When our relationship is struggling it can be revealed by our complaints and the issues we are experiencing.

For example:

- They don’t listen
- They ask too much of me
- I feel disconnected
- They don’t care
- They criticise me
- We don’t have sex
- They have to be right all the time
- They’re never satisfied

When thinking about difficulty within the relationship the first thing we need to understand is our differing relating styles, also known as Attachment Styles.

There are 3 Attachment Styles:

Secure Attachment – Individuals are satisfied in relationships, communicate easily, ask for support and give support. They are comfortable with needing and being needed. There’s not a lot of stress. It’s a low anxiety relating style.

Anxious Attachment – Individuals are preoccupied with relationships, think about them a lot, often wanting things to be better. There’s a strong desire for closeness. If they don’t feel close they can become overwhelmed by negative feelings. This is a high anxiety relating style – worrying, fixing, over-functioning. The less they feel close, the more preoccupied they will become. Often they can become addicted to their partner, struggling to know when to leave an unhealthy relationship and losing themselves in the process.

Avoidant Attachment – These individuals often create distance in a relationship. Closeness can feel scary or smothering. That said, they can also be quite codependent, overly focused on their partner and basing their happiness on what the other person may or may not be doing.

There are two types of avoidant attachment:

Dismissive Avoidant - creates distance through criticism and grandiosity, they can be evasive, hard to pin down, vague. They like distance in relationships so can resist relationships entirely at times because “they’re fine on their own”. A low anxiety relating style – can be numbed out or shutdown.

Fearful Avoidant – these people want relationships and togetherness, but are very fearful of closeness. They can experience a high anxiety when relationships progress and closeness increases.

The People Who Gravitate Towards Each Other Are Often Anxiously Attached and Avoidantly Attached People. This is where problems arise. Anxiously attached people want closeness so generally ‘step into’ the relationship, whereas avoidantly attached people feel overwhelmed by closeness and prefer distance, so generally ‘step out’ of the relationship, wanting their own space. This is known at the Anxious-Avoidant Dance.

Why Your Relationship Is Struggling And What To Do About It

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In this video I expand on typical destructive dynamics, unhelpful relating patterns and what we need to be focusing on to develop healthy and healing relationships.

Our Complaints Will Reflect Our Attachment Style And Also The Love And Care We Wish To Receive. 

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If People With Anxious Attachment Don’t Feel Close They Can
Feel Overwhelmed By Negative Feelings.
It’s A High Anxiety Relating Style – Worrying, Fixing, Over-Functioning. 

We then have two people with conflicting needs trying to have a relationship: the more avoidant someone is, the more anxious the other will become, the more anxious the anxious attached becomes, the more avoidant their partner will be… it is a very painful cycle.

Anxiously attached and avoidantly attached people have developed these ways of relating due to some sort of Attachment Trauma in their lives. This trauma could be obvious or subtle - sometimes we have clear difficulties growing up or maybe we experienced inconsistencies or simply mis-attuned parenting.

It’s Important To Know If We Have Attachment Trauma As Our Relationships Will Then Trigger That Trauma Very Often. For example, an anxiously attached person may well have abandonment trauma, which the avoidantly attached person will trigger because they are needing some separation in the relationship and generally stepping away from the relationship and having time on their own. Conversely, avoidantly attached people can have engulfment trauma and will get triggered by their ‘smothering’ partners.

So you have two people triggered, which results in two people operating in relationship in trauma response/survival mode. This means we aren’t thinking of our partner or relationship, we’re in survival – kill or be killed, each man for himself. We’re in Fight, Flight, Freeze. This is where the complaints or conflict comes in.
But because it’s unconscious we are not aware this is what is happening.

What Trauma And Survival Can Look Like In A Relationship:

Fight – argue, attack, criticise, provoke, annoy, upset, despair, worry, be codependent
Flight – storm out, emotionally check out, fantasise about leaving the relationship
Freeze – (a very common way of responding) shut down, go silent, numb out through food, drugs, alcohol, work, porn. Also long-term it’s going through the motions in relationship, the path of least resistance

Anxiously Attached And Avoidantly Attached People Have Developed These Ways Of Relating Due To Some Sort Of Attachment Trauma In Their Lives.

We are so vulnerable in our intimate relationships, so we are regularly going in and out of survival mode. Plus, we will seek people out to perpetuate our fears because we unconsciously want to recreate what is familiar and what we know.

It’s very useful to recognise when we’re in trauma, because when we think about trauma we need to think about triggers. How we trigger our partners and how they trigger us.

Unhealthy Triggers In Relationship Can Be: blame, criticism, silence, tone of voice, facial expressions, contempt, anger, unbridled self-expression, feeling unheard/unacknowledged/suffocated

Healthy Non-Triggering Behaviour In Relationships Can Be: empathy, respect, boundaries around reasonable tone of voice, when to discuss issues, not allowing arguments to escalate, managing your anger, humour, learning the care and love your partner needs.

We have to start taking responsibility for not triggering our partners and managing our own responses so we don’t get triggered ourselves.

The part of our brain that’s in charge of empathy, problem solving and creating loving feeling shuts down when we’re in trauma. In our relationships we must calm ourselves and emotionally regulate to move out of trauma mode so our brains can de-activate from the stress and begin to focus on helpful ways of relating – like being respectful, having empathy and appropriate boundaries.

This creates space for more Secure Attachment and more satisfying relationships.

From that place all the good stuff comes: the fun, the good sex, the playfulness, the calmness and the peace. Well worth the effort.

do your Relationship history

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learn How To Break your Patterns

Once you know what your patterns are, click here for a step-by-step guide about how to recognise these patterns, the behaviour that is sabotaging you and keeping you stuck, and what to do about it.

How to be more secure in relationships

Once you can recognise your patterns, click here for tools and strategies to help you react in healthier ways when you get triggered by your partner.

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