In the previous article, Gary D. Salyer, Ph.D. shares his insights that are contained in his book called Safe to Love Again: How to Release the pain of Past Relationships and Create the Love You Deserve. The foundation of a decades-long career is inspired by Attachment Theory as taught by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman. The book is not only conceptually brilliant, but has hands on, practical application for individuals and couples regardless of relationship status as well as technically savvy enough for therapists to incorporate into their practice. It belongs on the bookshelf of clinicians and could easily be used as a textbook for counselors in training.
What prompted your exploration into attachment theory?
At some point, I realized that basic NLP could take me only so far — which really irked me for a while. I had some of the new code, but not all. The basic model of NLP started by Bandler and Grinder was essentially devised from an objective and subtly ‘avoidant’ stance. As that dawned upon me, I realized that the model was limited by its early objectives. Essentially, Bandler wanted to do away with ‘psychology’ and threw out the baby with the bath water. As brilliant as NLP can be, brilliance is not enough to restore a mind’s ability to create deeply loving, lasting relationships. It takes deep capacity to connect to restore our brain’s original factory settings to love in deeply satisfying and committed ways.
That was where attachment research came into play. It’s the major field that’s all about deep connection. So, it was the logical place to begin as I began to advance upon the transformational techniques and perspectives of NLP. Then, as I traversed more and more deeply into attachment research, I realized that the marriage of the two fields could address a lot of unanswered questions in both fields. Attachment research allowed me to see how a brain not only is supposed to be wired, but how early experience wires the brain for love and all human experience before where NLP typically takes up the task of transformation, i.e., with all those limiting beliefs that come on from age 3 and afterward. In other words, attachment research allowed me to see the original ‘big bang’ moment for everyone’s brains when it comes to love and relationships. It’s like how the Hubble telescope allows us to peer deep into the cosmos to see the early moments of creation itself. If we can see how the brain gets wired in those early years, that’s the level where we want to work if we ever hope to restore a non-secure attachment style.
However, attachment research had its limitations too. I was summarily impressed and unimpressed by it all at the same time. For instance, the book Attached by Levine and Heller is about as paradigmatic as it gets here. The book offers a great summary and is long on description, but oh so short on prescription. The generic advice is typically, “marry a secure love style.” At one point I thought, there aren’t enough single secure love styles to go around because they usually get married and stay that way, and it sure as hell doesn’t seem fair to the secure. In fact, it struck me as ironic and oxymoronic that the authors were asking the secure to be what they patently would never be, and that is co-dependent in the ways they seem to suggest would be a panacea for especially, the anxious.
Moreover, those with avoidant attachment seemed to be getting a message, “you’re screwed.” There wasn’t much in the book beyond tactical remedies that were more makeshift than deeply transformational. Since I had experienced both anxious and avoidant love styles at different points in my life, I knew attachment research needed an upgrade here. If you add in the fact that academic attachment research has never been able to put together childhood attachment and adult attachment in a congruent, deeply and fine-tuned predictive way, that holy grail became my own. I knew if we could answer that question, especially given the stunning insights that Daniel Siegel’s work on early attachment addresses in The Developing Mind, then we would be onto something truly significant.
The key moment for me was when I decided to ask the question; How would I totally restore an anxious or avoidant attachment style to an earned secure style? The Strange Situation was the only baseline reference worthy of being my starting point. Whatever told those babies to be secure or non-secure by age 1 had to be my answer. Then, it was a matter of reconstructing whatever that ‘something’ was.
Strangely, this was exactly where my NLP training had a point of extreme relevance. My mentor stressed Neo-Reichian developmental psychology. Thus, I had been using the six rights that are posited by this group as a primary strategy in all of my client work. Three of those rights are put into play by age one, and each one has a primary reference feeling as my own insights from client work had taught me. Once I realized it could only be feelings welling up from implicit memory that determines an attachment style, and that I have already been using a model focusing on early developmentally derived feelings as my way to transform experience in a non-pathologizing, resourceful way, I realized that my own research and client work had stumbled upon a strategic conjunction between NLP and attachment research. That was the day my theory dawned upon me, in January 2013.
Later, I realized that the Gottman research had done nothing but ‘competency model’ the skills and mindsets of the securely attached. If I could tie early feelings to relationship patterns and then to specific secure couple skills, I could map out the arc of how a secure or non-secure attachment works from ‘crib to couple’ as I put it in the book. The ‘disasters’ as Gottman described them were patently either anxious or avoidant. Terry Real’s work fell naturally into the same prism of thought.
All of this was also deeply personal for me. What I did for my tribe, and my clients, I was doing on myself too. All that determination from early childhood wasn’t going to rest until I had everything that had been stripped of me during childhood. With each insight and re-imprint on myself, I experienced more and more of the road that leads from avoidant or anxious attachment to a securely loving mind and skill set. Seeing how that same road used the same milestones and road markers in the utter diversity of experiences from my clients helped me to clarify and verify my new attachment theory. Eventually, I let my clients validate each insight until it was all perfectly clear to me. That was when I allowed myself to write the book — when I knew it was clear and valid across multiple client ‘platforms’ if you will allow the metaphor from computers to stand.
