It hurts when we feel disconnected from our partner. In fact, when our partner shuts down or turns away, our brain codes this as danger and pain. Researchers have found that the feelings we get when we experience rejection from someone important to us are identical to physical pain! So, yes, it does hurt when we don’t feel our partner is there for us.
John Gottman, a psychologist in Seattle, tells us that 85% of all communication is miscommunicated, and that happy couples are actually making constant, often small and relatively effortless, repairs with each other. Sue Johnson, psychologist and founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for Couples, states that without these ongoing repairs, we lose attunement with our partner our emotional balance; we can start to feel anxious and depressed. Sue often states that the best cure for depression is a secure attachment!
EFT can help you feel more securely attached to your partner. An EFT therapist does this by first identifying the pattern of communication that derails your connection. Here’s an example: you might begin to feel unimportant to your partner when you see him or her spending a lot of time on the computer. Down deep, you feel sad about this, and a longing to spend some time together, but what you actually express to your partner might be irritation. In turn, your partner reacts to your irritated comment by becoming angry himself and making a sharp comment back to you. This pattern between the two of you, this Attack/Attack dance, serves to push you even further from each other.
The important thing to remember is that this dance is actually fueled by a longing for closeness and a feeling of sadness at not being important to your partner in that moment. In EFT, the therapist helps you to discover these more vulnerable longings and express them to your partner, instead of the irritation or anger. In a way, it’s a more honest way of communicating because it gets to the heart of the problem. People usually respond to vulnerable feelings and longings by turning toward each other, not away from each other, and it’s a lot easier to connect that way.
Sometimes we might know about a pattern we have with our partner, and then it happens anyway. After all, the pattern has probably been happening for many years. That’s when making a repair can be important. You can catch yourself, and then say to your partner something like, “I almost made a sarcastic comment to you just now, when I really down-deep just want to feel closer, to know I matter to you.” This kind of repair can go a long way toward minimizing the impact of a negative pattern and bringing you a closer connection to the person who means the most to you.