February 5, 2024

Attachment theory in relationships with Dr. James Hawkins

Couple in a Field About to Kiss


Episode Summary

Welcome to The Communicate & Connect Podcast, where we dive deep into the heart of relationships to uncover the secrets of connection and communication. I’m your host, Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky, and in today’s episode, we’re joined by Dr. James Hawkins, an expert Emotional Focused Therapy Trainer. Together, we’ll explore the world of attachment theory in relationships, especially through the lens of military couples.

The very essence of attachment – our inherent need for close, intimate connections – can sometimes lead us into a dance of pursuit and withdrawal with our partners. We’ll delve into why 80% of couples fall into this relationshiip pattern and how our past experiences shape the way we reach for or respond to our loved ones.

Dr. Hawkins brings a unique perspective to the table, teaching us how to navigate emotional signals, the effects of emotional flooding, and the importance of a “mission” focus in our relationships. In discussing implications for military coouuples, we discuss the invaluable role of rituals in maintaining connections despite physical distance and the strategy of visual and emotional connection during times of separation.For all you military couples out there, we understand the nuances of emotional regulation that your lifestyle demands. From turning down the dimmer switch of emotions during deployments, to flicking it back on to reconnect with family post-deployment, this episode aims to shed light on the delicate balance needed for a secure attachment bond – a cornerstone of resilient relationships

.As always, remember that while our podcast is packed with valuable insights, it’s not a substitute for professional therapy. We encourage you to take our attachment quiz to gain a deeper understanding of your relationship’s dynamics and know when it may be time to seek counseling.

Guest Speaker Bio

Dr. James Hawkins began his professional journey as a medic, a role where he served with dedication and compassion. His aspirations took a turn when he sought a commission to become a chaplain in the military, driven by a profound interest in the counseling aspects of the vocation, and he later obtained a doctorate in counseling. Now he is an international trainer in Emotionally Focused Therapy. 

James’s passion for sharing knowledge and fostering growth in the therapy community is further reflected in his podcasting endeavors. He is the voice behind the insightful “Leading Edge in Emotionally Focused Therapy” podcast, a platform where he engages with therapists to discuss the nuances and advancements in the world of counseling.

Furthermore, James plays an important role in shaping future counselors and therapists through his involvement in an online training program known as “Success and Vulnerability.” Here, he contributes to the professional development of individuals by enhancing their skills and understanding of therapy. ​

You can reach out to Dr. Hawkins at dochawklpc@gmail.com or through his website at dochawklpc.com.

Episode Transcript 

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:00:02]:
This podcast is sponsored by my counseling practice, Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling, where I offer weekly marriage counseling, weekend long marriage intensives, and therapist training in emotionally focused couple therapy. To learn more about my marriage counseling services, visit www.elizabethpolinskycounseling.com.

You’re listening to episode 47, attachment theory and relationships with Dr. James Hawkins, EFT trainer.

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Communicate and Connect podcast. I’m really excited because we’re doing this whole series on attachment theory, and today we have Dr. James Hawkins. He’s going to talk about attachment theory and how it relates to relationships, and this is kind of exciting to have you. Dr. Hawkins, I didn’t tell you this right before you joined, but you actually did my core skills training a couple years ago.

James Hawkins [00:01:14]:
I recognized you.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:01:16]:
So Dr. Hawkins is a trainer for ICEEFT, the international center for Excellence in EFT, emotionally focused therapy, which is the type of therapy I do. And he also trains people as a trainer does. So thank you for being on the podcast. Is there anything you want to say about yourself, just to let people know who you are?

James Hawkins [00:01:40]:
Yeah, one. I appreciate you for inviting me on. It’s an honor. It was a no brainer to say yes, especially to the population of people you serve. Thankful for their service. My wife and I are both veterans. We were both deployed to Iraq. My father, my great grandfather, served in the military.

And so I was a medic. In my first go around, I was a medic. Then I got my commission, actually, to come in and be a chaplain in the military. But the only reason I really wanted to be a chaplain was for the counseling part of it. And then, so my career path changed, and I ended up getting a doctorate in counseling and then did that for a while. And now working with Sue Johnson and the trainer team, and I’m here in northwest Arkansas. I also do a podcast myself, the leading edge and emotionally focused therapy, where we talk really to therapists. And then I’m also a part of an online training program called Success and vulnerability.