Why don’t the standard lists of what we say we want in relationships measure up? Are they useful at all?
I talk about this extensively in chapter two. This is the part of the book most relevant for singles. While I wouldn’t say that standard lists have no use, as I say in the book, the research shows that lists and such compatibility strategies don’t have predictive value for lasting love. When clients train their brain to use the secure feelings to pick a partner, the truth is that they don’t need as much dating advice as they did before.
Here’s how I say it in the book on p. 26ff: Here’s the first thing you need to know when going online. When you use a list, you are using a mate selection system that your attachment system doesn’t use. That’s what’s wrong with so much online dating these days. Asking people to select a bunch of criteria and basing matches on those selections (the ‘lists’ so to speak) is not how your brain deeply knows when you are loved. It also very badly violates your brain’s own elegance principle for love.
One of the dirty little secrets for online dating sites is that they have spent years developing algorithms for predicting great mate selection, sometimes referred to as ‘chemistry.’ Yet, no matter how sophisticated the algorithm, the programmers for these sites now know after many years of tracking that who people actually go out and fall in love with is often unpredictable from their ‘selections’ and ‘preferences.’ In other words, these dating site programmers are mystified about how to predict real love between any two people.
You can read all about this in Christian Rudder’s peerless book, Dataclysm. He’s the former President of the dating site, OKCupid.com. It’s truly a very interesting ‘tell all’ about online dating. As Christian so honestly put it, “In short, people appear to be heavily preselecting for something that, once they sit down in person, doesn’t seem important to them.” That’s because when they sit down, their attachment systems and love styles take over. While they are at their computers, their attachment system is mostly offline for a bunch of reasons even though they are ‘online.’ Ironic, huh? Then when you are sitting in front of your date at Starbucks and talking over that first cup of shared coffee, the attachment part of your brain takes over the conversation. It’s as if your brain is saying, “I’ll take a cappuccino with a secure love style, please!”
The research by Dr. Ted Hudson at the University of Texas is also illuminating. Observing couples in a longitudinal study, Dr. Hudson discovered that ‘objective compatibility’ such as you find on many dating sites predicts almost nothing about long-term marital happiness. Lasting, happy couples didn’t accent their compatibility but rather, the quality of their relationship. It was the unhappy couples that blamed things on compatibility rather than attending to how well they got along with each other. In other words, compatibility is how couples explain a bad relationship when the actual problem resides in the ways they fail to attune and the feelings they give to each other. Relationship happiness is best predicted by the strength of a couple’s commitment and the quality of their relationship rather than ‘compatibility’ per se.
Here’s the bottom line. There’s simply a difference between ‘date selection’ or ‘compatibility’ versus knowing when somebody has the capacity to securely love you. So, am I saying not to date online? No. I’m saying know what it’s good for and what it is not. Online is about introductions. It isn’t true dating. Dates happen offline. Moreover, offline is where your love style kicks in big time.
To successfully date and find the soulmate you deserve, you will need to get in touch with the emotional compass points that your brain has used to know when you are securely loved since you were one year old. Moreover, you will need to feel them at your core. These four feelings must become your new Secure Reference Emotions for dating selection and relationship maintenance. When you use the feelings of Welcomed with Joy, Worthy and Nourished, Cherished and Protected, and Empowered with Choice as your new reference for mate selection, everything will change.
Is friendship at the core of any lasting relationship?
What Gottman calls the ‘marital friendship’ is shorthand for what I call The Four Feelings of Secure Love. Just show me a great friendship without them! I call this a GPS for a Better Partnership
Here’s what I say from the book, p. 45ff: Couples must also learn to use The Four Feelings as a way to navigate their relationships. When couples come in to see me, I usually take inventory on how strongly (or not) each partner is experiencing each of the four feelings of secure love. The couple research of Dr. John Gottman has shown that the key for all lasting couples is the quality of the marital friendship. Whenever I learn that more than one of the four secure feelings is missing, I know the friendship between them is suffering terribly.
The secret to improving their relationship is to enable the feelings of Welcomed with Joy, Worthy and Nourished, Cherished and Protected, and Empowered with Choice to flow easily as a natural part of their daily interactions with each other. The key is to work with the couple so that both partners have full access to all of their rights as well as the secure reference feelings that go with each right. Only after they have restored their rights to a better relationship can the marital friendship be healed.
For instance, let’s say that the feeling of Welcomed with Joy is missing. First, a couple must do the deep work so that both partners have a proper Right to Exist (and any other missing rights that may be affecting their relationship.) Then, and only then, do we work on specific skills like turning toward their partner when they make a bid for connection, attention or support. They must be taught to turn toward each other positively rather than turn against or away from each other in some negative way.
When couples learn to welcome each other with joy as a way to say, “I am here…so glad you are too,” that’s when the magic begins to return to their friendship. I will explore all of this in the upcoming chapters. For now, however, just notice which feelings you give each other on a regular basis. Also notice the feelings you would like to have in your relationship. The Four Feelings should become your constant barometer for understanding the ‘weather conditions’ in your relationship. The Four Feelings are not just a new GPS for dating, but for mating as well.