I watched the animated Pixar movie Up again the other night. My favorite part is when the translator gadget turns the dogs’ barks into English. “Squirrel!”
Wouldn’t it be great if your partner came with a universal translator so you could know what they really mean when they say those infuriating things? As a couples counselor I work as a translator every day. I interpret couples’ words into the language of attachment theory. You can check out the translations below.
Attachment theory is a big deal in psychology. Forty years of research has taught us that we have a built-in, wired need to be attached to others. If an infant isn’t attached to his or her caregivers, that infant is at high risk for death. Even if that infants gets plenty of food and medicine. That’s just pure science.
What is the primary concern of a toddler? It’s, “Who will take care of me? I don’t even know how to open the refrigerator.” For a toddler, being cared for and connected to others is a life or death matter.
You made it through childhood because someone cared for you.
These core attachment concerns arise in all adult love relationships. That’s one reason our relationships feel so important, and so difficult.
Here’s a handy human translator you can use at home.
When your partner shouts:
“You didn’t text me that you’d be late!”
The translation is:
“I feel abandoned and alone.”
When your partner yells:
“Damn it, you didn’t pick up the dry cleaning like I told you.”
Your partner is really expressing:
“You don’t care about me since you didn’t listen to me.”
And when your partner says:
“I’m glad you came over tonight.”
The translation is:
“It means so much to feel connected to you.”
Am I kidding? Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little to make a point. But it’s true that you and your partner are constantly asking the following questions, silently and unconsciously:
Are they safe?
Do they love me as much as I love them?
Will they stay with me?
These are the central preoccupations of toddlers, and of grown-up people.
So What Do We Do With This Attachment Theory Stuff?
What if you started looking at your LGBTQ relationship through the lens of attachment theory? When you do that you soften the rough edges in your relationships.
When they give you major attitude about being late perhaps you first think “Calm down, enter expletive here!” Instead, what if you stopped and realized, “Oh they feel like I don’t really love them.” If you thought that you would feel less attacked. You’d probably feel some empathy for their feeling of abandonment.
You still wouldn’t like the attitude but you’d be less likely to escalate the fight by attacking them. And because you weren’t in attack mode they probably wouldn’t attack back. They would settle down sooner.
And imagine if sometimes you even soothed their attachment pain with a statement like “I’m sorry I’m so late.” They might even melt immediately.
There’s a baby inside your adult partner and also one inside of you. When we start to realize that, our partners get less threatening and their messy parts less frustrating.
We are not empathy machines. We can’t empathize all the time with our partner’s hurt feelings. However, we can start to resolve conflicts more quickly by talking about what is going on between us from the attachment perspective.
The conversation gets so much deeper, and so much more interesting, when we start to talk about how we feel dropped emotionally by our partner, rather than staying exclusively focused on the details of the crime of the dirty dishes in the sink.