Over the next few weeks, we will be reading the book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. This book is divided into three major parts: A New Light on Love, Seven Transforming Conversations and The Power of Hold Me Tight. Today, we’ll discuss the book’s introduction and all of A New Light on Love. From there, we’ll tackle one conversation a week.
Dr. Sue Johnson opens this book discussing her own journey around understanding love. After all, if you were asked to define “love” – could you? As she studied couples facing conflicts, she began to realize something: the conflict itself (or the topic of the conflict) wasn’t what was causing the relationship to fail. Instead, it was the consequences of the conflict – the loss of trust and emotional safety – that caused couples to get trapped in negative patterns. This discovery lead her to develop Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, a unique approach to helping couples work through conflict that didn’t focus on traditional methods of teaching conflict resolution and instead focused on understanding the underlying consequences of existing and previous conflicts.
Part One: A New Light on Love
The first major section of Hold Me Tight begins with a fascinating history lesson. The first modern work around understanding the importance of love and emotional connections was focused on understanding the bonds between parents and children. We won’t go into it too much here, but I would recommend picking up a copy of Hold Me Tight, or searching the internet for information on John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth and Henry Harlow and their work with attachment theory.
The book moves on to discuss adult attachment studies – more psychologists are mentioned, like Phil Shaver and Cindy Hazan, who conducted a study that would inspired hundreds of others to examine adult attachment. They learned some pretty important things from these studies – basically, that feeling emotionally connected to our partners is empowering and also leads to healthy relationship habits like open communication.
Johnson also takes the time to discuss some physiological consequences that have been discovered from experiencing a lack of love or companionship. For instance, a variety of scientists have done studies concluding that loneliness raises blood pressure, and that that consequence can be experienced by people in relationships where they are distance from their partner. Scary!
After giving us some background as to why this is important and may be impacting us more than we think, Johnson digs a little deeper into some damaging patterns couples may be experiencing in their relationships. She calls them The Demon Dialogues and identifies 3 main ones: Find the Bad Guy, the Protest Polka, and Free and Flee. She also shares the sobering fact that couples who find themselves trapped in The Protest Polka have more than an 80% chance of divorcing within 4-5 years.
The section concludes with a concrete example of a couple named Peter and Linda, and some relationship troubles they’re experiencing. Johnson runs through a scenario and discusses different ways the couples can react, as well as what the short and long term consequences might be in each case.
Overall, this section is jam packed with information that’s important to any couple – whether they’re currently experiencing conflict within their relationship or not.