Once again, training therapists. So, yeah, me and my wife are trying to get some online courses going. Really, that’ll be what we do to reach out to lay. Couples don’t really have anything going on that’s only a brainchild in our mind. So I’m just excited to help people and to help, particularly our military families that go through so much stress and strain. I’m just excited.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:03:00]:
Yeah, I wanted you on the podcast because I knew you were a veteran, but I didn’t realize that your wife had been in the military. Too, which is a whole nother level of challenges to be a dual military couple. I had thought about joining the military, tried like three times, but ended up, long story, I don’t need to go into all of that. But when I met my husband and he was in the military, I was like, well, I’m not going to try to be in the military. So I think that’s amazing that you guys have come so far and as a dual military couple, correct?

James Hawkins [00:03:41]:
Yeah. Thank you.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:03:42]:
Yeah. And who better than a trainer to tell us about attachment theory and how that relates to couple relationships? So I’m curious, how do you. It’s like one thing to explain it to a therapist and then we can kind of like nerd out on all the science stuff. How do you typically explain attachment to your clients?

James Hawkins [00:04:08]:
Oh, I love it. Yeah. So my basic description is that within each of us there is this propensity that we are designed to seek out close, intimate relationships and particularly in times of distress, but not even just distress, but also just to know that we have that closeness, particularly if I’m going to relate it even more specifically to military families. You have this sense of calling and of purpose and of duty, whether the spouse who is wearing a uniform or the non uniform spouse. And what attachment does is particularly is it moves us to seek proximity or comfort in times of distress or when we’re taking big risk, even when we’re doing hard things, to know that someone’s got our back, that even if we struggle, that we have someone we can turn to and that we can confide in. Particularly though, when we think of it, attachment and bonding are somewhat the same but different. And here’s what I mean. Attachment for couples is what happens in the moments of distress, the moments of distress.

So when there’s disconnection, your attachment system, which really is a distress management system, takes over or when you’ve gone long periods of time without being able to really connect or you’re going through your own personal stress, your attachment system will come on to make you seek some form of comfort or connection with safe, trusted others. Now, on the healthy day, what attachment looks like is, I feel a moment of distress or I feel disconnected with my partner, or we have a little bit of a miss. And the signal of attachment is emotion. Emotions are the things that read the environment to say, hey, something happened here, something’s going on. And what emotion is trying to do is just really a signal from your body trying to put out a message, to get an attuned response from someone. It’s kind of picking up your cell phone, hoping your partner will pick up. Do you notice my ring? Do you notice something’s going on? And if I can reach for you, will you turn towards me? And only will you turn towards me? Can I trust your response with me? And that’s a healthy day of attachment. I actually share what I need.

You’re able to respond to me and I can take it in. That’s when attachment works. I miss you. I tell you, I miss you. You turn towards me, say, I miss you too. I’ve missed us connecting, and then we have a bonding moment. Attachment worked. When attachment becomes a problem is when we don’t feel safe or kind of comfortable enough.

Being able to either do one of two things to reach for our partner in times of need or to respond to our partners in their time of emotional need, well, I should say three. Or being able to take in comfort. And for many couples, things that were going on in their relationship before you ever met each other, life had already taught you so many scripts or patterns about should you even turn to your, listen to the signal of your emotions? And is it okay to share those with other people? Some people get the message in life that their emotions are too much and they cause problems. And actually, if your emotions come up, people will turn away from you. They’ll reject you, but they still want to be able to listen to that part of other people. They get the message. If you turn towards your emotions, things don’t go well and nothing’s going to change anyway. And so for that person, what they learned to do is to shut off their emotion and not tune into it.

Because if I keep paying attention to my emotion, what it’s going to eventually do is going to make me need you, or I’m going to have this need that I won’t be able to get resolved by myself. And so I’ve got to learn to turn the music down or turn the volume down on my emotion. The other person, they know that turning towards other people comes with a risk of rejection or abandonment. But what they try to do is they turn the volume up on their emotion to try and get on their emotion to get their partner’s attention, to get them to turn towards it. Like, maybe if I just say it a little bit louder, a little bit firmer, a little bit faster, maybe I’ll get your attention. But those are what we call an eft. Those, that’s the pursue withdrawal pattern. The withdrawal turns their emotion down.

