Much has been written over the ages about the nature of love. Romantic stories with fairy-tale endings abound in the mass media as well as in classic literature. But what is love? Recently, the fields of psychology and evolutionary biology have been coming up with a new way of looking at the bonds of love between mates. They are learning that love is a key survival mechanism, hard-wired into human beings from the moment we are born. Adult attachments are a response for our need for emotional safety and connection. We weather life’s storms by reaching for our partner, our safe haven in time of need.
When a child is born they will attach to their primary parent and form a fierce bond with an internal wisdom that this relationship is the key to their survival. Breastfeeding becomes a metaphor for all their other needs. They seek physical contact, especially when they are in need of nurturance, assistance or reassurance. Beyond infancy, a child will cry in their parents arms because this is where it is safe to let down, and to process the travails of life.
Adults need an emotional connection in much the same ways. Dr. Susan Johnson, a Canadian psychologist, writes that “love drives us to bond emotionally with precious few others who offer us safe haven from the storms of life.” Dr. John Bowlby, a British post-World War II psychiatrist, is considered the founder of attachment theory. He claimed that we need close, connected, intimate relationships “from the cradle to the grave.”
Couples come into therapy with many difficulties: lack of physical intimacy, disagreements over finances, communication problems and cultural differences. Dr. Johnson developed Emotionally Focused Therapy, so that couples would be able to rebuild the safe bond and emotional connection between them. Once that attachment is re-established, the problems may no longer seem as unsolvable. From a secure base, the couple finds new ways of looking at each other and their lives together.
Johnson, Sue (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversation s for a Lifetime of Love. New York: Little Brown Company.