Therapy is a modality designed to help couples go from having an unconscious to a conscious relationship. Created by Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980, it’s based on the premise that our unconscious mind is driven to heal childhood wounding and trauma through our romantic relationships.
We all have an “Imago” (meaning “image” in Latin) which is imprinted in our unconscious mind as a conglomeration of the positive and negative traits of our caretakers from childhood. Each one of us is unconsciously searching for a partner with this very particular set of positive and negative personality traits in order to heal the wounding inflicted on us in childhood.
Our unconscious drive is to get our partner, who is similar to our parents, to change and give us love in ways that our parents never did. Most of this occurs behind the scenes in your unconscious mind so it’s not something you are actively aware of unless you’ve been taught to look for the patterns.
Your Imago Match
Consciously, you will probably be aware of and attracted to the positive similarities your partner has with your family of origin when you first fall in love. You might think, “(s)he’s a great provider and hard worker like my dad” or “(s)he is kind and nurturing like my mom.” You know you’ve met your Imago match when you get that feeling you’ve known someone forever when you hardly know each other at all. The comfort can be immediate and the attraction intense. They kind of just feel like home.
What you won’t see in your Imago match (until you’ve gotten past the romantic love stage) are the negative qualities that are also just like your family of origin. Sometimes these even turn out to be the same qualities you loved in the beginning. For example, you might have loved that your partner was outgoing, talkative and confident in the beginning but now you view him/her as an attention hog who never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise (much like your older sibling).
Or, perhaps you were focused on your partner being a hard worker and good provider in the beginning but you missed the fact that (s)he has the ability to be unreasonably irritable just like your father was with you when stressed with work. Or perhaps now you resent the fact that (s)he is never home and you don’t feel like a priority, much like you felt as a child when your dad didn’t come home for dinner.
Note that the childhood “wounding” I mentioned above doesn’t seem like anything major. You don’t have to have had major trauma like abuse or abandonment by a parent to have childhood wounds. We all have them, no matter how great our childhood was. What your adult mind can rationalize away as “no big deal” might have felt like a very big deal to your 4-year-old self.
Part of the process of Imago Relationship Therapy is helping you become aware of these wounds from the past and their impact on your child self so you can understand why you feel triggered with your partner when they do certain things. Your childhood wounds are usually the key to understanding and diffusing your recurring fights with your partner.
Who Does Imago Therapy Work For?
Imago Therapy is great for couples and individuals seeking to have more connected, conscious relationships with a high level of healthy communication. Imago Relationship Therapy helps you gain a deeper understanding of the childhood wounding stored in your unconscious that is often the source of hurt in your romantic relationships. Thus, it is helpful for couples or individuals that keep having the same fights and patterns show up in their relationships over and over again.
Imago counseling is also very helpful for couples who have trouble communicating calmly and kindly when in conflict because it gives you tangible tools for how to communicate respectfully to resolve conflict. It’s excellent for couples who want actual tools and exercises they can use at home to improve their relationship as well as those who want to use therapy to process and create a deeper connection.
Imago Therapy is recommended for couples at any stage in the relationship – from those that have been dating a few months to married for decades. You don’t have to be having huge problems in your relationship to see an Imago Therapist (though you can be) because it can also be used to improve romance, connection, and knowledge/understanding of each other’s world. A key component of Imago Relationship Therapy is developing empathy so it’s very helpful for couples that have a hard time seeing each other’s perspectives.
Imago Therapy for Individuals
Though it was developed as a couples therapy modality, Imago Therapy can also be adapted for individuals. In fact, there is a book called “Keeping The Love You Find” by Harville and Helen that is written for singles interested in using Imago Theory to improve their love lives. Imago Therapy for individuals can help you recognize the source of unhealthy relationship patterns such as dating unavailable or abusive partners and change your love template to start choosing healthier partners.
Imago Theory is based on several different psychological theories, one of which is attachment theory. Understanding your attachment style can be very helpful and enlightening as an individual looking for love and Imago helps you do that and more.
