It’s that time of year to give thanks for our families and loved ones; to take time for gratitude for what we have and what we deeply appreciate about ourselves and our lives.
If your relationship is suffering and you wish you were feeling more grateful for the love, intimacy and closeness you you were experiencing, maybe I can offer something. A gift for this season:
Couples therapy has the power to move you and your partner into a whole new way of relating to each other. Therapists and researchers have now identified the one key ingredient – the make-it-or-break-it element that, more than any other, defines our love relationships. I have watched couples who are giving up on their relationship learn about this element and learn to use it to turn hurt and chaos into a caring connection. It is simple in it’s description, but challenging to do at first. It’s the ability to be emotionally open and responsive.
When we can dial into the emotional channel and tune into our partner’s emotional cues and show how these cues move us, this IS the connection, the answer to rebuilding what feels broken
Take for example, when a child runs to us, eyes wide with fear. We move closer, bend down, let ourselves feel in our own body what we see on their face, and we say softly, “It’s OK. I am here. Are you scared? I understand. ” The child holds onto us for a moment; then, they smile. There is a connection. There is safety.
Does this seem too simple? Perhaps. But neuroscience is proving that bonding experiences create safe connections that help to overcome most couples challenge. This is the kind of moment that answers the key question in love relationships: “Are you there for me?”
To use an example:
Peter tends to withdraw when he senses that Annie is hurt and disappointed in him, This leaves Annie so alone that she is permanently disappointed! What blocks Peter’s ability to respond reassuringly?
Michael tends to withdraw when she senses that Avery is hurt and disappointed with him. What blocks Michael’s ability to respond reassuringly? His fear – the one we all have that makes us so vulnerable in love, the fear of rejection and abandonment. So he moves like lightening into self-protection, shuts down and turns away.
Imagine what happens when Michael and Avery can slow down and talk about how afraid they both are, and how they trigger each other into a kind of angry mess. Imagine the magic that happens when Michael turns back and says, “Is this the moment when you feel that I am indifferent and uncaring? I really don’t want to turn away and leave you feeling alone. I am worried you are permanently disappointed in me and you can’t see my worth. I’m scared to lose you. But I wish I could tell you how important you are to me.” She moves closer, bends down, softens her voice and invites Michael into a safe haven of connection. In these moments in session connection is and the transformation begins.
There are no substitutes for this emotional responsiveness. Partners try to offer logical advice, ” Why don’t you meditate or count to 10 when you get upset, then you will be calmer and nicer to me” But it is the emotional support and connection that is needed to keep love alive and the relationship vital.
It takes courage to tune into and respond to our partner’s emotional messages especially when they are sparking our own defenses and anxieties. It helps to remember that we are humans are designed to tune into their partner’s verbal and non-verbal signals, both positive and negative, simply because we are bonding animals whose deepest need is to belong with another. In our example, I might suggest that Michael remember, when he feels like turning away from Avery and is dismayed by her anger, that she is angry because his comfort and support matters so much to her; to remember that his turning and responding to her emotionally has the power to pull her into loving connection, instead of cold withdrawal.
In the session, Michael says to me; “You mean, all I have to do is keep the emotional channel open and respond on this level, even if all I can say is “I don’t know what to say but I don’t want you to hurt and I am going to stay here and try to respond, and things will be better?” I reply, “Yup.”
I have helped couples to find their way back to each other by opening up the channels of vulnerability, empathy and attunement. Would you like to have the comfort of knowing your partner is really there for you, emotionally and physically? Let’s see what we can create together. I practice Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy designed by evidence-based research in this field by psychologists Sue Johnson, PhD. and Les Greenberg, PhD.