Last night, Hubby and I did some of our workbook. This time, the focus was on looking at your relationship through the lens of attachment. The entire atmosphere felt different this time. Hubby wanted to do the workbook with me, and was engaged and participating right off the bat.
I read through the chapter quickly, because a lot of it was review for me, after reading “Hold me tight.” It discusses John Bowlby and attachment theory, between mother and child. It goes on to explain that having a secure base, a safe haven, to turn to is something that we all need, even as we grow into adulthood.
As he read, Hubby turned to me. “This is what you were talking about; me being your attachment figure, and you being mine, and us not having a secure attachment right now.”
“Yeah. That’s exactly what I was talking about.” I’m surprised. He was listening.
“I want us to change it. I want to create a secure attachment. I want to be your secure base.” Hubby grabs my hand, holds it loosely. He really means what he is saying.
“Me, too.” I squeeze his hand.
He goes back to reading, and I fill out my worksheets. They end up being really easy to do. I think if this was 6 months ago, even 3 months ago, it might be harder, but today, they are easy. The questions all relate back to the A.R.E — emotional presence.
Accessibility: I can access your attention, love and support when I need it.
Responsiveness: I can count on you to tune into my feelings and needs, to empathize with me, and to comfort me.
Engagement: you will keep me close and cherish me as someone who holds a special and unique place in your life.
Hubby finishes up his worksheets, and we share our answers.
“I said that a time you were recently accessible to me was when I talked to you about needing to be perfect Alice for my parents. You really listened, and understand. You responded by saying you understood, telling me that you didn’t have a list in your head and didn’t need me to be perfect at all. You told me you loved me for me. I think we were really engaged with each other then. I was being really open and honest, vulnerable, and you were here, really here and really getting it, hearing me.” I look at him, hoping he likes my answer.
Hubby smiles. “That was a good moment. I did good. I liked you talking to me, telling me how you really felt.” I nod at him, I agree. “Okay. Mine was when I was leaving for that work conference, and it was making me stressed out. You listened to me, and told me that it was different now, I wasn’t a kid anymore and I could just leave if I wanted to because I’m an adult and would have my jeep there. And then you sent me text messages to let me know you understood how I was feeling, that I wasn’t alone there, you were ‘with’ me. It really helped.”
My heart feels really big and warm; I did help him through that!! I had tried so hard to help him through that, and hadn’t been sure if I had made a difference. “I’m really glad I helped, babe. I know that was really hard for you, and I wanted to make it be okay for you.”
“Well, it was hard….” Hubby trails off, looks down. The way he is acting is nervous making. I put my hand on his arm, but I don’t say anything. I just wait. Finally he takes a deep breath, and in that slightly withdrawn tone, starts to speak. “I had separation anxiety when I was a kid. It was severe. It started when I was maybe 4, I went to more funerals that year, I think it was maybe 7 or 8. I realized mom and dad could die, could leave me. So I got this separation anxiety thing. It got worse as I got older, mom and dad tried to work with me, it didn’t get better. They put me in counseling. It didn’t help. It got better when I turned 16, got my license. I decided then, I would be independent, not need anyone ever. So I withdrew, developed a shell. That’s the story. That’s why I have a hard time connecting.”
Wow. Wow. Holy crap on toast. I don’t know what to say. Hubby had a secret of his own. Not huge and crazy making like my secrets, but still, a secret. I move my hand over his arm, reach for his hand, squeeze it. “I’m sorry. That had to be really tough. I can see why you would find it easier to withdraw, push people out.”
“Leaving for the work conference….it brought up a lot of those feelings. Mom and Dad, they worked with me, but they still made me go to camp, go stay at the grandparents for a week in the summer. They didn’t stop life because of me.” He sounds almost robotic, but there is hurt in his voice, under that robot tone, and I want to go back in time and hold the little boy who got no understanding from his parents. I don’t hear how his parents worked with him, or showed empathy and understanding. They made him separate from them, gave tough love. And for what? So they could get a week long break? I want to go back and tell that little boy it’s okay, and give him what his parents couldn’t. I think to myself, if they had given him love and empathy, understanding, a true safe haven, a secure base would have developed and he wouldn’t have had severe separation anxiety until he was 16 and decided to withdraw to keep from hurting. I’m no expert, though. I’ll have to ask Bea about it, to be sure.
“I’m sure that brought up so many feelings. I’m glad you were able to tell me what you did,then. And I’m more glad you told me this, tonight,” I whisper it, not wanting to upset Hubby, but wanting him to know how thankful I am he has shared this with me. It fills in another piece of the puzzle in our relationship, for me.
“Leaving for hunting camp with my dad and uncles, cousins…..I wanted to go, be there, see my family. But it was really hard this time. I had a lot of separation anxiety feelings come up.” Hubby is still looking down, not at me. I recognize this as what I do when I’m in Bea’s office. It’s scary to face the person you are being vulnerable with, and even more so when it’s a new experience for you.
“I felt it, too. I think things changed between us, that night of the first workbook session.” I grin, because it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. “I felt like you really understood me better, why I behave like I do. And I believe I understood you better, why you react to me the way you do. So we had a new way of connecting. And hearing how we effect each other….that was hard. It hurt me, to know how I make you feel. That changed something between us.” (It’s cheesy, maybe, but true. It really, really did.)
“I felt it, too. There is something more between us, I don’t know.” Hubby looks at me now, it’s the way I peek at Bea– questioning, worried, what will I see when I look at this person?
“I love you,” I tell him, and lay my head on his chest.
“I love you, too.” I hear relief in his voice. “I never told you, I didn’t want to seem weak, or something to you. When I met you, you were so perfect, but you weren’t very independent, and you seemed fragile, like you needed someone to protect you, help you learn to be independent. I tried….I didn’t want you to think I was weak and couldn’t protect you. And I wanted you to know I was strong enough, you could trust me to help you learn independence.” I smile. My Hubby is such a good guy. He’s the knight in shining armor who wants to rescue the princess and then teach her how to save herself the next time. It’s one of the things I love most about him.
“I think knowing this about you….it helps me. It explains some things. Like, we were both closed off emotionally, for different reasons, but closed off. It’s one of the reasons why we worked so well together….we fit. I don’t know if I’m saying this right, we loved, and love each other, but we didn’t connect emotionally because we were both scared for our own reasons. But no emotional connections means no safe haven, no secure base, and we end up in this spinning our wheels dance. And now, I want more than surface. I want it all with you. Because I love you. Because I don’t want my crap to ruin our lives forever. We don’t deserve to be broken forever. I want us, our marriage fixed, I want a secure attachment, emotional connection with you.” I talk for a long time, but Hubby listens, lets me talk.
“I get it. It makes sense. I want all of that for us, too. We will get it. When we are together, nothing stops us, you know this.” He sounds determined, strong, and then, sad.”Your PTSD, your past, you had your own wall. So, you were safe. But that’s why it feels like you are pushing me away for most of our life together.”
“I think, well, I know…when you get too close……if I share something and you don’t…um, well, react, I don’t know….the way I needed…or even if you do, um, you get too close, I get scared. It’s scary to me. I don’t know how to handle having you be close. It really scares me sometimes. I get afraid you will decide I am not good enough, or you hate me, or I’m bad, gross, I don’t know, you’ll leave. So…..I can, just….um…you know…I push you away first.” I stumble through an explanation. My heart hurts. I’ve really hurt him, and I never knew, nor intended to do so. I had no idea he even felt me pushing him away at times.
He hugs me tighter. “It hasn’t felt like that lately. It’s different. You still push me away, but you come back. I can wait you out. I told you, I’m a patient man.”
He is patient. All this time, he has known, on some level, anyways, that I’m not really okay, and he may have wondered, or not, why his partner wasn’t normal. But he loved me anyway, and he waited until I was ready. I complain about him a lot. I get mad, and think he is awful. And when we get stuck in our dance, we are both awful. The truth of it is though, I married the right man for me, even if I didn’t exactly realize it at the time.
I married my own personal Prince Charming; he’s the one who saves the princess and then will protect her while she learns to protect and save herself. He’s patient, and he will wait until she is ready to save herself, because he’s also smart, and he knows this is something he can’t do for her– he can only walk alongside her and offer support; she has to want to save herself. He can handle the needy princess who clings to him, and wants reassurance at every turn. He is learning to understand the princess who wants reassurance but pushes him away because she is afraid to ask for it. He isn’t afraid of independent princesses, he encourages it, and builds the princess up every chance he gets. He loves her flaws, even when she is actively hating those very same flaws. He somehow sees the best in her, and is willing to wait for all of that to emerge. He is a prince who claims he is honored to have the opportunity to help and to watch his princess finally have the chance to grow up.