Imago Therapy for individuals can also help you understand and become conscious about parts of yourself you may have repressed in childhood due to the way you were socialized by your family and society. This is important because we tend to be attracted to partners that bring out our repressed or lost self but this later triggers us as the relationship progresses. Uncovering and loving those parts of yourself will allow you to attract a partner from a more whole and conscious place.
What to Expect in an Imago Therapy Session
Every Imago Therapy session will follow the same structure but have different content. For starters, you will be placed in chairs facing each other, not the therapist. In Imago Relationship Therapy, the goal is to foster communication and connection between the two of you not between you and the therapist.
An Imago Therapist acts as more of a guide to facilitate communication rather than someone you communicate with directly. An Imago relationship therapist will be present as a coach and guide but will not actually be part of the conversation between you two.
Each Imago session will open with both partners sharing something they love and appreciate about their partner. Next, you will have an Imago Dialogue. The dialogue is the only way couples will communicate in a session and it is honestly pure magic.
Imago Dialogue: How it Works
The dialogue is a very structured way your Imago Therapist will teach you to communicate that allows you to get to the deeper layers of what is underneath the conflict you are processing. It requires that one of you be the sender and the other the receiver. Then you’ll switch once you’ve completed all the steps.
The Imago Dialogue consists of 3 steps:
- Mirroring. Mirroring involves repeating back what you heard your partner say.
- Validating. Validation requires putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and explaining why their point of view makes sense. You don’t have to agree with it but you do have to stretch to understand why it makes sense to them.
- Empathy. Empathy in the dialogue means guessing what your partner might be feeling based on what they just shared with you.
Click here to see a video of a couple using the Imago Dialogue.
Most Imago sessions are 80-90 minutes long and will allow you enough time to communicate about one topic or conflict in-depth using the Imago Dialogue. You will begin with appreciations and end with appreciations and/or a hug.
There are many components that an Imago Relationship Therapist will help you work on in your relationship using the dialogue as well as homework assignments for you to work on together and independently.
The 5 Processes of Imago Therapy are:
- Re-Imaging: Starting to see your partner in a positive light again.
- Re-committing: Many Imago Therapists will request that you commit to 12 weeks without any threat of breakup or divorce because it is so de-stabilizing to the safety of a relationship to threaten to leave. It’s hard to truly connect without safety and commitment.
- Re-visioning: You’ll create a shared vision of your ideal relationship so you know what you are working towards.
- Restructuring Frustrations: In order to have healthy love, you have to heal the wounds from your past. You’ll use the dialogue to reprocess some of the major wounds inflicted by your partner as needed. You’ll also use it to process current conflicts as they arise.
- Re-romanticizing: You’ll discover what makes each other feel loved and cared about and start focusing on more fun and romance in your relationship.
Finding an Imago Therapist
If this all resonates with you so far, you’re probably wondering how to find an Imago Therapist to work with. As I mentioned earlier, I am a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. As an online couples therapist, I provide online couples therapy for couples all over the world using Imago Relationship Therapy. I’ve found that Imago Therapy translates really well in the online format and my clients love being able to meet with me from the comfort of their own homes.
Unfortunately, I’m not always accepting new clients so you’ll need to check our scheduling page to see if I have any available consultation times. All new clients are required to book a free 30-minute consultation before booking a full session just to make sure working together is a good fit. If you don’t see any available consultation times with me on the schedule, it means I’m full.
If my schedule is full or if you’d prefer in-person sessions, you can find an Imago Therapist or workshop almost anywhere in North America and in many other parts of the world as well.
There are also Imago Therapy weekend workshops for couples called “Getting The Love You Want” and Imago workshops for individuals called “Keeping the Love You Find.” Both are excellent ways to get introduced to Imago Therapy and to deepen your understanding of yourself and your partner.
Lastly, reading Harville and Helen’s book Getting The Love You Want and working through the exercises in the accompanying workbook is a great way to learn more about Imago Therapy and work on your relationship without the help of a therapist or workshop.
