To varying degrees, all of us have experienced trauma and loss (often times as a child). Because of these losses, be it physical or emotional, we tend to create internal reactions (these in turn create external reactions) that keep us from feeling the pain of similar losses in the future. This is a God-given gift for all of us to keep us alive, because without our ability to adapt and survive difficult (sometimes life-threatening situations) we would become an emotional vegetable.
In the therapy world, this idea most closely resembles attachment theory. Attachment theory posits that we either shut down (stuff) our emotions, or we latch onto all relationships to feel safety. The problem with both of these responses is that relational intimacy is always disconnected and distant. Much of what people long for is connection with others. Studies have shown that people generally care more about having meaningful and intimate relationships than they do about money or success. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then we are constantly looking for a safe relationship.
Having a ‘need’ for others is not a fatal flaw for people, but a gift. Much of my research and interest centers around marital relationships, and thus my thoughts today are such that a healthy marriage offers an incredible ability to heal the wounds of each partner/spouse. A healthy marriage has three components. First it allows for hurts to happen, and keeps harm far away and when harm happens that both are willing and able to address it in an open and collaborative way. Secondly that there is awe, gratitude, and delight in the other person. This is the general sense or feeling of wonder and curiosity of your spouse. Lastly, perhaps the most important, a healthy marriage is one that offers a safe home for the partners to return to. When life happens, we all need a safe relationship that will allow us to be who we are without the fear of pain via judgement, shame, or isolation.
This safe place offers to be the fertile healing grounds for your sexual abuse, the death of your mother when you were 9, your best friend’s suicide 10 years ago, the loss of your pet as a kid, or the lonliness of being a 15 year old yet to reach puberty. Perhaps your tragedies aren’t seen as difficult as the ones I’ve just listed. Perhaps you’ve had a good and easy life, one devoid of any major devastation. Regardless of how ‘severe’ your losses have been, we all have the fear of being alone in this world without a safe place to return. Marriage, among other intimate relationships, can be your safe place.