Attachment Needs

Focus Therapy, Jay Wick, LMFT

Misattunements: "It's Not About the Nail." 

Let’s cut to the chase here. You probably want to be entertained more than you want to be force-fed education. So, I’m just going to jump right to the video portion of today’s blog. It’s a satirical take on a conversation that pretty much any couple can relate to. 

If all you watch is the video, hopefully you got a good laugh. However, if you’d like a little further explanation of what I see going on here from an attachment perspective, read on. 

If we take the video at face value, the woman clearly has a big ass nail sticking out of her head, and the dude’s logical response is to get the nail out and the problem will be solved. But as she says, “It’s not about the nail!” 

So what the hell is it about? 

As a practitioner of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), when I sit with couples I am usually looking in between the “content” for what we refer to as the “process.” The content is basically the facts; the story. In this case the content would be her describing the intense pressure in her head that she can’t quite put her finger on and how all of her sweaters are snagging. Her partner is hearing all of the content and assumes that’s what she’s talking about, so he offers suggestions he thinks might help. 

The process can be more deceptive. It’s more what’s going on under the surface.  It’s in that vulnerable place that’s hard to access. The process here are the attachment needs. As I’ve discussed in previous posts on attachment and Emotionally Focused Therapy, attachment is all about connection and the strategies we use to create and preserve connection. When our attachment needs are triggered it’s more often than not about wants and desires, hurt feelings, longing for closeness and support, needing to know you are important, that you matter to your partner. But, usually those needs are hard to express to a partner you feel might not get it. Or, it might not even really register with you at the time that this is what you’re actually asking for. So, it often takes the form of some other protest. 

The man in this scenario might see his partner as having a fixable issue, and he’s just trying to solve the dilemma and move on. The problem is, in his misattunement (fancy therapy word for not being able to read your partner’s needs), he’s only reaffirming what she has been feeling. Let’s pretend, for sake of this blog, that she has been feeling disconnected from him and just wants support, nurturing and affection. In his, “Let’s just take the nail out and move on with our lives,” he’s basically conveying, “I don’t have time for you and your silly problems.” This validates feelings of disconnection, and so she continues with her learned strategy hoping to get the connection she desires. Usually, somewhere around here an argument would begin and both partners would end up angry, disconnected and confused as to what the hell actually happened. 

Still with me? I know this is a lot. 

It takes two to tango, though! Both partners have a role in this dance and both are usually missing the cues. What the woman in this scenario sees as dismissive attempts to minimize the problem due to the fact that he really doesn’t care, might actually be quite the opposite. The content is him trying to solve the problem, the process often looks more like him feeling helpless or useless, knowing that the person he cares most about in the world is hurting, and he is probably going to fail at taking away that pain for the umpteenth time. Somewhere in there is also the need to feel important to the one you love, and the learned strategy to feel important (I know it’s one of mine) is to be the hero and solve the problems. So, he attempts to solve the surface level problem, misses the mark and gets criticized for not getting it. Which at the end of the day is what this is all about for both partners. 

Not “getting it,” or misattunement, is really at the core of a lot of the conflict we experience in relationships. The process to becoming more attuned and in sync is a whole other topic, but it begins with being able to check in with yourself, down below the surface, to see what it is you’re really in need of. Once you know your attachment needs, it requires a good deal of vulnerability and a partner that will provide a safe place to explore this new territory with you. 

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