What do Beyoncé, Blake Lively, and Amal Clooney have in common? Besides being wildly famous, successful, and impeccably dressed, they are all also married to men who are at least ten years their senior.
While age gaps may have been a big deal thirty years ago, they are much more socially acceptable now (especially with A-list celebrities). Still, even if you aren’t likely to get as many judgy looks from strangers these days, are relationships with large age gaps really a good idea?
Do Big Age Gap Relationships Work?
Like many relationship issues, the answer is, “it depends.”
One thing that matters in relationships with age gaps is how much of a gap there is. For example, 5 year age gap relationships are quite different than 20 year age gap relationships. Five year age gap relationships say, “We just missed each other at UCLA” whereas 20 year age gap relationships say, “Were you in class with my mother?”
Of course, merely focusing on a number doesn’t take into account the really important factor; People’s personalities and maturity level. We all know forty-somethings who act like teenagers and teenagers who are as responsible as Mother Teresa. A 40-year-old, unemployed man who still lives with his parents is quite different than a guy who started his own company at age 25, owns his own home, and has traveled the world. No shade to the 40-year-old living at home – we all grow at our own rate. However, that guy might not be compatible with someone who has been living independently since college; regardless of age.
So, sometimes, it’s not so much the age difference that makes or breaks a relationship, but rather the MATURITY LEVEL of both partners.
Can A Big Age Gap Relationship Work?
So, what happens if you are much more mature than your partner? How will things turn out? Here are some pitfalls that might occur if there is too much of a maturity gap in your relationship:
- You might feel frustrated, like the relationship isn’t going anywhere
- You might feel like you are always making the decisions
- You could feel like an emotional garbage disposal – your partner looks to you to solve all of his/her problems
- You might feel like your partner never takes things (including you and the relationship) seriously
- You might feel like you don’t have much in common with your partner’s friends and maybe even that they are a bad influence
- You might feel like you will never get the type of commitment from your partner that you want
- You might feel like you take on the bulk of the responsibility and planning for your lives
- You might feel like it’s impossible to have a productive argument with your partner
- You might feel like you are always taking care of him/her financially
- You might feel like you are watching a train wreck, as your partner makes the same mistakes over and over again
On the same token, if you are the less mature member in the relationship, things might be tough for you too. For example, you might:
- Feel like your partner is always telling you what to do
- Feel like your partner talks down to you
- Feel like you are being pushed into a serious commitment before you are ready
- Feel like your partner never wants to just relax and have fun
- Feel like your partner sees you as a child instead of as a companion
- Feel like your partner doesn’t trust you to complete tasks but then resents you for not contributing
- Feel like you and your partner are in different life stages and want different things
- Feel like you have to rush your timeline for things like marriage and kids to accommodate your partner’s timeline
- Feel like you are missing out on crucial years of fun and freedom
So, you see, problems can arise from both sides of the fence.
Still, I’m not saying that age gap relationships can’t work. They can, as long as both partners are willing to put in the work.
Age Gap Relationship Advice
Here are some tips to help make your age gap relationship run as smoothly as a summer’s breeze.
Relationship Age Gap Rule: Recognize Your Partner’s Worldview
In couples therapy, one of the things I help couples with in sessions is recognizing that each person has a completely unique view of the world that is largely colored by experience, culture, and upbringing. However, this worldview can be very different when there is an age difference between each partner of a decade or more. The societal culture one experienced growing up in the 80’s, for example, is completely different than the societal culture of someone who grew up in the 2000’s.
Someone born after the year 2000 probably won’t get many 80’s movies references, or know the hardship of having to find a book in the library to research a project rather than Googling it. By the same token, someone born in the 70’s might have a hard time understanding what Snapchat is and why people use it.
Instead of coming down hard on your partner for what he or she doesn’t know, treat your different worlds like an exotic adventure. Have fun introducing your boo to new things, (like the word boo!) Recognize and honor your generational differences and take time to understand how each of you views the world.