They tend to move away from emotion. The pursuer, what they do is they are more willing to tune into emotion and put words to emotion, but not so clearly and so vulnerably, because if I do that, it runs the risk of me getting hurt. So it might look like a little bit more of blame or criticism or they’re kind of talking about the partner if you this and you get that, but they don’t really talk about them because that’s a little bit too risky. The withdrawal. They just don’t want to do emotion. Let’s calm it down. Let’s not let things get out of control. We don’t want this thing to blow up.

80% of couples are in one of those two attachment styles. The one that turns things up or turns things down, that’s 80% because there’s something beautiful where they attract each other to the withdrawal, appreciates the energy of the pursuer and how they fight for the relationship and stand up for it. The pursuer, the withdrawal kind of brings balance to their world and calms things down. They’re like, this is great, until it’s not so great.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:09:47]:
Yeah. Can I just repeat and make sure I’m following this? The attachment system. So we all have an attachment system and it is to help us cope and get comfort when we have stress or when life.

James Hawkins [00:10:06]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:10:06]:
Not great. And in an ideal world, if someone in a partnership is feeling stressed out, then they can go to their partner and get support. But what you’re talking about is when that can’t happen, usually because of something I learned before the relationship, that sort of either prevents me from being able to go to my partner, or if I do go to my partner, it prevents me from being clear about what I need.

James Hawkins [00:10:38]:
Correct. Good summary. Great summary.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:10:40]:
Great. Okay, thanks. Then you have this pursue withdraw dynamic, which I honestly cannot remember right now if we’ve talked about that on this podcast or not.

James Hawkins [00:10:52]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:10:54]:
But like, a withdrawing person is somebody who, it sounds like they learned that it’s not going to matter if I share, so I just don’t share.

James Hawkins [00:11:05]:
Or even things tend to go bad if I share. And bad could mean either things just kind of blow up around me or even if I share it, you’re not going to really take in what I’m saying, so why talk anyway?

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:11:21]:
Okay, I’m following. So it’s not necessarily. There could be a lot of reasons why would not feel comfortable sharing.

James Hawkins [00:11:32]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:11:33]:
And then the pursuer is the person who is, I think you said, turns up their emotions, is trying harder to get through. You had talked about the phone call.

James Hawkins [00:11:46]:
Yeah. And even when I say, turn it up. What they’ll do is they might turn up the energy, but they won’t really bring you into the emotion. So they’ll turn up their energy a little bit more. More words, more request. It might sound like demands, it might sound like they’re being critical, but they’re really not trying to be critical. So I want to make sure I’m not putting either one of these in the ballot. They’re just trying to say, hey, can I get your attention and get you to turn towards me? Or as Sue Johnson said, this might help with kind of attachment.

The critical question of any relationship for it to feel secure and connected is, if I reach for you, are you there for me?

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:12:25]:
So the withdrawer ends up not reaching and the other.

James Hawkins [00:12:28]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:12:29]:
Ends up reaching on overdrive.

James Hawkins [00:12:32]:
Correct. And another way to put it is the withdrawal. What they rely on heavily, almost to the exclusion of the other, is they rely heavily on self regulation and meaning, calming and dealing with their own emotions, their own needs, their own thoughts in their own self, to the exclusion of co regulation. They don’t really always trust or reach for co regulation, which is kind of saying with their partner of, hey, this is what’s going on with me, or just sharing, unloading their day. And what’s going on for them, the pursuer, sometimes what they can tend to do is they’ve been alone and dropped so many times, self regulation still feels like isolation and abandonment, and they are hyper focused on co regulation. Like, if I could get you to change your behavior or get towards me, I’ll feel better.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:13:22]:
Yeah. The way you’re describing it sounds like an imbalance.

James Hawkins [00:13:27]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:13:28]:
Like somehow we need some self regulation and some co regulation where we cope with our partner, where we can go to our partner for comfort. The drawer is kind of almost solely doing it on their own, and then the pursuer is almost solely trying to do it with the other person.

James Hawkins [00:13:49]:
Correct. That’s good. And the key to attachment in any of this, when we say security and attachment, is when you can have flexibility and openness, when attachment becomes a problem, or the way we go about attachment in that distress is when we become rigid and inflexible. It’s probably the same, but when we become rigid and kind of closed down. So you’re right where the pursuer just is in hyper pursuit of the withdrawal, is just in that hyper kind of sense of withdrawal.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:14:20]:
Yeah, I’m thinking about this idea of flexibility. I did have someone on, like, several sessions ago, or not sessions, whatever. This is meetings for the podcast episode you’re a therapist.

James Hawkins [00:14:34]:
You just think in sessions. There we go.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:14:36]:
Yeah. Who was an act therapist? Acceptance and commitment therapy. So much about psychological flexibility. And so that’s what came to my mind just now when you said flexibility. But I guess when you say that, what I’m thinking is that. You mean I have the ability to do either or I could co regulate or I could go and do it on my own. I don’t have to do one or the other. I could easily do either.

James Hawkins [00:15:06]:
Yeah. And particularly when we talk about pursuing withdrawal. Sorry, I’m probably going all around. But when we’re saying that in attachment, that’s a secondary strategy, the primary move of attachment when we go, just attachment theory, especially if I’m going to go back to. I’m talking to a couple. The primary thing that you really want to be able to do in these moments, what probably drew you to each other, was this was someone you felt like you could confide in, you could talk to, you could count on in your times of need. But however, sometimes in with marriage, it’s not that always something bad happens. But sometimes as you get closer and you spend more time, actually, it feels like the risk level goes up or something happened.

Now, especially since we’re talking about military couples, your rhythm of being able to connect with each other could have been thrown off by some workplace stress thing that happened, a deployment. I mean, so many distresses that military families go through, illness moves and separation, that could happen there, and you just never knew how to find your way back to each other, to that place that you once enjoyed and you hoped for for each other. So then what happens is you kick into these secondary strategies and that’s that pursue withdraw again, where it’s like the pursuer just becomes kind of like that. The volume gets turned up and they can’t really stay within themselves. And it can come off kind of once again in a very not so good way. But they have good intent, though, and same thing for the withdrawal. They kind of begin to like, you know what? They don’t talk about themselves. They kind of pull in inward and try and solve things in their own head and inside their own body, and they don’t let their partner be there for them in their times of need.

They got to figure it out. That’s probably the one that you’ll see with a lot of the military spouses, by the way, that are in uniform. The military kind of trains us in moments. To be successful is to turn your emotions down. But once again, that’s not a bad thing. But when you go outside the wire, I’m trying to be nice and turn it off. Focus. No time like, you got to.

But here’s the thing, and it’s the same thing. We work with first responders. You’ve got to think of your emotions as having a dimmer switch. There’s moments you turn them down to do a mission, but you got to also be able to turn them back on to connect with your family.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:17:22]:
Yeah, I love that metaphor of a dimmer switch. I don’t think I’ve heard that before.

James Hawkins [00:17:28]:
But I, like, I got it from George Fowler.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:17:30]:
Yeah, that’s brilliant, because I do have so many military and veteran couples that I work with, and sometimes, oftentimes a big portion of the conversation is how military culture sort of did do this thing of teaching them to turn off emotions and then how that is hard in the relationship in terms of being able to connect together. So I like this idea of being able to dim it down and then dim it back on, almost like to have control over that process or influence over that process versus it being sort of, like, locked down and shut off.

James Hawkins [00:18:16]:
Totally, 100% flexibility again.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:18:21]:
Yeah. One of the things that I was thinking about was, like, deployments. And so I know in attachment theory, separation distress is part of that, which is sort of this idea that if I’m separated from somebody that I love, that it is distressing, that it should be distressing. And in the way that you were talking about it just now, it sounds like. Sorry, let me collect my thoughts here.

James Hawkins [00:18:56]:
Go ahead.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:18:57]:
So if I’m separated from somebody that I love, like, if my husband Floyd, I’m going to be in distress.

James Hawkins [00:19:03]:
This makes sense.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:19:05]:
And I can’t go to them when they’re deployed for comfort. And so this is where that flexibility comes in. I’m imagining of, like, now I need to cope on my own, but then when they get back, how do I cope with them? Is that.

James Hawkins [00:19:20]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:19:22]:

James Hawkins [00:19:23]:
Well, two parts to that. For one that, you know, like, that’s where attachment, the attachment styles really came from. Was Mary Ainsworth in that whole stranger separation. And I won’t nerd out. You’re right. We could nerd out. But here’s the thing that we’ve learned, and this is science now, this is no longer just saying attachment theory. This is where sue says it’s science.

