Safe and secure marriages and long term relationships bring overwhelmingly positive benefits to our health and happiness. Children in secure and safely connected families are healthier and are much better at adjusting to life’s vagaries. Unfortunately, about 40-50% of American first marriages end in divorce, and the rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. On the average, men living alone die about eight to 17 years earlier than their attached male friends, and women living alone die seven to 15 years earlier.
It does not have to be this way … it is now possible to have the love we all need. There is a now a scientific understanding of love; we can now say why we need it, how to keep it alive and how to repair it when it goes awry. It is not a mystery that is unsolvable or happenstance. We know. for instance, that “love is a basic survival code, that an essential task of our mammalian brain is to read and respond to others, and that it is being able to depend on others that makes us strong” (Sue Johnson, Ph.D., Love Sense, 2013)
There are several provocative new findings:
- The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to seek contact and comforting connections.
- Adult romantic love is an attachment bond.
- Hot sex doesn’t led to secure love, rather, secure attachment leads to hot sex — and also to love that last.
- Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological; it is our greatest strength.
- Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another.
- We are not created selfish, we are designed to empathic. Our innate tendency is to feel with and for others.
I was drawn to studying this new science of love because I went through experiences similar to everyone else’s. I married a good man, and we started a family. We worked hard and wanted the best for each other and our boys, but love seemed to slip away … life seemed to get in the way. Loneliness researcher John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, contends that in Western societies, “Social connection has been demoted from a necessity to an incidental." Since both of us had married before, we were determined to work this out. In fact, one of our vows was to do to anything it took. Unfortunately, we had fallen into a typical pattern of discontented lovers, what EFT calls “recrimination and withdrawal.” We couldn't quite seem to reach each other often enough. We were out of step with each other, and we could feel it. A formerly bright light in our life had dimmed. Unhappy, we went for the usual fixes: reading, hand picked therapies (I was an successful psychotherapist, after all), and interventions. I sought out all the experts, but after several rounds of different models of therapy we were actually worse. We felt even more distant and even separated for a short time … this encouraged by one therapist. Our boys were confused, and although they did not get into any big distress we all fought more and were often problem solving without any clear direction. I was just surviving. If I scratched down a layer, I was sad and feeling defeated. Stressed and alone I would blame my husband, Mike, or myself. As Dr. Johnson says, “Distressed partners no longer see each other as their emotional safe haven. Our lover is suppose to be the one person we can count on who will always respond.” Instead, I felt rejected, alone and despairing. From the new science of love we can see that fights are frightened protests against the lack of connection and demands for emotional reengagement. I was also not happy with how I was raising my sons. I felt that not showing love in my relationship with Mike was a poor model for them. Everything I had tried hadn’t worked.
“Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples and Families” (EFT), came into our lives serendipitously, after a particularly disastrous program of therapy. A colleague in Utah then suggested EFT; he had read that it was the most successful and only form of therapy with any real science … with solid evidence-based and peer-reviewed testing demonstrating that it worked in 75% of couples over long term, and even in difficult situations.
We immediately enrolled in a Hold Me Tight workshop, an introduction to EFT.
Mike says he learned that emotional dependency is a positive thing … not something pathological, and that our negative cycles are just the way things are. Getting into difficulty is not the problem. Everybody is going to get into fights; we learned that they are are bids for connection and to engage emotionally with each other … being present when the other needed and asked for connection. First we recognized what our negative cycles looked and felt like. We then discovered what our tender spots are, the underlying deeper distress, and learned how to make it safe for each other. We started to really engage and connect with each other and what that really meant. Finally, we learned how to get out of our negative cycle and move into our heart when we were most afraid and hurt … we could then go through a time of forgiving each other for past injuries and pain.
That was five years ago. Now we are reaping the benefits of bonding. What I learned is that happy relationships depend on a deep trust; that we each matter to each other and that we can depend on each other to respond. We now know that, “Love is a constant process of tuning in, connecting, missing and misreading cues, disconnecting, repairing, and finding deeper connection.”
I have been studying and applying the model ever since that first workshop. I am have Advanced standing with the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) and will be soon certified and move into supervision. This, after having been a successful psychotherapist for many years.
We had to untangle what we had learned from our early attachment relationships and what we had created between us. But it was incredible easy when what we were trying to do made sense to us. The most often refrain I hear from my own clients about EFT is that ‘this makes sense’.
Jonathan Larson, the late composer and playwright, put it well in a song from his musical, Rent, that asks the measure of “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,” a year in one’s life, The answer: “Share love, give love, spread love…Measure, measure your life in love.” Nothing else really does make sense.