So many people promote the idea that we have to be fully healed before we are ready to fall in love. As someone recovering from insecure childhood attachment, I came into adulthood convinced that this advice applied to me.
My parents divorced when I was two-years-old and I was the youngest of three.
Between a full-time nanny, working single-mom and weekend dad, our basic needs were always covered but our emotional needs… not-so-much. This is no critique of my parents.
They did their very best and were awesome in many ways. I also had Oprah to count on every day at 4 pm. It was just all very busy, and like many children of divorce, the subtler levels of parental support got lost in the shuffle.
They loved me, but they just weren’t around enough to support me with it. Like at least half of the adults walking around, I came into my teen years quite insecure on the inside.
The Dating Years
When it was time to start dating, I made myself as invisible as possible. This was an unfortunate strategy given my longing to be loved, seen, and known.
When reasonably compatible attention came my way, I didn’t even know how to be picky about my own needs. I was happy to be offered love and did my best to hang on as long as possible whether or not the match was great.
I was anything but healed when I jumped into love.
If someone had interviewed me about what I was looking for in a relationship back then, the most honest answer would have been that I was looking to know that I was lovable.
I didn’t have enough confidence to be picky, so I simply set the bar at “attractive, kind, and likes me back”.
I followed my longing for love, and with each successive relationship, I integrated a new little piece of confidence, security, and self-love that was lacking in my childhood.
Nature’s Trauma Therapy
Years later when I became an Emotionally Focused Couples’ Therapist, I pieced together that I had accidentally landed on nature’s original trauma therapy: Adult Love.
I learned that when love is tuned in and responsive to us, we feel safe to bring our vulnerabilities and raw spots forward. In that space, tremendous healing is possible.
Love brings forth in each of us our cracks and insecurities. When met with love and emotional safety, healing happens spontaneously.
DON’T wait until you are fully healed to fall in love.
DO choose the right person to heal with.
Assessing Your Relationship
I have outlined below key aspects to relationships that are beneficial to healing and growth.
While it is not necessary to have all of these qualities all of the time, the closer your relationship comes to providing these, the more healing it will be.
If you find you are in a relationship or marriage lacking in key areas much of the time, scroll to the bottom to read about some steps you can take.
Do You Feel Safe?
The most important part of a relationship is being emotionally safe. Can you share your thoughts and fears without being laughed at or without fearing your partners’ response?
Healing can only happen when you feel safe. Feeling unsafe can add to your trauma.
If you had a less-than-secure childhood, you may be extra sensitive to criticism. This can make perfect safety hard to achieve. Don’t worry about perfection. Just seek a situation where any unsafe moments resolve quickly with your partner’s support.
Your partner should generally be your number one go-to person when you are sad, scared, nervous, mad, happy or excited.
Do You Feel Confident in Your Relationship When You are Apart?
Another dimension of having a positive emotional bond is trust. Most partners spend lots of their waking hours apart.
According to Dr. Sue Johnson (Hold Me Tight, 2008) positive and secure relationships are ones where you feel confident in the connection even when you are apart.
Different couples have different ways of achieving this confidence. If one or the other of you have past injuries that make trust difficult, it may take some time to figure this one out.
Look for small gestures and rituals to reinforce the sense of connection when you are apart.
Seek reassurance and provide reassurance to each other about how important you are in each other’s lives.
There are times when one person’s need for reassurance feels overwhelming and unattainable to their partner. This can vary from person to person.
If you are unsure if you have an unreasonable need for reassurance, seek an EFT trained couples therapist for some input.
Does Your Partner Care About Your Inner World?
Each of us has a private, inner world. We may have hopes, fears, insecurities and secret dreams that feel too vulnerable to share with everyone.
In a strong, secure love bond, it will feel obvious to you that your partner cares deeply about your joys, hurts, fears, and dreams. Again, this might not feel true every moment, but it is definitely important to have most of the time.
The more you feel seen and understood in your vulnerabilities, the better the relationship strength and capacity for healing.
Can You Trust Your Connection Even Through a Fight or Disagreement?
Nearly all people who spend a significant amount of time together have differences, disagreements, hurts, and arguments.
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman and Silver (2015) explain that 69% of relationship conflict is not solvable. It follows then, that “ability to solve conflict” is not a realistic expectation.
In order to be healing to past hurts, the conflict of a relationship needs to be well-managed. This will look different for different couples, but one indicator that you are managing these differences well is that you continue to have confidence in the relationship and connection throughout the disagreement.
What if My Relationship Fails This Assessment?
As I write this, I am acutely aware that many relationships don’t meet this criteria. If that is your case, your next step will be different in different circumstances.
No Children or Less Complex:
If most of these elements have never been present and there aren’t children or other complexities, take a deep breath for courage. While a relationship may have brought you some healing, it may not necessarily be good enough for you to stay in long-term.
That’s perfectly OK.
Kids Involved or More Complex:
If there are kids involved, or it doesn’t feel so cut and dry for another reason:
- Seek an EFT-trained couples therapist to see either alone or as a couple.
- Sign up for my free mini video-course here to get free help right away.
If You Think You Might be Experiencing Abuse, Violence, or a Crisis:
Closing Encouragement for Healing Inside Relationships
After a decade of practicing #traumatherapy and shifting more and more to #couples work, I am awed and humbled by how naturally traumas resolve in safe love bonds. Read more about me and the work I do here.
Be patient and compassionate with your healing journey. You are beautiful and worthy of love, beauty, and joy.