My husband and I got married in January 1983. I was 19 years old at the time; he was 21. We both had a year and a half of college left. We were responsible for our age, happy about getting married, and so very young.
We’ve been married for 33 years now, and as I take this Valentine’s Day to look back over our years together, what stands out to me most is how healing our relationship has been in my life.
Attachment researchers say that throughout our lives, from the day we’re born until the day we die, we need connection. We need to have someone we can turn to when we’re distressed; we need to know that we matter to another person.
A Safe Haven and a Secure Base
This secure attachment provides a safe haven and a secure base. A safe haven is that sense that we can rely on another person to understand us, to listen to us, and to comfort us when we’re upset. It’s that sense of coming home, a feeling that we don’t need to put on masks, the feeling that we are loved and accepted as we are.
A secure base is the idea that because we are loved, because we know that another person has our back, we are able to go out into the world and explore. A secure base empowers us to take risks, to be confident, and to become our best self.
Pursue or Withdraw
Without secure attachment, we either pursue or withdraw. Pursuers tend to try to make attachment happen. They move toward the other person and can come across as critical or demanding. Withdrawers tend to move away from the other person. They might try to shut down their attachment needs by putting up a wall or not interacting on a deep level.
Trauma survivors tend to do both at once, by sending confusing messages of “Come here/ Go away” at the same time. This is understandable, because like everyone, trauma survivors need people and want connection; however they’ve been hurt by people, so needing others feels dangerous and risky.
When I married Dave at age 19, although on the outside I was sweet, caring and responsible, on the inside I was that scared trauma survivor.
This showed up in unexpected ways early in our marriage. It was hard for me to trust Dave, even though he was very trustworthy. It was hard for me to confide my deepest thoughts and feelings to him, hard for me to truly believe that I mattered to him, hard for me to trust that he would love me no matter how unlovable I sometimes seemed to myself.
I often put up walls or shut down emotionally, which would push his buttons and make him feel shut out and disconnected. There were some difficult times. I remember crying a lot.
It came to a head about six years after our marriage. Our unwavering commitment to God helped us to stay committed to our marriage, and we sought counseling. By God’s grace, over time we were able to end our unhealthy patterns, process painful issues and find healing.
We were able to build a secure connection.
I learned that no matter how intense our disagreements might be, in the end Dave wants to hear me, to understand me and to respect me. I experienced his caring and I no longer felt like I had to retreat in order to be safe.
This has transformed my life. My husband has been an instrument of God’s grace to heal painful wounds.
I always had a sense that God was a safe haven for me; now I also have that in a person. Dave sees me, knows me and loves me unconditionally.
Similarly, while I always had a sense that God was a secure base for me, now Dave is as well. Dave empowers me to take risks, to set goals and go for them, to be the best person I can be. Knowing that he has my back and that we are a team no matter what means the world to me.
While writing this I’ve frequently had to stop and wipe away tears of gratitude and joy. This Valentine’s Day I look back in amazement and delight at God’s grace in the lives of two very young adults, who stepped into marriage with so little idea of what they were getting into and who have been blessed beyond all expectation with a wonderful, healing love.
Thank you, Dave. I love you!