It might have been, wait for it, my mother’s fault! My mother was, at once, the most delightful, engaging, loving woman and the most ruthless, dominating she-wolf you could ever meet. Learning the rules of engagement was vital, and I got to watch as my father tried but constantly failed to do this. As the two people I loved most in the world emotionally ripped each other apart, night after night, I moved from being anguished to mesmerized. What was this desperate drama all about? How did it work? As a six year old, sitting on the stairs in the dark, listening to the fights, I wanted to figure it out. I announced this to my granny who laughed and told me that no one had ever figured love out. So, of course, I decided I had to do it!
Early on, I started to note the moves made by the flirting and fighting couples at the bar in the pub we owned. Friday nights were the best. Everyone got paid and so they also got drunk! I couldn’t put together any real pattern in the conversations, but I did get that there were moments when the emotional music and the steps of the dancers shifted dramatically in tone and color. I just didn’t know what this meant.
Then life went on; we left the pub and I grew up, emigrated to Canada, and decided to become a psychologist. I worked with many different kinds of people and problems, until, one day, I walked into my first couple therapy session. And there, waiting for me, was the same mesmerizing drama I remembered. Only this time, I was supposed to be able to help people out of it! To cut a long story short, I along with my students and colleagues did figure out how to do this. To the point where our interventions, called Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT, are now taught worldwide and 16 outcome studies testify to their positive impact on couple relationships.
More than this, I found myself part of an amazing group of academics who were bent on actually cracking the code of romantic love. We had the help of pioneering psychologist John Bowlby, who changed all our ideas about bonds with children and parenting, but died in 1990 before his vision could be applied to adult lovers. In the last 20 years, the map he gave us to the bonds of love has shown us the patterns, the organizing structure of connection and disconnection that my childhood self knew was there but could not see.
Surprisingly, this new knowledge, that some of my colleagues call “attachment theory” and others the “love secret,” knowledge that seemed to me to be as momentous as the discovery of gravity or DNA, met with a resounding silence. It remained a faint whisper in all the noise about sex and sentiment that constantly told us all how mysterious adult romantic love was. The clichés about love seemed to drown out all the studies and the “sense” that so many of us had worked so hard to discover.
I began to write indignant letters to papers when they published misleading articles about love and couple therapy. It became more and more frustrating to watch people with no map determinedly driving over a precipice, while standing with my mouth open, pointing to the straight, tarmacked road that leads home to the love we all long for.
So, it was obvious. I had to veer from my comfy academic path, turn up the volume of the message and find a way to get the new science of love out to the public. I wrote a bestselling book for the public called Hold Me Tight about the pivotal conversations that help people build secure loving bonds. I even created a very successful relationship education program out of the book. But somehow it still felt to me like the message wasn’t getting across.
I wanted people to know that there was a new science of love and loving; that they didn’t have to base their most precious relationships on hearsay and opinion. They didn’t have to just “fall” in and out of love. They could learn to make the love their hearts ached for. I wanted people to know that love made sense.
So I wrote Love Sense. It is a book about the revolution in the science of love and bonding. It is a book full of hope for a species whose brains are, above all, wired for connection and belonging. It was a challenge to capture the intricacies of the heart, to turn the studies, framed in academic language, into a story that everyone would understand. But this is a topic and a story that everyone does already understand deep in their souls, and I was inspired to give the sense we have made out of love a voice.
The struggle has to have been worth it. What is more important in our lives than our most precious relationships? They are the basis of our happiness, source of our greatest strength and the ground our human families are built on.
And anyway, the little girl who sat in the dark listening to her parents fight, just had to know – and knowing – had to tell.
(Originally posted to The NOOK Blog)