Couples walk into my office with all kinds of issues. Sometimes it’s fairly simple stuff like: “Can you help us communicate better?” Sometimes, it’s way more complicated than that. Whatever the case, I use all my years of experience, training and expertise to help. And then sometimes, I watch my favorite TV show “This is Us” and it nails in just a few scenes what I spend session after session trying to help couples understand and fix. I’m about to save you hours of therapy and money by encouraging you to watch one episode of “This is Us.” You’re welcome.
What marriage concept did the show nail? Attachment—the hard-wired, innate need in all of us since we were born to feel securely connected to another human being. It’s the primary need in all of us that starts out as needing a caregiver to wrap us in a swaddle and rock us to sleep as infants. It turns out, our attachment need never goes away, but merely shows up differently as adults. In marriage, attachment becomes the need we have to feel that our partner is there for us, they have our back, they are there when we need them, above everyone and everything else. Not every minute of the day. Not all the time. But when it really counts, we can depend on them. When attachment to a spouse feels threatened, even in the slightest, most subtle ways, all heck can break loose.
When couples come in for therapy, their “attachment” to their partner feels threatened. Now, they would never say this is the problem. Most likely, they say something like, “We fight a lot,” “We are just two different people now,” “We struggle to communicate,” “We don’t have the same sex drive,” “We really differ on how we parent,” “Her in-laws are awful,” or “His job consumes him…” and so on and so forth. They never say, “My attachment to my spouse feels threatened.” But, I can usually read between the lines and figure it out. Then we work hard on getting that feeling of security and connection back—some of the foundational pieces of attachment. Research shows us when couples feel securely attached, they report high marital satisfaction.
Back to “This is Us.” Let me set the stage…Kate and Toby are a newly engaged couple on the show. In this specific episode, Kate opens up to Toby about her insecurities in her relationship with her mom, Rebecca (Mandy Moore’s character—which still really freaks me out that someone younger than me plays a grandmother in a show #AmIReallyThatOld?). She feels judged, criticized and inadequate in her mom’s presence. Without her knowledge, Toby lets Rebecca join him for Kate’s first singing performance and Kate is pissed. After the show, Kate confronts her mom about her insecurities. And then, there is the pivotal scene. Mom/Rebecca and Fiancé/Toby have a chat about Kate. Even though he desperately wants to be in Rebecca’s good graces, he says:
“As much as I want you to like me, you need to know that I am Team Kate for life. That’s the deal here. So I can’t have you putting me in a position where I bring you to a show that she doesn’t want you at and you can’t ask me to side with you, ok? Because, I’m Team Kate. Fo’eva. That’s how this works.”
It gave me chills, ya’ll. Not because it was just so romantic, which it was. But because he nailed the concept that so many couples struggle with, the fear that their partner is not on their side or on their team.
I use the “team” concept a lot in therapy. When life happens, you are either on the same team or opposing teams. You are either together or divided. Notice, I did not say you are always in agreement and live in perfect peace and harmony together. That would be insane. A marriage lasts when two people hit all that life throws at them, on the same team, the same side of the court, together.
Now, Toby could have been judgmental, “Kate…come on, you are making such a big deal of this” or he could have been defensive “It’s not my fault she came with me, how was I supposed to know!” He could have tried to fix it…”Now you know, Kate, what you should do is tell your Mom to get off your back.” No. What he did was so much more powerful, so much more permanent, so much more impactful. He just said “I’m on your team,” “I’m here,” “You can count on me,” “I’m here for you, above everyone else.” Yep, he nailed it.
What does this mean for YOUR marriage?
Find a way this week to BOLDLY let your spouse know you are on their team. It could be a praise “You did a great job with our son’s meltdown” or “Your boss is lucky to have you.” It could be asking questions and being curious about their latest work dilemma or extended family quarrel. It could be just simply saying, “Hey, you know I’m here for you right? You don’t question that do you?” It could be giving them some reassurance, “Hey hon, I know I’m super consumed with PTA right now, but you know you are more important than that, right?”
Finally, if there is distress in your marriage, ask yourself “Does my attachment to my spouse feel threatened?” OR something a little less clinical, like “Do I feel like he has my back? Do I feel like I can depend on him?” You could also ask yourself “Do I sense that her attachment to me feels threatened? Does she feel like I have her back? Does she know I’m here for her?” If you feel a little uncertain or unsure about these questions, your marriage may be in need of a little CPR. It could be that an honest, open conversation is needed to get back on the same page. It could be that a good ol’ fashion date night or weekend away could get you back on track. But…it might be that this feels a little more dire, and if a few episodes of “This is Us” doesn’t solve all of your problems, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mentor, trusted friend, pastor or marriage counselor.
- There are times “This is Us” is just as effective as therapy.
- When couples feel securely attached, they feel happy in their marriage.
- Couples who thrive handle issues as a team, rather than opposing forces.
- Letting your spouse know you are there for them and on their “team” is more powerful than solutions, advice, perspective, explanations, or logic.
- Distressed couples usually have a break-down in the security of their attachment to each other.