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The Relationship Peace Treaty: Reassurance

(This blog post was written by Elisabeth Mandel, LMFT. Elisabeth is an Associate Therapist at our practice and specializes in working with couples.)

In Daniel Siegel’s “The Developing Mind” (1999), he describes the attachment process as a series of “rupture and repair.” The implication of this theory is that conflict resolution is an integral part of securing bonds in a relationship.

Disagreement or conflict poses a threat to the security of a relationship. When couples fight, they challenge the strength of their bond, or the emotional trust between them. In this sense, a conflict can be seen as a rupture. Consciously, disagreement may feel threatening because partners are afraid of not getting their way, or they have a need to be right. But what underlies these struggles for power, dominance and control is a need to feel safe, cared for and loved.

For example, a couple may be arguing about chores. Chores are a demonstration of caregiving, and expectations of responsibility are based on the early caregiving environments of each partner. If one partner grew up with a mother who cleaned the house every day, he may want his partner to do the same because it became ingrained as a way of feeling loved by his mother. Therefore, he may interpret his partner’s resistance to cleaning as rejection, when in fact the reasons may be unrelated to him.

In the scenario above, the conflict is really about caregiving and the need to feel loved. Reassurance of love and availability repairs the ruptures that make partners vulnerable to feeling unsafe and rejected. If one partner does not want to do a specific chore, the other partner may feel unloved or uncared for. These feelings are usually unconscious.

Disagreement or conflict puts the security of the relationship in jeopardy on some level, and the way to recover from this safety threat is through the mutual reassurance of love and availability. Reassurance repairs the rupture of conflict or disagreement in a relationship, further securing the bond of attachment between partners. 

The key to reassurance is recognizing, understanding and communicating your need for reassurance. You and your partner are then responsible for reassuring each other in the way that you need. For some it may be verbal, such as, “I’m here for you and we will figure this out together.” For others, reassurance can be a nonverbal gesture of love, like physical affection or a material symbol of commitment and emotional investment.

The resolution of conflict provides each partner with reassurance of their value to the relationship. When partners learn to communicate love and availability following a disagreement, they can enjoy the security of knowing that the repair of rupture through reassurance will strengthen their bond and reinforce their attachment to one another.

Let conflict or disagreement in your relationship serve as an opportunity to make your love stronger and bring you closer together.

 —–

Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind. New York: Guilford Press.

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