Hardwired for Connection

Attachment science has found that the longing for a felt sense of connection is a primary need, especially when threatened. Isolation is inherently traumatizing. Many people experienced this during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Just as losing connection with loved ones is traumatizing, disconnection with ourselves is so too. 

Our survival-oriented response may kick in and when it does our higher brain functioning is no longer “online”. When it does, we often start reacting in ways that are familiar to us and provide relief in the short run. However, in the long run we become more disconnected from ourselves and our ability to give direction to our lives. 

“A felt sense of safe haven connection calms the nervous system and primes emotional balance” (Johnson & Campbell, 2022). From this secure base, one can actively explore and learn. The more securely attached a person is, the more autonomous one can be. Securely attached people tend to be more emotionally healthy and resourceful.  

Separation distress is what comes up when connection is lost. As a result, there may be protesting (in the form of anger), or clinging behaviour. And if an attachment figure does not engage, depression, despair and detachment may come up.

Key questions in love relationships are “Are you there for me?, Can I count on you?, and Do you feel for and with me?” When these needs are not met, a person can develop an insecure attachment strategy, of which there are three: anxious, avoidant or dismissing and fearful-avoidant. 

Our past experiences tend to shape how we experience the world and ourselves in it. Insecure attachment leads to mental health issues. We can continue to react in an automated way based on emotional experiences of the past. And continue to reshape the future on our model of the past. Or we can decide to free ourselves from the bonds of the past.

Through corrective emotional experiences a person can become securely attached and have lasting change. One can become more open, responsive and engaging with self and others. This will enable a person to better deal with existential life issues and feel more alive. 

The process of becoming more psychologically flexible means that one becomes less reactive to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This enables a person to focus on what is more important and build a more rich and meaningful life. It entails that we become present thoughts and feelings that are alienated, frightening and acceptable within us, find rationality and order in it, not pathologize it. This process creates connections within a person that dissolves blocks and lets organic growth happen.

From that more secure base a person will experience the world with a greater sense of ease as the fight/flight response is not triggered. There is more resilience and sense of agency to give direction to one’s life. 


Johnson, S. M., & Campbell, T. L. (2022). A primer for emotionally focused individual therapy (EFIT): Cultivating Fitness and growth in every client. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/A-Primer-for-Emotionally-Focused-Individual-Therapy-EFIT-Cultivating/Johnson-Campbell/p/book/9780367548254

Written By:
Allard Mueller
Counsellor & Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling

Can you rebuild trust in your relationship after cheating?

There are two answers to this question, the short answer is ‘yes’ and the long one is ‘it depends’.
Infidelity can leave the betrayed partner feeling more than just hurt. It can create the kind of uncertainty and anger that makes them wonder if the relationship is even worth saving.

The good news for couples who want to rebuild their relationship is that it’s still possible. The work involved won’t look the same for both partners. As the one whose actions broke the trust, the unfaithful partners will have to take responsibility for their behavior now and in the future. The betrayed partner has a lot to consider. Ultimately, the decision to repair a relationship will be left to them, but the unfaithful partner needs to want it too, as only they know what they feel about being cheated on and if they think there is room to grow together and rebuild a very different relationship.

Rebuilding trust after cheating is a long and difficult process that requires work from both partners. Even if it’s tough work, there are healthy ways to do it. Couples counseling exists precisely for those who want to save their relationships. That includes recovering from an affair. It has to be spelled out loud that without ending the affair, there’s no way to regain trust. Unfaithful partners need to be proactive so that the affair doesn’t cloud the relationship they’re trying to save. Remember that the discomfort they feel is likely amplified for the person on the receiving end.

The journey to rebuilding trust starts in how conversations on infidelity are handled and the sincerity the unfaithful partner brings. There’s no way around it – accountability for the unfaithful partner’s actions has to be taken. When spouses cheat, there’s often a temptation to blame their behavior on issues in the marriage, real or otherwise. The problem here isn’t that one felt neglected, unappreciated, or unloved. Those can be real issues, but the actions one decides to take as a result are still their own only.

Without taking responsibility, there’s no room to grow, change, or do better. It can be one of the hardest steps, but it’s always the first one partners need to take. Apologize without invalidating your partner’s feelings and concerns and pair your words with actions. It creates the space needed to have the tough conversations in a safe, open, and healthy environment. The focus has to be on transparency, and the cheated on partner may ask a lot of difficult questions during these conversations. Infidelity happens in secret by nature. It’s only possible when the other partner is kept in the dark. Rebuilding trust means illuminating the shadows

Healing from an affair isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to consume your relationship. Part of rebuilding trust means doing the things that bring you closer together. Spending time with each other outside of heavy conversations is a good thing. It helps you focus on what you still love about each other, and the things that brought you together in the first place. Dr. John Gottman focuses on actions rather than words because trust is more than believing your partner. Trust has to be proven in ways that feel concrete.

Couple counseling can help as betrayal isn’t easy to process. Learning to trust is exactly that: learning. It’s a slow and challenging process, but it is possible. Professional help can guide you on the best ways to do it, and give you the tools to heal.

Written By:
Laura Spalvieri
Counsellor & Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling