Later research revealed that grown ups need solid attachments just as much as children do.
Despite our culture's emphasis on the ideal of self-reliance, we don't thrive without close relationships. We need to be part of a group or community. For some people, their families are close and provide for this need. For others, they have to create a community. Some people do this through churches, as Rick Warren talks about in "The Purpose Driven Life." Others create "Urban Tribes," a phrase that caught on after a book by that title came out to explain this phenomenon. These days, many people create these communities on line and connect around common interests or beliefs.
Even when we are solidly plugged in to a social group, we all still want a particular person we can turn to when we are at our most vulnerable and exhausted. This is as true for adults as it is for children. One person needs to be the closest, the person we're attached most securely to. Dr. Johnson says that our romantic partner should be that person. Johnson says that, in a marital relationship, the partners should be each other's "primary attachment." This means our partner is the person we're closest to in the world. Johnson says that we all need to know that we can let our guard down and be vulnerable with our partner. That they can see the best and worst in us and not run away. We need to feel truly accepted for who we are, without masks or the brave face we show to the rest of the world.
She says that, just like when we're children, we need to know that primary attachment person will be there for us when we need them physically or emotionally. We need to know we can count on them, that they'll have our back, that they'll come running when we wake up from a nightmare, get sick, or are facing a personal crisis. When someone can't say for sure that their partner would be there for them, or if there has been a time when their partner wasn't accessible during a significant life change or personal stressor, they become fearful and feel alone. They question and doubt the bond they have and seek to reclaim the security they're missing. Desperateness for reassurance that they can trust their partner to respond to their needs can lead to demands, clinginess, efforts to control, or other behaviors that actually create more distance rather than greater closeness.
Like it or not, that's how strong our need for attachment and security is. When we're not sure who we can turn to, or if our primary attachment figure will be responsive to our needs, we live in a state of fearful preoccupation. We feel deprived and malnourished just as much as we would if we hadn't eaten for days. We are so uncomfortable that we become irrational, aggressive, hysterical, and hypersensitive while trying anything we can think of to get this emotional need met.
Dr. Johnson says our marriages should be safe places we can retreat to when we've had enough of the world and its demands and harshness, when we feel tired and beaten up. She says we should be able to trust our spouse aka primary attachment to nurture and care for us in ways that help us gain the strength to go back out into the world more able to handle life's challenges. This may mean hugs, listening, taking us out to dinner, giving us space to watch the game or work on a project, making us laugh, or any number of other possibilities.