This article was originally published on Healing Moments Counseling.
Note: All names and the characters are fictitious but resemble similar interactions that real couples have.
Understanding your partner’s dreams is a powerful way to make them feel known and seen.
In the 1-minute clip above, Dr. John Gottman shares advice he gave to a romantic partner to improve their marriage in just 30 seconds. He suggested that the key was to honor his wife’s dreams. Inspired by this advice, the partner went home and asked his wife, “What are your dreams?” To his delight, she replied, “I thought you’d never ask.”
One of the key foundations of a secure romantic relationship is called a Secure Base. According to attachment theory, a secure base is an attachment figure who provides a foundation of encouragement. This support allows for exploration and celebration of adventures, fostering confidence to venture out into the world and pursue new activities, even if they may seem scary, such as chasing a dream.
“A secure base is not a fortress. It’s a launching pad, a trampoline that lets you reach out, explore, take risks, knowing that you can count on the support and safety of your partner’s love.” – Sue Johnson
Met Sarah and Alex, a couple with two children who have been struggling with fostering a secure base in their relationship:
Sarah and Alex sitting on opposite sides of the couch, tension palpable in the air.
Sarah: [Frustrated] I can’t believe you always undermine my dreams! Every time I share my goals with you, you find a way to criticize or dismiss them.
Alex: [Defensive] Well, maybe if your dreams weren’t so unrealistic and impractical, I wouldn’t have to say anything. It’s like you’re living in a fantasy world!
Sarah: How can you say that? I thought you were supposed to be my partner, my biggest supporter. Instead, I feel like you’re tearing me down every chance you get.
Alex: Maybe if you listened to reason for once instead of chasing after impossible dreams, we wouldn’t be in this mess. I’m tired of your unrealistic expectations.[The tension rises as Sarah and Alex exchange hurtful words, unable to find common ground.]
This heated exchange is a negative pattern of criticism and defensiveness that pulls the partners farther apart, leaving them feeling unsupported, unseen, and not cared for. They feel more like enemies, then life partners. From the outside it’s sad because both partners yearn for each other to support their dreams.
Like Dr. Gottman shared above, honoring your partner’s dreams and having your partner honor yours enriches your relationship.
The Importance of a Secure Base in Romantic Relationships
According to attachment theory, here are a few ways to create a secure base in your intimate relationships:
- 1️⃣ Supporting Personal Pursuits: Be there for your partner, supporting their hobbies, career aspirations, and personal activities. Show them that you’re their biggest fan.
- 2️⃣ Engaging in Meaningful Conversations: Ask questions to truly understand what makes your partner’s goals and dreams meaningful to them. Show genuine interest and curiosity in their aspirations.
- 3️⃣ Active Listening: When your partner shares their hopes and dreams, listen attentively and remember them. Follow up on their dreams and demonstrate your commitment to their growth and happiness.
- 4️⃣ Sharing Interests: Take an interest in your partner’s studies or communities. Show that you value their intellectual pursuits and encourage them to explore new areas of interest.
- 5️⃣ Celebrating Resilience: Recognize and celebrate your partner’s ability to overcome challenges and showcase their strength. Be their unwavering source of belief and support.
In couples therapy at Healing Moments Counseling, the couple was able to slow down and begin to share their emotions in a softer way with each other:
Sarah: [Voice breaking] I thought we were in this together, that we would support each other no matter what. But it feels like you don’t believe in me or my dreams.
Alex: [Regretful] I’m sorry if I’ve been dismissive. I guess I’ve been so overwhelmed with my own fears and insecurities that I took it out on you.
Sarah: It’s not just about me, Alex. It’s about us, our dreams as a couple. I need to feel that you’re by my side, cheering me on, even if things seem challenging.
Alex: I understand now. I don’t want to hold you back. I want to be there for you, to listen, and to support you in pursuing your dreams, even if I don’t fully understand them.[Sarah and Alex take a deep breath and decide to approach the conflict with empathy and understanding.]
As Sarah and Alex began repairing their relationship and building a secure base, something beautiful happened. They realized that by nurturing their connection, they could pursue their dreams and goals with newfound confidence and support.
In embracing the principles of attachment theory and nurturing their secure base, Sarah and Alex found that their relationship became a springboard for pursuing their dreams. They learned that with a secure base, they could face challenges and achieve their goals, knowing they had the unwavering support of their partner by their side.
“In a secure relationship, you don’t have to choose between attachment and autonomy. You can have both.” -Dr. Sue Johnson