A dismissive attachment style in an adult

An adult client, a professional man who was several years into his new marriage, came into therapy struggling with “Who am I?”  After a short time I found he would change the subject each time I got close to focusing on his thoughts and feelings.  This is typical of an adult who avoids placing any attention or importance on their own inner life — an adult with “dismissive attachment style”.

In such cases I usually ask whether the client’s partner might join us.  It helps get to core issues when I have a second safe person on board.  He agreed to ask her.  She was a social worker.

Next session the spouse joined us, saying, “I’m not sure why I came today.”  My client started chattering about some other topic — his usual response to anything risky.

Suddenly it struck me that he was avoiding his thoughts and feelings because she was a social worker.  I shared my thinking:  “I wonder if you brought her along so she and I would talk shop and stay safely away from your emotional stuff.”

A home run with that — and it laid the groundwork for future sessions.  Before leaving he warned me, “I might go to my grave without dealing with my feelings.”  I replied, “Yes, but that could get old for her.  Spouses like their partners available to work on issues together.”

Good work followed.