Connections and relationships stand as one of the most important aspects of our lives. They can bring immense joy, growth, and fulfilment, but they can also contain challenges and conflicts. Humans are complicated - we have different values, expectations, and ways of expressing our emotions and love. Depending on how we connect with our loved ones, some relationships feel almost effortless, whilst others can be extremely difficult. We may even notice that certain patterns follow us from one relationship to the other; we attract the same kind of people, or our relationships often end in the same way. Let's explore the root causes of relationship issues, delve into the concept of attachment styles, and illuminate how counselling can turn turbulent connections into healthy ones.
Common Causes of Relationship Issues
Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship. Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and poor communication can lead to frustration and conflict.
All relationships encounter conflict; it's a natural part of human interactions. However, when conflicts go unresolved and are "swept under the rug" by one or both people, they can fester and create deep-seated resentment.
Misaligned expectations between partners can lead to disappointment and frustration. It's essential to openly discuss and agree on these expectations to foster a healthy relationship. This includes expectations around who does certain tasks, and what your relationship "should" look like, to name a couple of examples.
Trust & Insecurity
Trust forms the foundation of strong relationships. Betrayal, dishonesty, or past traumas can erode trust and create barriers between partners. If one or both partners has low self-esteem, it can make things even more difficult as they act destructively in search of security.
Major life changes, such as career shifts, parenthood, or financial difficulties, can strain relationships as partners navigate these challenges.
Different Goals and Values
If partners have significantly different values, priorities, or long-term goals, it can lead to disagreements which can ultimately put an end to the relationship. For example, a couple who has different ideas about what is important in life, or can't agree on whether to have children may face serious difficulties.
Different Intimacy Needs
Emotional, physical, and sexual intimacy are crucial aspects of a relationship for most people interested in such things. If partners have different intimacy needs or ways of expressing it, it can create a sense of disconnect and dissatisfaction.
Lack of Quality Time
Spending quality time together is essential for maintaining a strong connection. When partners are too busy or prioritise other commitments over their relationship, it can lead to feelings of neglect.
Different Cultures & Beliefs
Cultural, religious, or ideological differences between partners can lead to challenges in understanding and respecting each other's backgrounds.
An unhealthy distribution of power or control within a relationship can lead to feelings of resentment and inequality. If one person is controlling the relationship or earning significantly more, and their partner isn't happy with it, it can lead to relationship strain.
Relationships require ongoing effort and growth. If a relationship becomes stagnant or lacks novelty, it can lead to boredom and dissatisfaction.
Conflicting Attachment Styles
If both people within the relationship have conflicting attachment styles, it may lead to a cycle of insecurity, frustration, arguments, and instability.
Attachment styles simply describe our patterns of relating to others and how secure we feel within relationships. They are formed in early childhood and are based on the interactions we had with our caregivers, and how well, or poorly, they met our needs. These styles carry on into adulthood and influence how we perceive and engage in relationships throughout our lives. There are four primary attachment styles:
Secure Attachment: People with secure attachment styles feel comfortable with emotional intimacy and are capable of trusting and supporting their partners. They can rely on their partner but are also happy on their own. They have a positive view of themselves and others.
Anxious Attachment: Individuals with an anxious attachment style often fear abandonment and seek constant reassurance from their partners. They may become preoccupied with the relationship, worry about their partner's commitment, and feel insecure. They tend to have a negative view of themselves and a positive view of others. It may stem from a childhood caregiver being inconsistent in fulfilling their needs, sometimes being attentive and other times being absent, so the child becomes used to their source of love being unreliable. As a result, as adults, these people crave intimacy but are scared of it being taken away.
Avoidant Attachment: People with an avoidant attachment style may struggle with emotional intimacy and may be uncomfortable with dependency. They tend to value their independence and may have difficulty expressing their needs, seeing themselves positively and others negatively. This may stem from their caregivers being emotionally absent and inattentive when they were children, so they have learned that others cannot be relied on, and therefore must rely on themselves. Consequently, when their partner gives them intimacy, it can feel uncomfortable.
Disorganised Attachment: Also called anxious-avoidant attachment, this style is a combination of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. Those who display this style of attachment can oscillate between both styles, sometimes craving intimacy (on their terms) and then recoiling when they get it, or their partner shows 'too much'. It often stems from childhood trauma or inconsistent caregiving.
Attachment Style Assessment
If you would like to discover your attachment style, you can take the short test below. There are three sections consisting of seven questions each. Each section corresponds to a different attachment style and at the end of each, you will get a score. Make a note of these scores and once all three sections have been completed, compare the numbers. The section with the highest score shows the attachment style that you are most aligned to.
If you achieve a high score in one section, and lower scores in the other two, then you may be strongly aligned with one attachment style. If you achieve similar scores in sections one and two, you likely have a disorganised (anxious-avoidant) attachment style. Remember that attachment is a spectrum, and you may not fit neatly into one style. The assessment uses the term "partner", but this can be applied to other important people in your life also.
It is important to note that this is not a diagnostic tool. Attachment theory, although very useful and widely accepted, stems from old research and does not take into consideration the involvement of the father or other caregivers in the development of a child's attachment style. Attachment is a spectrum, and our style may vary from person to person, so do not feel as though something is wrong with you if you do not fit neatly into one of these four styles.
Become Secure with Counselling
Counselling can help you to become secure in your relationships, break the cycle of destructive connections, and help to repair the root causes of relationship ruptures, such as low self-confidence. It can help you to resolve past traumas and emotionally heal so that you are able to be present in your current or future relationships in a meaningful way. It can also teach you new coping strategies, how to resolve conflict healthily, set and maintain boundaries, and improve your communication skills. As it is conducted in a confidential and empathic environment, you are free to explore your past, learn ways to improve your future, and heal, without worrying that you will be judged, or that your loved ones will be affected negatively.