In my blog called Why Relationships Fail, I presented Dr. Sue Johnson’s argument that most fights are actually protests against emotional disconnection. I shared the first three steps from her Emotion Focused Therapy, which help couples build a platform for emotional safety by halting or containing their negative patterns.
This week I will share how to take this a few steps further and create a new, secure sense of emotional connection with your partner.
Dr. Johnson’s proposes couples conversations in her book Hold Me Tight that are specifically designed to help partners engage, forgive and bond with each other. In doing so, they are essentially rewriting the script of their relationship.
Emotional Connection: What is it?
But first, what is emotional connection? It’s an overused term that means many things. In this context, emotional connection is not just affection, terms of endearment, or closeness in day-to-day living. Rather, it is the knowledge that your partner empathizes with you and will turn toward you when you need them. Emotional connection is the kind of primal safety you get from knowing that you are seen, valued, and comforted in your most vulnerable moments.
This kind of safety is crucial to the foundation of relationships. It increases partners’ ability to problem solve as well as cope with power struggles, disappointments, and transgressions. When couples feel their partners are there for them, they are more resilient, and less likely to think in catastrophic terms.
I would go so far as to say that emotional connection is the number one factor in building healthy relationships.
Emotional connection: Four Key Steps
If you don’t feel your partner cares about your feelings or, conversely, if you think you have turned away from your partner, try the conversations below to restore your connection. (Please notes these are more effective if you do the first three steps beforehand).)
1. Engaging and Connecting
Understand your own attachment needs by asking yourself the following two questions: “What am I most afraid of?” and “What do I need most from my partner?”
Are you afraid of feeling overwhelmed, out of control, alone, misunderstood, unloved, or needy? Be specific.
Then, speak openly about your needs in a way that invites your partner into a new dialogue. For example: “I want you to accept that I am more emotional than you. When I’m upset I want you to touch me.” This process must be reciprocal.
2. Forgiving Injuries
Unresolved traumas do not heal on their own. They must be confronted and healed together.
But what exactly is forgiveness? Forgiveness is not a moral decision, nor is it acceptance of transgressions. Rather, it is a healing conversation that involves deep empathy, accountability and the willingness to trust again.
Here are some steps you can take:
- The partner who is hurt speaks their pain.
- The injuring partner stays emotionally present and acknowledges the pain, remaining curious.
- The hurt partner commits to reversing the “never again” philosophy that came from the injury, by allowing their psyche to update the script. For example, the hurt partner will let go of: “Never again will I seek reassurance from you.”
- The injuring partner takes ownership of the injury, and expresses regret and remorse. This cannot be defensive or detached, like “Look, I’m sorry, ok?”
- The hurt partner identifies what they need right now to bring closure to the trauma. Ask directly.
Together both partners create a new story about the trauma, the impact it had and–most importantly–how they confronted and began to heal it as a team.
3. Bonding through Sex and Touch
Move away from sex that is primarily about seeking orgasm, sexual power, or reassurance of your value or desirability. Instead, create a sex life that is built on emotional openness, responsiveness and erotic exploration all at the same time.
To do so, first answer these questions for yourself:
- What helps you feel emotionally safe in bed with your partner?
- What are your four most important expectations of intimacy?
- What do you like?
- How do you like to be seduced?
- What makes you the most uncomfortable?
Share these things with your partner. Then, using this information, you can each answer the following statement for each other: “If I were perfect in bed, I could, I would _______ and then you would feel more _______.
If this conversation is too hard at first, then just begin talking about the difficulty you are having.
4. Maintaining your progress
To take your growth into the future, make the time to follow these steps:
- Recap the danger points in your relationship, ie. where you slide into old habits,
- Celebrate the positive moments, big and small,
- Plan rituals around the moments of separation and reunion,
- Identify recurring arguments and deciding how to handle them up front,
- Create a “resilient relationship story” (rewriting your script), and
- Create a future love story. Outline what you’d like your bond to look like years from now, and how you can each make this vision a reality.
If you would like more in-depth descriptions of these healing conversations, see Dr. Sue Johnson’s book on Emotion Focused Therapy called Hold Me Tight.
Otherwise, try these steps with your partner. It is truly possible to change the default mode of your relationship and find true, safe connection.
Let me know how it goes in the comments below. I love hearing from you!