Karyn Ellis, M.A., L.M.H.C.

Effects of Early Childhood Attachment on a Marriage Part II

(Continuation of Effects of Early Childhood Attachment on a Marriage Part I)

Relationship Implications

Married couples experience dissatisfaction, high levels of anxiety and fear of abandonment when they are not securely attached or are unhappy. Lack of support and not having the sense of security can cause interpersonal vulnerability and additional relationship distress. Those who have an insecure attachment to their spouse are in distress because they never had a secure (stable and consistent) attachment and do not know how to be secure and did not learn coping skills.

Insecure attachment partners have very high divorce rates due to high levels of conflict, anxiety and over all negative feelings. Insecure partners are rigid and unable to cope with changes or distressing events because they are left feeling paralyzed, vulnerable and anxious. Partners in insecure, unstable or unhappy marriages experience higher levels of conflict, lack of coping skills, and are unable to create a secure and safe place with their partner. These couples are unable to handle change, are anxious and often one or both partners fear abandonment. Individuals who were raised without secure attachment to caregivers have difficulty interacting in social settings, lack affect control and have difficulty with social cues. These individuals may turn to compulsive activities. These individual cannot keep and maintain a stable healthy relationships.


Most couples who come into therapy presenting an attachment issue are often insecurely attached, unstable and are unsatisfied. Therapy may be the “last resort.” By the therapist helping the couple become more intimate, it helps the couple develop a sense of stability and security, thus alleviating anxiety and tension so the couple is more capable of moving on with therapy as well as working on a deeper level.

Therapy may be more direct and assertive with these couples as they need extra help making the “connection,” so at times the therapist needs to be more directive and assertive.

Therapy with couples presenting attachment issues will not be focused on the individuals past and childhood relationships with caregivers but rather focus on the couple’s current emotional and romantic relationship. By having the couple focus on bringing back the quality and satisfaction (intimacy) of the relationship, marital satisfaction will increased. This helps the couple cope, move forward with change, and enables the couple to dive into more intensive therapy.

Couples need to explore communication patterns, maladaptive thoughts and habits that need to be changed. Partners need to learn coping skills that work with their attachment styles so that stress and anxiety can be dealt with and properly self regulated so that one partners inability to cope does not impair the other partner or do further damage to their environment.