Communication Gap In Relationship: Communicate As Equals
Nothing ruins a relationship like a power gap. Just because there is an age difference between you doesn’t mean that one of you should have all the power or have the responsibility of making all of the decisions. Talk to your partner as an equal. Don’t talk down, or up, to him or her. Believe it or not, age does not make one of you better or wiser than the other. It’s life experience that brings wisdom and that is not always gained with age. Someone of 23 who has traveled the world can have way more life experience and wisdom than a 45 year old who has never left their home state.
Read: Physical age does not equal spiritual age. Someone who is an “old soul” could have far more intuitive knowledge than someone who is more advanced physically. Try to see your partner in spiritual years rather than chronological ones. Notice what makes your partner light up with passion. That’s what makes them who they are, not the year that they were born.
Large Age Gap Relationships: Talk Openly About Life Goals
Don’t assume your partner wants the same things as you without asking. Older partners may be more ready for a serious relationship than younger partners or may have a more clear picture of what they want their life to look like in 5 years. They may have accomplished more of their career goals and be ready to get married and start a family sooner than their younger counterparts. Be specific about your intentions when dating and make sure you are on the same page from the get go.
This advice really goes for any relationship, but especially those with a significant age gap. If you are dating just for fun, without looking for anything serious, it’s best to let your date know that right off the bat. If one person is ready to settle down and the other is just looking for some company for now, the relationship isn’t likely to work out. And PLEASE, if he tells you that he doesn’t want a relationship, BELIEVE HIM! And if he tells you he’s not sure what he wants out of a relationship yet, take that as a clue that you aren’t on the same page. You don’t need to be the one who turns him around. Instead focus on finding someone who is at the same psychological place that you are.
Do Some Research: TV Shows With Age Gap Relationships
Sometimes, when you are wondering how to make this age gap relationship work, it can be helpful to do some research. You’re reading this article so clearly you’ve already started that process. Good work! If you know couples who have a similar age gap to you and your partner, I’d suggest chatting with them about how they are navigating the differences. Every couple is different but you may find some similarities and helpful suggestions. At the very least, It’s nice to talk to someone who understands your situation.
Don’t know anyone like that in real life? There are lots of TV shows that depict age gap relationships that you could watch as research too. Many focus on older men dating younger women after some kind of major life change. (Mid-life crisis, anyone?)
A great example is Modern Family. In the show, Jay is a man in his 50’s or 60’s married to a beautiful younger wife named Gloria. Sprinkled throughout the show, the couple has sporadic discussions about common concerns such as Jay feeling insecure that Gloria will leave him for someone closer to her age as he gets older.
A new-ish kind of age gap relationship to watch on TV is one where the woman is older and the man is younger. A classic version of this happens in “Gossip Girl” when Nate, one of the main characters, has an affair with a beautiful, older, married, woman. As you probably expected, this doesn’t end well, but it’s definitely entertaining!
Another show featuring an older woman and a younger man is appropriately called “Younger,” starring Sutton Foster and Hilary Duff. Not only does this show have an awesome cast and incredibly witty writing, but it also plays with the idea of age in a really big way.
The main character is a 40 something housewife from New Jersey who pretends to be 26 in order to land a New York City job in publishing. Her lie takes her all kinds of crazy places, including dating a hot, young 20 something guy who couldn’t be sweeter. Watching her pretend to be in a same age relationship, while really being in a 20 year age gap relationship is filled with hilarity.
Watching shows like this together with your partner will not only lighten the mood, but it might spark important conversations between the two of you about what your age gap means to you. Plus, it will help you remember that you aren’t alone in this world of age gap relationships.
Age Gap Relationships: Find Common Ground
The truth is, there is no ideal age gap in a relationship. Whether it’s a 20 year age gap relationship or a 5 year gap, there will be both challenges and benefits to your situation.
My age gap relationship advice?
Make the most out of the benefits!
You aren’t obsessing over your own age every minute of the day (hopefully), so why would you obsess over your partner’s?
While you may have some difficulty getting movie references or pop culture jokes from your partner, find something that you do have in common. Even better, make up your own private jokes and laugh your way into relationship bliss. Laughter is good for the soul and laughing together can make you feel, well, ageless.
