At times, do you experience the following description: “Partners criticize to evoke responses from each other but end up pushing each other away, or they shut down and withdraw to avoid rejection, and end up shutting each other out and elicit fears of abandonment.” (Susan M. Johnson, Attachment Theory In Practice, p.396)
All couples experience times of disconnection that can be perplexing and even despairing because the ways each one reacts to the other seem unavoidable, leaving both feeling helpless and hopeless. But what seems inevitable and discouraging is actually predictable and manageable if the pattern or cycle is understood and new patterns of connection are experienced.
The work of Dr. Sue Johnson, who originated emotionally focused couple’s therapy (EFT), has given couples insight, choice, skills and hope to break out of established patterns to make close emotional connections with one another. Based on the observations of behavioral scientists researching attachment behavior from infancy through adulthood, emotionally focused therapy provides an understanding of how we experience close connections with those we love.
Attachment theory which underlies EFT recognizes the need for a felt sense of connection for couples to experience closeness, understanding, and love. EFT then helps couples to see negative patterns and responses as “desperate attempts to connect with a partner or to stave off the threat of imminent rejection and abandonment.
The problem is essentially a pervading sense of emotional disconnection and ineffective attempts to remedy this.” (Johnson, p.395).
Three Ways to Experience Emotional Closeness
This article will describe three ways we experience emotional closeness with loved ones, which EFT fosters, and how Christian counseling supports these connections.
Research confirms that infants make secure attachments with primary care-givers who are accessible to them. (https://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html). An infant, when distressed, learns whether a parent or caregiver is reachable by reading the facial cues, eye contact, attunement, bodily and verbal responsiveness of a caretaker.
Spouses experience emotional closeness and feel loved when their partner is reachable, as bids for connection are acknowledged. Accessibility of a spouse answers the question, “Are you there for me?” Accessibility says, “I’m here. You can reach me.” Being accessible can mean a prompt response to a question, showing I’m attuned by giving my full attention, or simply by acknowledging the other’s bid.
ResponsivenessIt is one thing to acknowledge another’s bid for attention or connection. It is another to respond in a welcoming way. The responsiveness of a spouse answers the question, “Do you care about my feelings and respond to my needs?” in the affirmative,
Responsiveness begins with acknowledging my spouse’s feelings and moves to addressing the particular needs paired with those emotions. For instance, if my spouse expresses sadness, my responsiveness addresses the underlying need of comfort or contact by providing a hug, verbalizing a reassurance, describing sorrow for him/her.
Engagement includes pursuit by inquiring, demonstrating interest by attending, tracking, reflecting and mirroring by paraphrasing the emotions and needs my spouse just expressed. Engagement affirmatively answers the question, “Am I important to you? Do you care to know me?” Staying engaged requires energy, focus, and awareness of one’s own inner and outer reactions to one’s spouse.
Christian Counseling to Cultivate Emotional Closeness
Christian counseling affirms that the desire and goal of accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement in marriage is a reflection of God’s desire to pursue humanity and to offer relationship to us, ultimately through Jesus. We were made for connection with God and with others. Love is giving oneself for the good of the other, demonstrated in Jesus’ self-giving for the world on the Cross.
To imitate him is to live a life of sacrifice for others (Ephesians 5:1-2). Part of the expression of love between spouses is being accessible, close by; being responsive to needs and being engaged, present and pursuing one another.
Counseling can help to model, teach and sharpen these choices, as well as identify why one may readily engage in the patterns of disconnection, like past trauma or reverting to one’s old nature. Christian counseling will support the value of emotional connection as part of our created design and the power of Christ and the support of His body to enact the choices necessary to sustain close emotional connections.
If you and your spouse are interested in making deeper and more secure connections in your marriage, please contact me, and I’d be happy to help you.
“Don’t Let Go”, Courtesy of Everton Vila, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Hannah Busing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Spring Love”, Courtesy of Mickael Tournier, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Waiting”, Courtesy of Thomas Kinto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License