We are all looking for love and we are all in need of love-- whether we like to admit this or not!
What is love, really?
Love is what dares us to meet a new person and loan out our heart in the face of terror. Love is behind choosing to parent. Love is the root of what brings each and every one of us to therapy—the need to understand love, the hunger and desperation to find love and experience love, the desire to love and the desire to be loved. Yet, we don't always know how to love or to see love when its staring us in the face or how to trust love, or how to find love or how to be love.
In its purest sense, love is simple. Yet, it eludes each of us at some point.
Each and every one of my clients over the course of a decade and a half of practice has felt not just eluded by love but most often burned by it. Betrayed in such a way that as hard as it is to admit they are still looking for it they are wary, skeptical, disbelieving and distrustful of it and of its actual existence.
Although in its purest sense, love is simple, it is also complex. There are many loves and it can be very helpful to understand all the many flavors and colors, then to identify the one that you are actually looking for.
I see it among my female clients mostly-- this desire for heated passion and then the surprised hurt when this passion starts to reveal that its not a healing relationship. And this is why I've chosen to write this: to better understand the healing relationship and hopefully to stress the difference can in theory help us to be more discerning daters and ultimately offer what it is that we are looking for. Like attracts like—we must be love to find love.
I've chosen to address the healing relationship in the context of a romantic partnership between two people however healing relationships are vast and not limited to this structure. There are so many variants of the healing relationship but today I am writing about the life partnership. The partnership that stands the test of time…and drama, and mistakes, and all of the crap that we've inherited. This one. The one that is invested in working through all of this to arrive at authentic, dependable love.
The relationship that allows us to learn how to love and to be loved. The one that makes up for what we didn't learn in childhood. The one that involved earning a sense of security through the work that the relationship makes itself available for. This requires the investment of everyone involved. It can't be just one person in the relationship advocating for this.
To better understand the healing relationship I am going to refer to the Six Functions of Attachment adapted from the work of Dan Brown and David Elliot by Deirdre Fay, a wonderful resource and therapist outside of the Boston area specializing in Attachment theory and yoga for healing. The Six Functions of Attachment are like a recipe. They go in no particular order yet each ingredient is essential. These ingredients are often looked at as what is needed and required to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child; for this child to feel secure in the world and in love, to be successful at life in the truest sense—to be confident, loyal, assertive, compassionate, reliable, empathic, curious, etc.
These six functions also go into a healing relationship. Without these ingredients and without this type of relationship we cannot fully heal. A competent therapist is offering their client these ingredients but a healing relationship must go beyond the therapeutic alliance. It would be like going to practice but never to the game. To fully heal, we must enter a healing relationship with our self first and then with a partner. Our relationship with our therapist is the practice field.
Here I have summarized The Six Functions of Attachment & Development of a Secure Base: (Adapted from Brown, Elliot et al, 2016 by Deirdre Fay 2016)
1. Protection à leads to a sense of safety
In a healing relationship with an adult romantic partner this means that I know that you have my back and that you are on my side and that you will give me the benefit of the doubt. I know that I will be safe. And this is reciprocated.
2. Attunement à leads to feeling seen and known
This is being in tune with your partner, having some emotional awareness, to validate our partners experience even when we see it differently. I support you to feel seen and heard. And this is reciprocated.
3. Reassurance & Soothing à leads to feeling calm
Even as adults we just need to know that its going to be okay—to hear (even if we might appear dramatic in our fear) that its okay to feel it and that our person is with us on this journey; that they will be here for us. I feel reassured and calmed and I have a greater capacity to trust. And this is reciprocated.
4. Expressed Delight à leads to a sense of pride and self worth
To offer our partner the excitement that we feel that they have arrived! That they have delighted us, made us laugh, inspired us. We let them know that they are special and special to us! And this is reciprocated.
5. Guidance & Mentoring à leads to a sense of confidence
In a healing adult relationship I see this as its safe not to know and that we can wonder and explore and question with this person. We can ask for advice and we trust where this person will lead us. And this is reciprocated.
And because humans are not capable of perfection and always getting it right we have:
6. Conflict & Repair à which leads to trust
Each ingredient is so important but I can't help but feel this one may hold more gravity than any other. If we cannot work out our differences from how to keep the house clean to how we are going to navigate our fundamental human differences than we cannot move forward. If we do not feel from the other that they understand their trespass and trust that it was a mistake, then we cannot move forward. The hurts begin to pile up and eat away at the connection and destroy the relationship which then does even more damage to a person. In a healing relationship we can hold big feelings of difference and work to be a safe person, a safe angry person, a safe hurt person, a person willing to listen and to sort the mishap out, a person willing to STAY IN! And this is reciprocated!