suejohnsonI’ve posted before that when couples fight, the argument is rarely about the issue.

We think we are talking about money. Or sex. Or parenting. Or in-laws.

But it rarely is about those things. Before long (usually within a few seconds) we are questioning whether or not we are valued or have worth. We are questioning whether or not we are loved and accepted. We are wondering if we are a failure or powerless in the situation. It’s these deep attachment issues that when not addressed properly, keep most couples perpetually stuck in a cycle of dysfunction (we call it the “pain” and “peace” cycle at The Hideaway Experience).

One of the really great thinkers and therapists in marriage therapy is Sue Johnson, and I really appreciate the work that she does. It really has helped me help couples. Rather than just giving couples a couple of communication techniques that break down after a few weeks — I really work on helping couples better understand the core attachment issues that are at stake for them in the marriage.

Victor Yalom from has An Interview with Sue Johnson where she explains a little more about what I’m talking about.

VY: So how does the theory help us? How do you understand that?

SJ: It really helps to understand that you’re dealing with an attachment drama. You’re dealing with dilemmas in human bonding. So the emotions that you’re dealing with are high-voltage emotions, because your mammalian brain sees these emotions—these situations—in terms of life and death: “Does this person care about me?” It looks like we’re having a fight about parenting, but, in fact, if you tune into the emotions, oftentimes two minutes after the fight started—or two seconds after the fight started—the fight ends up being about attachment issues like, “Do you love me? Do I matter to you? If I hurt do you care? Are you there for me? Will you respond to me? Can I depend on you?”

I started to realize after we’d done the first outcome study that the logic behind these emotions was that they were all about attachment and bonding, and our deep human need for that secure bond.

When you and your spouse argue what core attachment issue is at the heart of most of your fights?