Shaken and Stirred
Updated: Sep 3
Jessica Fern, author of Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma, and Consensual Nonmonogamy, refers to our closest relationships as bonded relationships. The more intensely we are bonded or invested in a relationship, and the more deeply we care, the more vulnerable we are to being hurt.
In these relationships we need to create safety to balance out the feelings of vulnerability. The bond Jessica Fern is referring to is made up of the safety structures we create to balance this vulnerability.
We may be very aware of those structures, or they might be invisible to us until they are challenged. Sometimes they are made up of predictable routines such as two people always sleeping together, a kiss when a partner comes home from work, a predictable sleep-over date every week, or planning the next date before ending the current date.
Sometimes the structures are thoughts or beliefs about what makes the relationship special such as “I am the person most special to my partner,” or “I am the person my partner lives with and plans retirement and old age with.”
When something happens that shakes our fundamental feelings of safety in a relationship, it tends to trigger some of the most distressing, all-consuming anxiety and fear (and sometimes anger) related to our relationships.
Some people and relationships are more securely attached than others. It takes more to shake the foundations of their relationships. Some of us are less securely attached. This can be because of less than optimal childhood experiences, current mental health struggles such as depression or anxiety, or it could be due to the current condition of the relationship in question.
Regardless of the cause, the less secure relationship can be shaken by objectively smaller disruptions, and it takes more to shake the secure ones. In a less secure relationship a person can be shaken by something like their partner pulling away from an affectionate touch. In a more securely attached relationship it might take a partner falling into NRE (new relationship energy) with a new person, or wanting to accept a job offer that will turn a local relationship into a long distance one.
When something has shaken a bonded relationship, it often feels like nothing can be “right” again until the relationship is again on secure emotional footing. Often when this happens, the two people are having a disagreement, an argument, or because of the disagreement they have retreated from each other and may not be speaking.
They may think they need to resolve the disagreement to repair the relationship (and they do). But before trying to resolve the disagreement, I believe we need to repair the emotional rift. Then the two people can come together as a team and resolve the disagreement together.
Two of my favorite skills for repairing a relationship bond are Nonviolent Communication techniques, and the Imago exercise. Stay tuned for explanations of these tools and how to use them.