Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Therapy Spot! For this episode, I’ve chosen to reissue a very helpful and informative past podcast. Last April, I had a wonderful conversation with Stan Tatkin about the safety and security we need in relationships. For those of you who didn’t catch this episode the first time, you’re in for a treat. This is a wonderful chance to learn more about being in a mutually satisfying, secure relationship.
Dr. Stan Tatkin wears many hats: not only is he a clinician and an author, but he’s also the co-founder of the PACT Institute. Stan teaches at UCLA, maintains a private practice in Southern California, and leads PACT programs in the US and internationally. He wrote Wired for Dating, Wired for Love, and Your Brain on Love, and co-authored Love and War in Intimate Relationships.
In other words, Stan Tatkin is a relationship expert. He has a lot of powerful insights to share on how to foster a sense of security and safety with your partner. After all, we often forget that close emotional bonds are not a luxury: they’re actually necessary for survival. So let’s dive in and learn more about attachment, security, and our relationships with each other.
Attachment and Secure Functioning in Relationships
While the study of adult attachment is a relatively new one, a few of my guests have spoken about it over the years. Stan clearly lays out how infant attachment sets the foundation for adult attachment. Have you ever pulled away from your partner out of fear they might leave you? Or maybe what you really fear is your partner getting too close. Both of these situations arise from insecurity, which can seriously wreak havoc on your relationship.
A securely attached person doesn’t fear their partner leaving, or taking over. That’s not to say that securely attached people don’t have problems! As Stan says, “Life is difficult, and partnering is difficult. Things happen that we can’t anticipate.”
Taking attachment a step further, Stan defines what it means to be a “secure functioning couple.” These couples have clear ideas of “this is what we do, and this is what we don’t do.” They have a deep knowledge of each other, and a shared interest in surviving together. “They are understood, and they are healed when they are misunderstood.” Secure functioning relationships feature two people who understand and accept each other’s differences, and don’t attempt to change each other. Both members of the couple take care of themselves and take care of each other at the same time.
The Benefits of a Secure Functioning Relationship
Obviously, it takes a lot of work to become an expert in your partner. Many people, unfortunately, either don’t expect this, or don’t think they should have to. “How many people are prepared for this? How many people are told that relationships are difficult in this way?” So, what are the benefits to doing all of this work?
When you feel secure in your primary relationship — whether that’s romantic or not — you simply don’t worry about a lot of the things that keep other people awake at night. You don’t wonder whether or not your partner will stick by you. Those worries take up a lot of emotional resources! By taking those concerns off the table, you have more freedom with your emotional energy. “[Securely functioning] couples are in each other’s care. They are a team. Only until you’ve had that experience can you truly say it is better than being alone.”
Ultimately, there is no greater stress than interpersonal stress. Secure functioning partners understand this innately. They have a mutual reason to be easier on each other, and to be more helpful with each other. They also have realistic expectations of each other, which gives them more tolerance. “There’s no such thing as a low maintenance person up close.”
Pair bonding on this level is grounded in a deeper purpose. “We care for each other in a world that doesn’t care. We have a duty and a loyalty to each other.” Relationships like this are prepared to weather the worst emotional storms, and survive the toughest tragedies.
Two Key Ingredients For the Secure Functioning Couple
Since I began blogging and podcasting, I’ve talked a lot about relationships. Unfortunately for all of us, we don’t learn how to be in a relationship the way we learn to walk, talk, read, and write. Instead, we learn by jumping in, and more often than not we’re totally unprepared!
Luckily, security isn’t something you either have or you don’t. Whether you had it and lost it, or never had it to begin with, you can get to a place of security with your partner. It begins, according to Stan, with two ingredients: attention, and presence. “Pay attention, and be as present with your partner as possible. Our brains take new things and make them automatic. Everything new will be old to us very soon. So go back to what you did in the beginning. Face to face. Eye to eye. Deal with each other in real time.”
If you’re interested in learning more about secure functioning in your relationship, I encourage you to visit Stan’s website. His ten commandments for relationships and his TEDx Talk are both excellent resources.
Thank you so much for joining me this week. See you next time!