Attachment travels in your body, your connection to your husband, it still travels with you that even if he’s away and you’re going through something distressful, and I’m working with you and I get you just to kind of, in this moment, if you could just picture him here with you and you could turn to him and you could talk to him about this, what do you even think? Picture that he might say and what might he do? What would the look on his face be like? What would his voice sound like and you doing that. What we’ve even found through research, your body will respond as though he is physically there.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:20:22]:
Yeah. I was, like, starting to picture my husband, and I could feel myself calming down just from. Not that I’m overly stressed, but I could feel it happen.

James Hawkins [00:20:36]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:20:37]:
Imagining him.

James Hawkins [00:20:39]:
So that’s the good side of it. But here’s the thing that I love about talking with Eot is, but when you aren’t able to, when we talk about separation too, by the way, that’s a physical separation. But the separation we’re really concerned about the most is the emotional separation, the relation. Like, there’s been some conflict, there’s been some unresolved issue. There’s been some things where we couldn’t reach for each other, and we’re a little bit afraid. And that causes us to kind of almost, our head and our heart are not fully in the game. That’s the kind of separation we’re concerned about. So I want to say that to military couples, man, working on your bond is so important because your bond can travel. There is no deployment that can completely break your bond when you’re connected.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:21:30]:
Yeah, that’s such a huge point, I think, that you’re making. I think when I originally asked it, the thing that I had in my mind was so often hearing from other military spouses, like, just how devastating it is to have their partner gone.

James Hawkins [00:21:48]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:21:51]:
But it’s equally devastating if I don’t feel close to them when they’re.

James Hawkins [00:21:55]:
That’s right, exactly. And that will be the thing that you will hear in that pursuer style. It’s, yes, you’re here, but I can’t reach for you. And that’s almost a torture. What’s wrong with me? Because that’s what the pursuer will say is what’s wrong with me.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:22:15]:
Then it should work in the reverse then as well, that if I feel emotionally close to my partner and they deploy and they’re gone, then I’m sure it’s still going to suck.

James Hawkins [00:22:27]:
Exactly. I want to make sure I was like, yeah, you will still miss them, but it’s a whole lot different if you have a physical distance and an emotional distance.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:22:39]:
You mean, like, if I still feel close to them while they’re distant or while they’re physically gone.

James Hawkins [00:22:45]:
Yeah, no, what I mean. I’m sorry. That’s on me. What I mean is, like, if, you know, you even struggle with emotional connection, so if you feel emotionally disconnected and you also have the deployment, because part of what attachment is trying to do, part of what attachment is trying to do is that no couple can be in 100% attunement all the time. There are going to be times and moments of disconnection. And the key is, can we repair it? But when a couple cannot repair and find their way back to each other, that becomes really scary. So imagine if you know that you can’t emotionally connect, even when you’re stateside or in the same place, but then you go deploy. That’s where you see some military couples. They struggle with reentry. We had some unfinished business that we couldn’t take care of before. Now we’re kind of trying to get reacquainted to each other, and now we feel, like, double the amount of emotional distance now, even when we come back together.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:23:45]:
Yeah, this makes sense to me. Yeah, I’m following this. I’m thinking about own stories with my husband as we had to develop a sense of security over the years. But I remember the first time he left and he came back, I was so pissed. I was so angry. Even though I wanted. I’d been anxious all day about, like, oh, I’m going to see him. But then I saw him, and I was just furious that he left. It’s not like that anymore.

James Hawkins [00:24:18]:
And that’s actually okay. Especially the key part in that one, I would say, is, were you able to let him know that you’re happy he’s back and you’re also frustrated, and then he’s able to respond to you, and then all of a sudden, that just makes you two melt into each other’s arms. Well, that’s a good day.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:24:37]:
That would be a good day. I would say it took a little bit longer at that time. Yeah. Okay. If I were to try to summarize this emotional connection is the more important part that even though we’ll have distance from time with deployments or long distance, I know that’s real common at different times for military couples, that if we have this emotional connection, it’s going to make it easier to cope with the physical distance, but also, it won’t be sort of, like, as bad as if we felt emotionally disconnected and physically separated.

