“We now begin to see love as intelligible and malleable.  We will be able to shift from an obsession with the FALL part of love to the MAKE aspect of love, and make this more than sexual connection.  We can develop confidence in our ability to work with and mold our most precious love relationships.  This changes everything!”


Dr. Sue Johnson

The Message of Marriage Story Works… Everyday!

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(I don’t always keep up with what’s going on in popular culture – so this blog post may seem a bit late.)

The recent Netflix film Marriage Story had its share of awards buzz this year, and deservedly so. It hits home because it shows all the nuances of an unravelling bond. There are the rituals of care that any two lovers develop over time, for example her cutting his hair and his tidying up. We see the soft feelings, with the lists of “What I love about my partner,” as well as moments of loss and terrible pain throughout win-lose battles set up by the lawyers hired by the couple. Marriage Story shows how the sinews of a relationship remain, as the bones – the emotional connection that provides the real structure – melt away.

This couple have a shared life, with a child and a mutual passion for theatre, but ultimately what they have not guarded is their emotional connection.

This happens to so many of us.

Like the Paul Simon song “Slip Sliding Away,” we let this core element in our relationships just …….slip. We take emotional connection for granted or dismiss its importance. But this connection – the attuning to each other’s softer feelings and longings – is the core of love. This kind of sharing FEEDS the emotional bond that is love. In our EFT couple therapy sessions and in my book Hold Me Tight, my team and I show just how to help people bring this connection alive and hold onto it!

As a couple therapist, I found myself yelling at the screen, as a rabid hockey fan would at their losing team.

In the movie, Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, digs at her partner or just stays distant. Can you imagine how things might have been different if she had been able to turn and tell him, “I am afraid. I seem to be getting smaller. Disappearing. I need you to ask me what I want – to know that the longing in my heart matters to you.” 

And if only Charlie, played by Adam Driver, had been able to respond to her plea. Or if Charlie had said to her, “We are so distant. I don’t know how to fix it. I feel alone and a friend is coming on to me – can we talk about what is happening to us? Are we losing each other? I don’t want to lose you. I need you.” 

Both Nicole and Charlie’s statements would make up what we EFT folks call a Hold Me Tight conversation.

Regarding divorce, the movie got it right as to how the PROCESS of divorce, especially how the legal system, which in North America, at least, is an adversarial system of winners and losers, exacerbates emotional pain and works against the collaboration and closure that is in the interest of kids and their parents.

Do Charlie and Nicole still love each other? Of course they do. That is very clear, but they do not have what you need to keep and repair a bond.

We call it A.R.E., as in ARE you there for me? THIS is the key question in love relationships always. In numerous studies of bonding science and in EFT, we lay out the

(emotional) Accessibility

(emotional) Responsiveness, 

and (emotional) Engagement

 

that defines the security of the bond between lovers.

They have lost this emotional connection. Nicole rejects mediation because she has lost hope and lost her sense of trust in Charlie and their relationship. She sees him as obsessed with his career and almost indifferent to her needs and wants. She was also wounded his by having a sexual fling.

We don’t see exactly how the ARE in their relationship erodes, just the end result.

If they had found an EFT therapist, our studies – 20 positive outcome studies of distressed couples – tell us that we could have helped them to repair their bond in about 15 sessions. We could have showed them the way back to A.R. E, and to a Hold Me Tight conversation where they share hurts needs and fears in a way that pulls them closer and closer. So the answer to the question, “ARE you there for me?” would then have been YES.

No one needs to just let the script of Marriage Story run its course any more. We can understand, shape, repair and hold onto love. After 30 years it still leaves me a little breathless each time I say this!

This is good news, not just on holidays that celebrate love, but every day. And as the Sondheim song at the end of the movie says, love is what makes us truly ALIVE!


NEW book : Attachment Theory in Practice

for blog on book
for blog on book

 

Just read the amazing reviews for my new book for therapists and counsellors  – coming out January 2019 – Attachment Theory in Practice: Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with Individuals, Couples, and Families. They are beyond positive. Talking about how the book will have an impact on the field of therapy – and that every therapist should read it! Oh and commenting that it is easy to read even! This feels like sunshine on my face!

The truth is that this book has taken me 30 years to write – 30 years of listening to individuals  – couples and families – listening to therapists telling me how they get stuck – reading research results and watching tapes of people in therapy sessions and educational groups facing their vulnerabilities and walking through them to find balance, peace and connection with others. I have had so many teachers. (more…)


What small steps do you take to reduce stress in your relationship and boost your bond?

All the research from the last 30 years from the most potent therapy for relationship growth and recovery on this planet and the new research on building intimate bonds with partners says the same thing. To foster connection we need, not just to spend time together as companions, but to risk sharing softer deeper emotions and learning to hold each others feelings in a way that calms our nervous systems and gives us a felt sense of safe connection. In our research we call them Hold Me Tight Conversations. When partners can do this, a huge horizon of possibilities opens up for their relationship and for each person’s sense of confidence  – belonging leads to becoming.We are wired to thrive when we know that we can share our vulnerability with a precious other and the other can just be present and engaged – they just have to be there with us.

So Brett, rather than shutting down when he feels stung by a comment from Cali, takes a deep breath and turns Towards her rather than Away. He says, “ Heh, I really wanted you to see how hard I tried here – I so wanted to please you. I need your reassurance that you do see how I try.” As she responds warmly to this, he then shares the problems that are happening at work that make him feel “small”. Cali feels honored that he is risking and sharing and proud that she is the one  that can help him with these emotions. Then they share the differences between them and Brett’s problems are work suddenly seem unimportant.

These moments spark a sense of safety and love in our brains – they are coded as “HOME”. Everyone wants to come home to someone, and science is showing us how to do it.

 

(more…)


At The Heart of Health

 

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In September 2016, Cardus Family released an in-depth report called Marriage is Good for Your Health. The purpose was to examine whether the rumours were true: Did marriage actually have a positive effect on an individual’s health outcomes, both physical and mental, in the scientific literature? (more…)


The Future of Couple and Family Therapy : Attachment Science in Action

APA International Conference: Crossroads of Couple and Family Psychology 2017

- text of plenary by Dr. Sue Johnson – 

As Sol Garfield points out, there are now over 1,000 names for approaches to psychotherapy and 400 systematically outlined methods of intervention. How the “talking cure” as referred to by Freud, first called “psychotherapy” by an English psychiatrist, Walter Cooper Dendy in 1853, has grown. Throughout history we have had many different perspectives on mental misery, symptoms and problems, more and more abstract labels for these problems and lots of varying ideas about how to fix them. (more…)


 

whatiseft

 

EFT stands for Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.

This approach to seeing relationships – as an attachment bond – and shaping more loving relationships is leading the couple relationship field into a new understanding of romantic love. (more…)