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  • Unveiling the Journey: Exploring the Stages of Emotional Attachment

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    I have considered emotional connections in relationships for the past few weeks as it is a topic that comes up with almost every couple that I work with.  Along with communication, this is the most common issue that comes up when couples are seeking marital therapy with me. 

    It has been well-researched that good communication is a foundation that supports solid emotional connection, but how does the process work? 

    What ingredients may be included in creating emotional attachments, and what happens if those steps are skipped or deteriorate over time? 

    Further, what do relationships look like when some of these steps or ingredients are missing? 

    After reviewing Dr. John Van Epp’s Relationship Attachment Model (RAM), I decided to weigh in on how this works in a more applicable approach.

    Keep reading to learn about the different stages of creating a strong emotional connection:


    This step is the simple act of getting to meet and know another person. This may be through repetitive casual greetings and interactions or more in-depth conversations over time. 

    Interacting with the person at the grocery checkout lane may allow you to exchange pleasantries. Still, it offers little opportunity to get to know the cashier and share information about yourself.  If you were to go to the same checkout lane every week over the course of several years, then you may eventually build a connection with the cashier. You are left as casual strangers if you take knowledge from the relationship. Thus, this is the first and foundational step of building an emotional connection. 

    Over time, shared knowledge and experiences make the relationship feel connective, which is often why couples describe the onset of drifting apart as being in an unknown time period. 

    For couples looking to deepen the knowledge and understanding that they have of their partner, consider sharing new experiences through travel, taking a lesson together, exploring a new culture, or sharing your passion for an individual self-care activity.  

    These steps can help foster new and shared learning experiences where knowledge of your partner can grow. 

    Trust/ Confidence

    Once we get to know another person, we develop trust.  The person becomes more predictable and we can expect that person to behave and feel in specific ways based on that trust. 

    If trust is damaged or violated, as in the case of affairs, the relationship does not immediately dissolve, but challenges form, which may not be repaired based on the individual’s history with relationships and attachment. 

    It is possible to have relationships where trust only exists, for example, with the bus driver at your children’s school. You trust this person will arrive on time and safely take your children to and from school.  You may know nothing about the driver, but a high level of trust still forms the relationship. 

    Trust is a feeling that develops first when we are babies and begin feeding and develops throughout our entire lifespan, indicating that it can be damaged and still repaired. 

    When trust has been violated, taking time to repair and empathy is vital. Using more active listening skills and asking questions that are attentive to emotional disclosures will help repair fractures and deficiencies with trust. Additionally, avoiding questions that include “Why” or “Should” will reduce defensive responses from your partner.


    In this stage of building emotional attachment, we begin to feel our needs being met by the other person. 

    Not only is there a feeling of predictability that helps set our expectations, but we also begin to allow the other person’s thoughts, feelings and actions to influence our thoughts and responses.

    A relationship where reliance is diminished becomes very one-sided and may leave the other partner feeling ignored or disinterested. Most frequently, when I hear a couple describe distance in a relationship, reliance has been challenged and each partner has found external and alternate sources to meet and fulfill their needs. 

    When couples struggle to rely on each other, it can feel as though your needs are not being met. Include in your conversations the statements of “I Feel…”,  “Because…”, and most importantly “I Need…”. 

    Using this three step format clearer maintains focus on what you are requesting from and need from your partner. 


    Committed action typically will develop sooner than committed emotion.  

    Showing up for a date represents committed action but does not indicate a strong emotional connection. Commitment requires a person to begin to make sacrifices and compromise with their partner. 

    Well-balanced relationships depend heavily on each partner’s willingness to commit to their partner emotionally, providing the space in the relationship for growth over time. 

    One of the most challenging aspects of commitment is when the couple is raising children. It becomes very difficult to differentiate commitment to our partner from commitment to the family because each partner is still making sacrifices and compromises. 

    On the other hand, overly committed partners become dependent on their partner and enmeshed in the relationship. 

    Increasing commitment to your partner includes another active listening skill to help differentiate when your partner needs empathy versus sympathy. Concluding conversations with your partner by asking, “Is there something you need from me?” or “How can I help you in this situation?” will determine if your partner needs your committed action or is just venting frustration. 

    Physical Contact/ Intimacy

    Physical intimacy is the final stage of building that strong emotional attachment. 

    While physical intimacy can exist between two people without any other elements of emotional connection, it is typically the final stage of developing an emotional connection.  

    People may share the benefits aspect of “friends with benefits” without even knowing the other person. However, in the couples counseling setting, it can be more challenging to repair and recover trust, commitment, and reliance than to repair the physical intimacy in the relationship. 

    Managing anxiety and frustration over decreased intimacy can be helped along when we separate physical intimacy from sexual intimacy. 

    Physical intimacy can be shared by first committing yourself to occupying space with your partner. Through COVID, many individuals were required to distance themselves from other humans, including carving niche spaces in their own homes to isolate for work. The simple act of being in the same room together can now feel awkward, and we need to confront that anxiety and challenge ourselves to re-connect with other people, especially our partner.

    When I examine each of these elements or stages with an emotionally disconnected or distant couple, I typically use scaling scores to rate each facet of the relationship. This provides the best feedback as to where the repairs are most needed and creates awareness and attunement to how these concepts feel within the relationship from week to week.

    Assessing or rating each of these relationship parts allows me to provide the best, most directive services possible. It can easily be done by anyone working on developing and maintaining a healthy, emotionally connected relationship. 

    If you find yourself struggling to feel emotionally connected with your partner, know that you don’t have to go through it alone. Our therapists at Solid Foundations Therapy are here to help you! Visit our website at www.solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today.