James Hawkins [00:25:25]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:25:26]:
And it’s extra challenging.

James Hawkins [00:25:28]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:25:28]:
Okay. Do you have any thoughts on how military couples could actually work on trying to maintain that emotional connection with each other.

James Hawkins [00:25:39]:
Yeah, 100%. So there’s a couple of phases, I’ll say, even establish rituals and rhythms of connection. Even in your daily life before deployment, that could be things like some couples, it’s just always making sure we have a moment to really check in with each other at the beginning of a day and making sure we kind of have a ritual for sending each other off. Whether it’s a kiss and a hug, if you’re a couple of faith, it’s some kind of prayer or meditation or something like that. A way to make sure that you connect when you come back home. Maybe it’s like we have a no cell phone or social media policy for the first hour of reentry, just until we all can connect and really see how not. Tell me about your day, but tell me how are you have that kind of heart to heart kind of recheck in. I would tell military couples that’s like, in distance every day have some ways which, you know, date nights and doesn’t always have to be.

You go somewhere, you take advantage of some of the military based offerings, whether it’s. If it’s some kind of couple workshop or something of that nature, or different outings and functions also, but around deployment, I would say, hey, have a way to plan to protect that time before, to really make sure you can connect. If it’s a deployment you know about in advance or a temporary duty, and then also have a plan and way to reconnect when you come back. What is that going to look like? How are we going to set aside time for just us before duty calls again or before all the family and friends show up? How can we have a just us time? And you need to actually be intentional about those things. Don’t just kind of take them for granted. Those are some ways, I would say, to help kind of protect the bond. But then it’s when things come up, you actually have to move towards repair. So what I was talking about, no couple can be in 100% attunement.

There’s going to be times of disruption. The key that they found in research, though, from kind of what’s a good enough relationship? You’ll know this from some of Gottman stuff. Also, Edtronic has done this with family, with parent and child, but I think it corresponds with adults and romantic relationships. Is that the secret sauce is really the ability to repair. Because when we know that we can have moments of disruption and we have what it takes to be able to repair, we can also trust our good times more. What happens for many couples is they don’t know how to repair from conflict. And even in moments that are good, they’re still living life on guard. Or as one couple told me, he said, james, we play the game not to lose. We’ve given up playing to try and win long. How many times can I get a good moment and hold on to it for as long as we can before something bad happens? Because then we’re going to be completely derailed for a long time.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:28:28]:
Yeah. Which, even as you say, that, feels scary, like a little overwhelming, the idea that if something bad happens between us, then we’re in a not good spot, that we can’t somehow bounce back. So it’s. How can we bounce back? Learning to, I guess, repair and bounce back is the most important part.

James Hawkins [00:28:52]:
Yeah, 100%.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:28:54]:
Okay. How do people do that?

James Hawkins [00:28:58]:
Yeah. You know, that’s the hard part of what we do. Right. More times. I want to say this to couples. Many couples do this a million times a day. So many little decisions that they just do without no one ever having to choreograph it. But it’s those times when you can just feel it in your body. It’s the heaviness in your chest, a drop in your gut, the tenseness in the back of your neck. The more you can tune into those signals and share with your partner what’s going on inside your own head, what you’re thinking, and also what you’re kind of noticing as far as emotion wise. And you can honestly share those. And then also you’re able to respond when your partner sends you signals. The more you’re able to do that dance, the more secure your bond will be. As far as that repair process, I’ll tell you one thing that I kind of teach couples to help them with, that is in EFT. We call it affect assembly. But I say, hey, you got to learn to take your own temperature and learn how to take your partner’s temperature.

And they’re like, what do you mean? Well, temp is actually an acronym for military. I’ll appreciate this one. T is the trigger. We’ve got to learn to pay attention and slow down. And what was it in this moment that really got me going? Was it my partner’s tone of voice? Sometimes couples don’t even know what triggered them, and they get into arguments, and they’re not even talking about the thing that got the whole thing going. So clearly, that’s one part. What’s the trigger? What’s the emotion? Like, literally, what did you notice happen inside of you? Were you angry? Were you sad? Were you hurt? Were you scared? Were you disappointed? What was it? Now, that’s different than because some couples, I felt like you did this. That’s not a feeling.

