What You Need to Know About Love

I am sitting in a restaurant shamelessly eavesdropping on a
conversation at the next table. “People who expect all this woo woo
stuff — love and closeness in marriage — are out of their minds,”
declares an elegantly dressed woman to her friend. “If you’re lucky in
love, you get a reasonable roommate and even that is just the luck of
the draw. No-one will ever figure love out.”  I can’t help myself. I
lean across the space between us and whisper, “No — that’s not true. We
really do know about the woo woo stuff. We have cracked the code of
love and you don’t need luck! We know how to do it!”

The new
science of love and loving has been evolving for over a decade. Now, as
we begin the 21st century, we finally know what love is about and how
it works. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • The need we have
    as children to be able to call to a special one and know that this
    person will respond with reassurance and comfort never goes away. To
    know that we are loved is the safe haven we all long for. The longing
    for this is wired into our brains from the cradle to the grave.
  • The
    strongest among us are not those who can take or leave other people,
    but who can risk and reach out to them. These individuals know how to
    send clear emotional signals that pull others close. And close
    connection makes us stronger. Many months after 9/11, survivors who
    were comfortable turning to loved ones seemed to recover well, while
    those who turned away or were scared about relying on others still
    struggled with the ghosts of that day.  
  • Our brains
    are wired to see emotional isolation as dangerous and send a panic
    signal when we cannot get a loved one to respond. If we can’t
    reconnect, we either shut down or get demanding. Both of these
    strategies can backfire and push our lover away.
  • When
    we have that special closeness to a loved one, while making love or
    just holding each other, we are flooded with a cuddle hormone, called
    oxytocin, found only in animals that are monogamous when they mate.
    Oxytocin gives us a sense of calm joy, while also  tamping down our
    stress hormones.  
  • Conflicts about the kids, sex or
    money don’t make or break a relationship. What really matters is
    emotional connection.  Underneath the discord, the real issue is that
    partners are questioning the security of their bond: “Are you there for
    me?” “Can I count on you to respond to me — to put me first?” When
    couples understand the fundamental issue, they can help each other
    reconnect. Then problems about the kids, sex or money are just
    differences, not relationship bombs.

Can this emerging
knowledge help you come to a better understanding of your love
relationship and build a closer, stronger and more trusting connection
with your partner? Yes! You can learn to send clear emotional signals
to your partner in a series of focused conversations that you can have
with your partner. These conversations are the central element of
emotionally focused couple therapy or EFT. This therapy doesn’t give
couples tips to tone down conflict or manuals on how to be nicer to
each other. It teaches partners how to express our most basic needs and
fears and how to engage in conversations that foster a secure, enduring
and loving bond.  

Twenty-five years of research tells us that
after EFT, 7 out of 10 unhappy couples are able to repair their
relationship. They are able to:

Step out of what I call the
Demon Dialogues where partners get stuck in spirals of negative
emotions and wind up shutting down and shutting their partner out, or
in becoming so demanding in an effort to counter the lack of connection
that they push their partner away. When you understand the emotions
that you and your partner feel, you can see these spirals of
disconnection as they are happening. Dealing with emotional
disconnection in a positive way is a huge part of making your love
relationship strong.

 Forgive the injuries and hurts that poison
love relationships and learn to trust again. If we understand the
exquisite logic of love — we can understand how to heal the wounds love
inflicts. The key moment in this forgiveness is when injured partners
look into the eyes of their partner and see that their pain is shared.
They are not alone.

But most important of all, these couples
can then create Hold Me Tight conversations. These positive exchanges
of loving responsiveness cultivate the close connection we all long
for. I recall one couple. “I get so freaked out when I hear that
disappointment or frustration in your voice,” Tim finally confided to
Amy. “I guess I just run. I talk about tasks or concrete issues to get
away from the feelings. I don’t know how to tell you that I go all
hopeless. A voice in my head says that I will never make it with you.
At these times, I need to know that you are my lady, even if I am just
blundering along and make all these mistakes.” When Tim is open like
this, he gives Amy what she has always wanted. She tells him, “I don’t
need a perfect Tim. I just need you to be with me, to share with me
like this.”

This kind of conversation creates the kind of safe
connection that we all need and is the formula, at last we have one,
for a lifetime of love.

Dr. Sue Johnson Written by Dr. Sue Johnson

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