Insights from Couples Therapy on the Importance of Secure Relationships
It feels good to be in love. We all want to be in love, and most of us are willing to invest in our relationships at least enough to feel good about them. But the importance of a secure relationship goes deeper than feeling good. Our need for connection is primal—and essential for our survival.
In fact, our need for connection is one of our primary needs. In her book Hold Me Tight, Sue Johnson, Ph.D., psychologist, researcher, and founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy tells us that the need for connection is hard-wired into our nervous system.
The longing for connection with others stems from a fundamental need for safety and security.
In modern society, our romantic partners have become our strongest source of security. In some cases, our romantic partners are our only source of security—all the more reason to invest in your relationship.
What’s more, while strong, secure social bonds result in longer, healthier lives, social isolation and relationship conflict increase our risk of a host of mental and physical disorders.
In short, separation hurts in a very real, very physical way. And, thanks to hormones like oxytocin and chemicals like dopamine released by our nerve cells, closeness feels like a high.
If secure relationships are essential for not only our emotional wellbeing but also our physical and mental health (our very survival), it may come as no surprise that good relationships are worth the investment.
What Is a Good (Secure) Relationship?
If you feel unsure if your romantic partner believes in you, or will be there to support you, you will feel less confident in pursuing personal and career goals. In particularly insecure relationships, partners may even feel unsafe emotionally and choose not to reveal their deeper self and their softer feelings to the other person.
Partners in a good relationship are comfortable with closeness and with seeking support from each other.
You know your partner has your back. You can rely on them for support in times of need. This creates a sense of security and safety, both emotional and physical.
You know that your partner has a listening ear for you or a shoulder to lean on if something should go awry. They will also be there to celebrate with you when your endeavors go well.
Good relationships are also a safe environment in which to express fears and worries.
You are present and available to hear and support each other. You know you will not be shut down or ignored, but your worries will be heard and validated, and your anxieties calmed.
As Dr. Johnson says, “When we feel secure, we can take risks, be creative, and pursue our dreams.”
Key Benefits When You Invest in Your Relationship
Developing a secure relationship takes investment of time and willingness to work, but these investments have many benefits.
Research has shown when two people are intimate, they affect and regulate each other’s physiological and emotional well-being (Levine, 2010). Physical proximity and availability of our intimate partner influences how we respond to stress and reduces our perceptions of pain (Coan, 2006).
Physical contact with a loved one also reduces anxiety. (Physical contact to demonstrate affection being one of the hallmarks of a secure relationship.) The availability of this contact affects a couple’s ability to soothe each other’s difficult emotions and strengthens their attachment bond.
Together, the positive mental and emotional effects of secure relationships make us more resilient to stress and even trauma.
2. Independence and Confidence
In more than one study, researcher and professor of psychology Brooke Feeney has found that couples who feel more secure in reaching out to their partners for support demonstrated greater confidence and independence. Partners in these secure relationships were more confident in solving their own problems, reaching their individual goals, and pursuing new opportunities (Carnegie, 2017; Feeney, 2007). In particular, young professional women realized their career and professional goals faster than their peers in insecure relationships.
3. Higher Self-Esteem
When you feel good about your relationship and secure in your connection with your partner, you also feel better about yourself. Researchers observed that partners picked more positive traits to describe themselves when they also reported having a secure bond in their relationship (Johnson, 2008).
4. Better Able to Deal with Anger
With the base of a solid relationship at your back, you are better at dealing with conflict. Disagreements arise and are overcome more quickly and easily because you have the foundation of trust and openness. Couples who feel secure often experience anger that is less intense, and have more tolerance for pain.
5. Better Able to Deal with Anxiety and Depression
Couples in strong relationships handle chronic tension of job or parenting stress better than couples struggling with relationship insecurity. They have a place to come and express their frustrations and anxieties, which reduces the likelihood of experiencing deeper, more consuming mental health conditions. The connection in a good relationship is also a protective factor against loneliness that can lead to depression.
6. Better Overall Health
Research has shown that partners who report satisfaction in their relationships demonstrate better heart health (Johnson, 2008).
7. Longer Life
Close connection helps us stay healthier and live longer. With reduction of stress hormones like cortisol and better heart health, it makes sense that married men and women live longer than their single peers (Johnson, 2008).
When you invest in your relationship, you’re investing in your emotional, mental, and physical health.
What Happens if You Don’t Invest in Your Relationships?
If partners start to distance from each other, they stop seeing each other’s hurt, and the relationship withers or fills with conflict. If you don’t invest in the health of your relationship, it can undermine your mental and physical well-being.
In insecure relationships, partners may not feel safe enough to reveal their deeper thoughts and feelings to the other person, or to connect with them physically, which often means their sex life suffers.
If you feel unsure if your partner believes in you, or will be there to support you, you will feel less confident in pursuing personal and career goals. You won’t feel you can rely on them in times of need.
You’ll feel alone and unsupported.
Having a partner who’s inconsistent in their availability and support is demoralizing. It diminishes our emotional and professional growth and becomes a relationship that is full of conflict and criticism. Partners in such relationships can end up living lonely, stressful lives without the emotional buffer of a partner they trust.
It doesn’t matter if you have reached your external goals together, if you have the job, or the house, or the kids you wanted—if you don’t feel connected to one another, your basic needs are not being met, and it leaves you open to anxiety, depression, and related physical ailments.
The stress and impaired function resulting from unhealthy relationships is recognized as a public health problem, especially since the divorce rate is somewhere between 40-50% of all marriages in the United States (Marriage & Divorce). More and more, research is showing the aftereffects of negative relationships, and especially divorce, can be long-lasting and severe.
How Negative (or Insecure) Relationships Impact Us
Poor Health, Depression, & Mental Distress
Research has shown that couples with insecure attachment, or negative relationships, have poor immune response and heal more slowly (Johnson, 2008).
Marital discord and job strain also affect blood pressure. If you have a mild form of high blood pressure, being in a satisfying relationship is beneficial for your heart health. Spending time with your partner, with whom you are close, lowers your blood pressure.
Not surprisingly, couples with relationship issues also experience higher rates of anxiety.
If you’re not satisfied with your marriage, being close to your partner will raise your blood pressure, which will remain elevated as long as you are in physical proximity.
When we don’t feel close and comforted by our partner, when our basic attachment needs for closeness and safety are not met, we experience a chronic sense of tension and our physical health declines.
Conflict and criticism in a relationship can also trigger depression, and up to 45% of women in unhappy marriages report feeling depressed (Johnson, 2008). When a close relationship feels anything but close, we hurt. This type of loneliness can lead to mental distress.
How to Invest in Your Relationship
We all want to be happy.
It’s clear that our relationship with our partner is key to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being and ultimate happiness. But how do we ensure that our relationship will thrive?
It’s common to invest in a new house, your education, a car, you name it—but we don’t invest enough in our relationships.
One of the best ways to invest in your relationship is couples therapy.
Investing in Couples Therapy Pays Off
Research shows that over 70% of couples that attend Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) see improvement in their relationship.
Couples therapy requires dedication, of time to attend sessions, the emotional effort and vulnerability of sharing with your partner, and the cost of paying a qualified professional. But it pays off.
Think of it this way—couples therapy costs a lot less than your college education did. Or the house you live in, or the rent you pay for your apartment. And you will see the benefits in your relationship, your sense of connection, your mental state, and your physical health.
How to Make the Investment Successful
- Find a therapist with extensive training and experience
- Make sure they practice the type of therapy you’re looking for
- Be open-minded
- Allow time for change to happen
Do You Want to Invest in Your Relationship?
Dr. Irena offers online therapy for couples in Texas and New York City. She is a certified Emotionally Focused Couples therapist who has worked with numerous couples who wanted to invest in their relationships. She will help you rekindle your connection and rediscover the sense of security and strength of the bond between you.
- Carnegie Mellon University. (2017, August 11). Supportive relationships linked to willingness to pursue opportunities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 26, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170811105806.htm
- Coan, J.A., Schaefer, H.S., & Davidson, R.J. (2006). Lending a Hand: Social Regulation of the Neural Response to Threat. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1032-1039
- Feeney, Brooke. (2007). The dependency paradox in close relationships: Accepting dependence promotes independence. Journal of personality and social psychology. 92. 268-85. 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.118.
- Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight. New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark.
- Marriage & Divorce. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/divorce