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The Marriage Podcast for Smart People

The 5 Pillars of Attachment

We talked a lot about the 4 predominant styles of attachment in episodes 251 to 254. Attachment is basically the science of love, and in the marriage counseling world, it’s one of the core issues that we’re interested in working on when we are looking at how spouses are relating to one another. As we discussed in previous episodes, there are four styles of attachment, and the best style is called secure attachment. In this episode, we’re going to talk about the five pillars of secure attachment that make up that style of relating to others. 

Review of Attachment

For a quick review, attachment is the science of love, or more specifically, the secure emotional bond established between two people (either in a parent to child relationship or in marriage). With a secure attachment style, you can create robust, healthy relationships, and the people in those relationships, your spouse and children, will be best positioned to thrive and grow. A default attachment style is formed within us as a result of the bond during infancy with our primary caregiver (often our mother). Generally, that attachment style becomes the default for how we bond with our spouse through courtship and into marriage. 

It is possible to change one’s attachment style, but for 68-75% of the population, the childhood attachment style persists into adulthood[1] and only about 40% of people are securely attached (which is the best style to have). Most people don’t realize that it’s possible to change styles, or that they need to, which is why we want to tackle some of these conceptual topics in today’s episode.

5 Pillars of Attachment

The five pillars of attachment are:

A sense of felt safetyA sense of being seen and known (attunement)The experience of felt comfort (soothing)A sense of being valued (expressed delight)A sense of support for being and becoming one’s unique best self.[2]

We’re going to start each one with how a parent does it for a child and by extension how when a child becomes an adult, they extend that for their spouse, and how they can extend that to their spouse today.

1. A Sense of Felt Safety

Parent to Child 

Safety comes from consistency, reliability, and protection. Consistency and reliability are about predictability. Are you present and available in a dependable way, when your spouse needs you (or was your parent)? If a parent was unpredictably available, you probably felt you could never be sure so you needed to check in regularly to see. This leads to an anxious attachment style. 

If a parent is able to consistently respond to their child’s emotions, needs, and wants, the child will experience a sense of felt safety. On the other hand, if a child grows up in a home where their parent flies off the handle unpredictably, this can lead to an attachment injury even if the parent is always there because the parent is not consistently available. It’s important to note that just because you are unavailable at one particular time does not mean the child will not have a secure attachment style. No parent is perfect, and as long as a parent’s response to their child is understandable and predictable most of the time, then the child will have a sense of felt safety.

Protection is also not helicopter parenting. All children have small injuries such as cuts and bruises; providing a sense of safety does not mean parents need to prevent their children from experiencing any level of pain. Protection does mean taking care of adult concerns without exposing the child to them. Children should not feel responsible for other adult concerns (e.g. financial instability). And of course, parents need to pay attention to adult-level threats such as serious physical hurt, inappropriate sexuality, etc. 

A child should always be protected from serious threats such as physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Failed protection means the child develops memories and feelings relative to their primary attachment figure that a...
The Marriage Podcast for Smart People


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