That’s going to the next part. The m is the meaning, the meaning you make of it. What’s the message there? Like when you heard your wife’s voice kind of go up and you heard that tone in her voice, what did it say to you? I’m in trouble, like I’ve did something wrong. She’s going to tell me how I messed something up. I’m always failing. Those are all the messages. And when you heard those messages, what did you notice happen? I panicked. I got nervous.

I was frustrated. Okay. And then there’s the p. What is the protection, particularly we say, or the protection or the petition is what I would say. But typically for couples, when they’re in conflict, they go to their protective move. And that’s where you’ll see something like, I just shut down. My voice went up and I just kind of came at them and I was trying to tell them that was the protective move. And when you study your own process, and I would tell couples, like, when you went to that protective move, when you shut down, what was it you were trying to do? When you left the argument and went out to the garage, what were you trying to do? I was just trying to turn it down.

I was trying to not make it worse because I felt like I was going to make it worse or I needed him to hear me. I want us to see the problems, because if we could take care of the problem, James, then we would be better off. I didn’t want us to have to be cold towards each other. The whole, oh, but many couples don’t ever talk about that. They don’t ever slow down and show kind of what I would say is show your work. Show your hand a little bit, but also is learn to take your partner’s temperature, even if they’re not telling it to you. Like, hey, I see you’re kind of upset. What was it that got you going? Was it something I said or was it how I said it? What was it? And then, I’m curious, how did that land for you? How did you make sense of that? And then kind of what was it? When you saw all that and you felt that way, what did it make you do? Okay, and if you can do that, that will help get you a long way.

Another one I like, military people will like this one is you can only work on one mission at a time. Here’s what I mean. I like that, because this is where couples get in trouble. One partner shares a part of their story, and instead of staying with one story at a time, the other person throws in their part of the story. And then the first person who shared their part, remember, you haven’t responded to me yet, and now you’re telling me about your part. So do you think I’m going to take in what you’re saying? Probably not. What I’m going to do is I’m going to then get a little bit more firm with my story because I need you to hear me. But now, how does the second person feel? Oh, you didn’t take in what I said, so now let me kind of drive my point home a little bit more.

And now we’re just in the crazy making cycle now, because no one’s going to hear each other, but you got to be willing to slow down and say, you know what? Okay, let’s just go one at a time. What was that trigger? What was the emotion? What was the meaning? What was the protection? And then I would tell the other partner, slow down and really, like, let me make sure I’m understanding you. This is what happened. This is what it meant for you. This is how it made you feel, and this is what you were doing, and this is why you were doing it, because this is what you wanted to happen. Okay. Am I understanding you? Yes, you are. How could I help you with that? How can I be here with you? Am I really getting it? And just even doing that, the other person will be like, great, you hurt me.

And I’m not even saying solve anything yet. This is not the place. Like, well, I need you to take up the chore thing and this, and I need you to put that away. Not that part yet. Then the other person has their turn where they do the same thing, and then they’re able to share for what they need and what they were feeling in the moment. Have the other person take it in if. You’ll have a whole lot more success if you do one mission at a time.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:34:34]:
Yeah. Where the mission is to use temp to understand what one of you is feeling and then to do that comfort thing.

James Hawkins [00:34:45]:
Correct. Right? 100%.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:34:47]:

James Hawkins [00:34:48]:
Make sure one mission at a time means, do I understand what my partner was experiencing and what they needed when I hear them? And not just a need right now. It’s like a task yet or task like a chore or something like that. But do I understand what my partner experienced and can I respond to them with some form of empathy or comfort? And can they take it in? And once it’s like, yeah, they got it, then you can share and you can do the same thing, and then that’s one mission at a time.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:35:18]:
Got you. I’m so grateful for all of these tips that you’re giving our listeners. I don’t know if you have. I just am aware of the time, and I know we’re recording this kind of late, and I think it’s later for you because I have pacific time. So I don’t know if you have any final thoughts or anything you want to share.

