Friday, August 12, 2011

Hold Me Tight


I'm reading a book called Hold Me Tight, which puts forth a new way of counseling couples in crisis. It's written by Dr. Sue Johnson, a marriage and family therapist who has created something she calls "Emotionally Focused Therapy" (EFT) and which is producing some extraordinarily successful results. She makes the claim--and the first portion of the book supports it pretty well--that our view of couples too emotionally dependent on each other is misguided. Fused, undifferentiated, neediness, codependent are all bad words today, when in reality that's exactly what a healthy couple ought to be.

But only in the "good" sense. Obviously both individuals in the couple need to be healthy, independent persons in their own right. But at the same time, she says there's been way too much emphasis on conflicts in a marriage being solved via negotiation, compromising, and learning how to fight effectively because these don't acknowledge the central purpose of what a marriage is really all about: attachment.

Attachment, she says, is a scorned and frequently overlooked human need. It's just as essential to our total well-being as food, warmth, or air. We all know that babies who aren't held fail to thrive. Johnson claims that doesn't change just because we reach adulthood: adult humans require attachment too. In presenting various case studies, Johnson is able to demonstrate how virtually all conflicts in a marriage can really be boiled down to fear--fear of losing the one we are attached to.

The healthiest couples, she writes, are the ones whose attachment to each other is understood by each person in the couple to be unshakeable, no matter what. No matter what may happen, they know they each have the other's back. There is complete security that the other person isn't going anywhere. If they go away, there's trust they'll come back. If something awful happens, any fear that thing will be the last straw or the deal-breaker is fleeting, because the couple handles crises by affirming their attachment to each other. In short, each person feels safe.

People nag, act out, cheat, lie, act passive-aggressive, get jealous, all of that when, at some deep level, they feel the relationship is jeopardized. What most people actually need is not so much negotiation and compromising and new agreements and how to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements (all of which is fine, but it isn't what they MOST need)--what we most need is reassurance, reassurance that the relationship is solid.

We sabotage our own relationships when we tell ourselves that needing our own partner is childish and bad. It's the needing itself that should be nurtured. Needing each other is what makes unbreakable bonds.

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