Emotional Focused Therpay
The Science of Loving
What is Love? Fifty years of research into human bonding and thirty years of lab research into helping couples connect has taught us something. Love only exists in the context of real relationship. It is not an idea, a poetic gesture or a feeling. Think of babies and the instantaneous natural love and affection we feel towards them. We want to care for them and are ready to attend to their physical and emotional needs. This is love. The bond, the connection, the readiness to show up and be present, attentive and attune to the other’s needs. We are hardwired for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others. From cradle to grave we long for this connection. It is essential for our survival and the driving force of the security a baby seeks with its caregiver. The opposite of love is isolation, not just physical isolation but emotional isolation as well. It is traumatizing for human beings. When we sense unresponsiveness the brain codes it as danger.
Making Sense of Couple Conflict
Rachel is sharing an important event with her husband and he looks at his phone and reads a text. “I was waiting for you all day, you’re finally home and you can’t even put your phone down for a second”? she yelps. “Seriously’? Dovid mumbles under his breath as he rolls his eyes. “Why can’t you just disconnect from your phone for a bit? Is it too much to ask”? she says. “You think I’m reading this text for fun? It is probably work related. It would be nice if you can understand and appreciate the hard work I put in for our family’s sake” he says while walking away. She follows him, and things escalate…
With a map to the territory called love we can now understand the dances of disconnection and conflict. When Rachel was sharing the story with Dovid and saw him looking away at his text, the survival alarm went off. She might not have realized this unconscious threat of isolation. Had they been guided how to form a secure bond this alarm might have not gone off as much. However as most of us, Rachel and Dovid were more connected and responsive to each other in the beginning of their marriage, but their level of attentiveness dropped off over time. Inside, she just wanted to experience his care for her, which was disturbed by his attention moving away from her to his phone. Why could she not just explain to him that she longs to connect? The answer is that we don’t come into marriage without insecurities. Rachel felt insecure that if she would explain to Dovid that she is longing to connect he would see her as a nagging clingy wife. This, she feared, would drive him further away not closer. This coupled with the danger alarm was responsible for her anger and the snide remark.
Dovid, like Rachel, also misses the state of the relationship as it used to be. The little notes of appreciation are a thing of the past. When he hears Rachel’s criticisms his threat alarm goes off as well. He does not want things to escalate. To him, this can lead to more disconnection and conflict. He tried to get her to appreciate him but the tone of his voice and walking away signaled annoyance and abandonment. She does not interpret that his walking away was to preserve the relationship by avoiding escalation. To Rachel the message was “I want to avoid you”. Confirming her insecurity. To protect himself from his own insecurity Dovid is not aware and therefore cannot express to her how hurt he was by her comment and how he feels like he can never get things right.
For years, therapists have attempted to resolve couples' fights by teaching them problem-solving and communication skills. But this is like offering directions to someone stuck on the side of the road in an overheated car. It ignores the attachment issues that are crippling the bond itself. Rather than conflict or control, the issue is emotional distance. What's frustrating to people is not knowing how to bridge that emotional distance. When couples are engaged in a way that puts their bond and longing for connection front and center, they immediately begin to unite. The common goal is connection. It is no longer “me against you”. The joint adventure of dropping into their hearts and sharing what they long for feels natural. Couples begin to see that the “hurtful” behaviors of their spouse were really an attempt to get closer. Albert Einstein once said Learning is experience, everything else is just information.” EFT facilitates experiences of deep emotional connection. As these repeated deep emotional experiences of connection occur the couple feels secure in their bond. A look at the cell phone or expressions of dislike do not threaten the relationship and the abandonment alarm does not go off. When couples feel a strong secure bond, they feel energized and affirmed rather than depleted and isolated. Fortunate are they and fortunate are their children who get to be raised in such a loving caring environment.