James Hawkins [00:35:39]:
Yeah, no, for sure, one. Thank you. I know I could go all around the world about attachment, but at the essence, what it comes down to, if I was going to summarize this for the people that you’re listening to, is one, make sure you take some moments and you take a moment in time and really learn and go back and ask yourself some questions. What did I learn in my life growing up about my own inner world? And it’s not just emotions. It’s also your thoughts. Emotion and thoughts really go hand in hand. What did I learn about having my own emotions and my own thoughts? What happened when I showed anger, sadness, fear in your life growing up, when you were going through things, who did you go to? And what was it about them that made you go to that person? Because my guess is that’s probably the same thing you’re going to be looking for in life now. And you might say, well, there was nobody there for me.

But if somebody could have been there for that young part of you, how could someone have been there that would have changed your world? But here’s the hard one, too. In moments when people weren’t there for you, how did you cope with that? What did you do? Because my guess is that’s some of the things we’re going to be going to, even in our own adult life as well, to try and find comfort when we can’t connect to people. That’s one part is studying your own story and being curious about your partner’s story, too. And most couples do well. But the key, what I’m talking about here, and what we even do as clinicians is when you get emotionally flooded, what do you find yourself doing? In what ways do you get rigid? Do you find yourself as that withdrawal who shuts down? And the problem is not that the withdrawal is trying to do something good again. They want to keep things from blowing up. But when you shut down and give your partner no words, that’s a very distressful thing. That registers like abandonment and even what they say in research, a punch in the gut and rejection and abandonment registers in the brain the exact same way.

But also for the pursuer, while you might feel comfortable talking about the problems and going towards those things in the relationship, that sends a danger signal for your partner. So even for you is, can you study your own process and know, like, hey, I need to go to my partner. Instead of kind of pointing at you, you still need to talk about the problem, but go at it more with, hey, this is what came up for me. Here’s what I’m concerned about. Here’s what I’m hoping for. This is what I want to make sure that we’re able to address together. And even just changing that little bit of that language and some of that tone, if you can, I know it’s hard. That will already begin to decrease that signal for them as well, too.

And if you can work on one mission at a time to really, truly try and understand and be with each other, because what makes it hard for couples, why they don’t do one at a time, is in my moment of distress. I’m not quite sure if this process will keep you from hearing me out and getting back to me. So it makes it hard for me to just sit and wait and trust that the process will come back around to me. Right? Yeah, there’s so much more I could go on and on, but I guess that’s where I’ll leave it at with for now.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:38:50]:
Yeah. Well, there is so much to say, both just in terms of attachment, in terms of couples relationships, how then military life and the challenges of that. I do think we could go on and on and on and on.

James Hawkins [00:39:05]:
I’m glad you’re doing a series on this.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:39:07]:
Thanks. Yeah, me too. It feels overdue. I’ve been doing this podcast for probably like two years. I don’t know. It was a know. So it’s like time for an attachment series, I think.

James Hawkins [00:39:23]:
There we go.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:39:24]:
Well, Dr. Hawkins, if people wanted to contact you or they wanted to work with you, how could they get a hold of you? What are their options?

James Hawkins [00:39:34]:
I mean, if they’re out of the area. I do like to do intensives, and I have done intensive with military couples. They can reach out to me at dochawklpc@gmail.com. Or they could find me on dochawklpc.com, and then they could just fill out a form that would send it to me. Not a form, but it’s really like a request and tell me what they’re wanting or if they want me to come speak at an event at their base or something of that nature. Definitely do a good bit of that.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:40:06]:
Awesome. And an intensive, I do think I talked about intensives one time, but intensives are where you are with someone for a whole day or days or something like that, just really doing all the therapy in a few days versus once a correct.

James Hawkins [00:40:23]:

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:40:24]:
Okay, great. Well, I will be including those links in the show notes so people can click on it to find it and work with you if they want to.

James Hawkins [00:40:34]:
Thank you. Thank you, Liz.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:40:36]:
Thanks for being on the podcast.

As part of this special series on attachment in relationships, I created the ARE quiz. This quiz uses the brief accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement scale, which I used in my own dissertation research and I use with each couple when I start working with them in couples counseling. This quiz helps you and your partner know how secure your relationship is, the level of distress you’re in, when you should be considering marriage counseling, and what sort of behaviors you both can work on to help promote the security of your attachment bond. Make sure to check out the show notes to download a copy of the quiz. While I am a therapist, this podcast is for educational purposes only and is not considered therapy, and it should also not be a replacement for therapy. If you think you need a professional of any kind, you should definitely go find one. Until next time.


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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