If you would like to talk about how to improve your relationship, with or without an age gap, contact me. I’m here to help!
Do you worry more about your partner than you do yourself? Do you find yourself trying to control his or her behavior by manipulating him or her? Are you constantly making excuses for things that he or she does? Do you hide the things that your partner does from your friends, because you know that they would tell you to get the heck out of there if they knew the truth?
If so, you may be suffering from codependency.
What Does It Mean To Be Codependent
Codependency, or being codependent occurs when you are so consumed by what your partner is doing that you forget to focus on yourself. Many times, codependency happens in response to being with a partner who has some kind of addiction or a mental illness. The addiction could be to alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, food, the internet, or video games. It doesn’t matter what kind of addiction it is, only that the addiction takes your partner away from you and makes him focus only on themselves. The types of mental illness that often attract or create partners with codependency are personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and others.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Codependency can show up in many different ways. If you aren’t sure if you are in a codependent relationship, here are some checklist items to consider:
- Do you often cover for your partner so that he/she won’t face negative consequences of his/her behavior?
- Do you make excuses for your partner’s behaviors?
- Are you in denial that your partner has a substance abuse problem or mental illness?
- Are you aware that your partner has a substance abuse problem or mental illness but you are afraid to ask him/her to get help for fear they will get mad or leave you?
- Do you tell yourself things like, “Well, he only drinks after 5pm, so he’s fine,” even though he has to drink every night? Or downplay the fact that he watches porn everyday and there is a lack of intimacy between the 2 of you?
- Do you make excuses for your partner’s verbally, physically or emotionally abusive behavior towards you and others?
- Do you clean up after his/her messes, both literally and figuratively?
- Do you walk on eggshells so as not to upset your volatile partner?
- Do you find yourself worrying about your partner often? Wondering what he/she is doing but afraid to ask? Or snooping to find out.
- Do you feel unable to function and obsessing about your relationship when you and your partner aren’t getting along?
- Do you put your partner’s needs before your own?
- Do you have trouble setting boundaries with your partner?
- Do you find yourself giving your partner ultimatums that you never intend to follow through with because you are so desperate to get him/her to change their behavior?
- Do people tell you that you’re too nice in a relationship?
Over Dependence In Relationships
If you are in a relationship with someone with an addiction or a mental illness, chances are you’ve experienced some of the behaviors above. You probably feel like your world revolves around your partner and their emotions and you are constantly walking on eggshells trying to manage their reactions. Just as the addicted person is addicted to alcohol, so the codependent person is addicted to the addict.
Let that sink in.
Being codependent means that you are addicted to your addicted person. Just like alcohol (or drugs or porn or video games) temporarily takes him away from his problems, focusing on him, temporarily takes you away from yours.
Think about it: If you are always focused on what your addicted person is doing or feeling, you can’t focus on yourself. You avoid having to be conscious of your own behaviors. Sure, you might be neglecting your own needs, or “not having time” to work on your own goals, but it would be selfish to focus on yourself and your problems when your partner is so much worse off, right?
The energy that you are spending trying to “fix” your alcoholic-addicted-liar-narcissistic-partner is going nowhere. Whatever problem your partner is having is not something that you can cure or control. In fact, the more you do for him or her, the less they will do for themselves. That’s why we call it enabling when a codependent person makes excuses or cleans up metaphorical (or literal) messiness for an addicted or mentally ill person. Even though you think you are helping, you are actually making it easier for the addicted person to continue his behavior without experiencing the natural consequences that should be happening.
Why Are People Codependent?
Many people who find themselves in a codependent relationship grew up in a home with a parent with an addiction or mental illness. They learned to tune in to that unhealthy parent’s emotions in an effort to predict when interacting with the parent was safe and when it was not. Addict and mentally ill parents are often unstable and unpredictable, both emotionally and physically. As a result, children of such parents learn to walk on eggshells and make their needs scarce in order to keep the parent calm and happy. This was an adaptive response as a child and often helps a child survive or stay out of danger in an unstable home.
Someone who grew up like that often becomes codependent. A codependent is the ideal partner for an addict or someone with a personality disorder because they have a much higher tolerance for abusive or unstable behavior, they are used to ignoring their own needs to cater to a difficult person, and they are often attracted to the familiar (albeit unhealthy) feeling of living with an unstable person. Recreating the environment of childhood in our romantic relationships is our unconscious mind’s way of trying to heal our childhood wounds.
How To Fix a Codependent Relationship
How To Stop being Codependent In My Relationship: Focus On Your Own Self-Esteem
Pay attention to the way that you talk to yourself. Replace negative self-thoughts like, “I am not good enough,” with positive ones like, “I am worthy of love just as I am.” Focus on your strengths instead of your limitations. Try to see failures as opportunities for growth, and for the love of llamas stop blaming yourself for what your partner does!! You are not their keeper.
If you find that it is a pattern for you to get involved with people with addictions, it’s okay to explore whether you might be a “fixer,” but do it with self-love. Try to be curious, rather than judgmental about your patterns. Most likely this is something that started in your childhood (as described above) and it’s not your fault. I know it can be scary to look at your own patterns, but it’s well worth it. If you want to start that journey, it’s definitely something that we can work on in therapy.
One of the things that I like to do with my clients is to help them learn to “re-parent” themselves. Basically, you learn how to relate to yourself as if you were the responsible, loving parent that you never had. It might sound kooky, but it really works.
How Do I Stop Being Codependent In A Relationship? Let Consequences Happen
If your partner is going to be late for work because he’s been pulled over for a DUI, don’t lie to his boss for him. Let the natural consequences of his actions take place. Sometimes, the only way an addict can get better is by hitting “rock bottom,” and that can’t happen if someone is always covering for them.
Sometimes, it will feel extreme to let these consequences happen. For example, if you have to kick your spouse out of the house, you might feel like a horrible person. You aren’t! I’ve even known mothers who have had to stand by and watch while their children go to jail. This isn’t easy, but the alternative is to continue to block the lessons that the addicted person desperately needs to learn to feel motivated to change.
How To Stop Being A Codependent Enabler: Know Your Boundaries
Realize that “NO.” is a complete sentence. Recognize what your limits are and stick to them. One way to do this is to scan your body for your own feelings. Know when something makes you uncomfortable and give yourself permission to put a stop to it, even if it might make your partner upset. Learn to give priority to your own feelings of comfort, instead of constantly trying to please your partner.
Setting healthy boundaries is one way of truly loving yourself. Many times people who tend to ignore boundaries are drawn to those who don’t know how to set them. Don’t expect your partner to know when your buttons are being pushed. You have to be willing to say “NO,” and mean it.
Stop Being Codependent: Focus On Yourself
This is a big one. Get to know yourself better. Find out what you like and what you don’t and take steps to fill your life with more of what you like. Make plans with friends and don’t wait until you know your partner is unavailable to make plans! Make sure that you are practicing self-care (eating well, exercising, getting enough rest, etc.) and allow time to find hobbies that you enjoy that don’t involve your partner.
It’s very healthy to have interests outside of your romantic relationship. Some people worry that this could ruin their relationships, but the opposite is actually true. Having individual interests makes each person in the relationship feel better about themselves, and this helps to make a healthier couple. Plus, when you have your own jam, you have more exciting things to talk about when you do spend time with your partner.
How To Stop Codependency: Reach Out
Above all, know that there is help available! Try reading one of Melody Beattie’s works like her groundbreaking book, “Codependent No More,” which has helped millions. Or, find an Al-Anon meeting, which is a sister meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, for partners and loved ones of those suffering with addictions.
Knowing that you aren’t in this situation alone is a very powerful tool. It can help you to feel less isolated, and it might even help you recognize others who do the same things that you do. This will help you become aware of why you think and feel that way that you do. It’s extremely healing to realize why you act the way that you do; this is what we call “becoming conscious,” and it’s the pathway to emotional freedom.
If you think that you may be in a codependent relationship, contact me. I’m here to help!