About 100 million couples break up and 50,000 couples file for divorce each year, so we can say with confidence that relationships are hard. Despite these disheartening statistics, there’s still hope in the romantic landscape (I promise!).
The key to a lasting relationship — the x-factor that allows relationships to thrive — is emotional connection.
An emotional connection is a feeling of intimacy and emotional alignment between two people that goes deeper than physical attraction, fun, and surface-level conversations. It’s a connection of the “soul” — whatever that may mean to you — and feeling secure that the connection is safe and goes both ways.
Based on the tenets of Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) developed by clinical psychologist Sue Johnson, the answer to relationship longevity and vitality is a safe and secure emotional connection. According to Johnson, close connection and the ability to be separate and be self-confident are two sides of the same coin.
We may be tempted to dismiss this theory, thinking there’s no way the myriad of relationship problems and stressors can be solved by “connection”. In fact, it’s an educated proposition that aligns with modern science and psychotherapeutic research. As Johnson herself puts it: “Emotional connection is the virus, conflict is just the inflammation.”
Neuroscience, more specifically studies of brain scans, has found a powerful link between secure emotional connections and the capacity of individuals to be resilient and calm in the face of uncertainty or distress. For example, researchers have found that when individuals underwent MRI tests in the presence of their romantic partner, the fear centres of their brains were soothed and calmed and they were better able to face the situation. EFT is built upon this set of ideas and findings.
For over 30 years, EFT has established itself as the most empirically validated model of therapy for treatment of marital distress and relationship tension. Nearly 75% of distressed couples who undergo EFT experience recovery and about 90% report major improvements in relationship fulfillment. There is also an increasing wealth of evidence to suggest that this modality can also be an effective treatment for mental health challenges like anxiety and depression.
This is a big question — and it’s a question that we’ve solved! Based on the principles of EFT, the prime ingredients for creating a safe and secure emotional connection are Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement (A.R.E).
“I wish they would’ve just spoken up and told me” — I can’t tell you how many times I hear this in my therapy sessions. But sometimes we don’t consider whether or not we made ourselves accessible to our partners, or whether they felt safe to speak up. Ask yourself:
It’s not enough to be physically present, one must also be emotionally attentive. Ask yourself: Am I responsive to my partner’s emotional needs? This can look like validating and acknowledging the emotions and lived experiences of the other person. (And it can be very easy to respond to the subject at the expense of the emotions behind it.) Without emotional responsiveness, resentment and disconnection can start to fester in your relationship.
Being emotionally attuned to and invested in your partner means being present, available and attentive. It’s not enough to go through the motions of listening to our partners when they’re expressing their emotions, we must practice empathy and fully engage with our partners, putting ourselves in their shoes. So often we can be passionate about problem-solving for our partner and have all the best intentions while remaining emotionally checked out. Are you fully engaging with your partner?
If you find that you struggle to maintain healthy connections with all of your romantic partners, you can always give up. After all, this relationship stuff is hard! But as a human being, you — and every other human on the planet — are wired for connection. Emotional isolation is a primer for helplessness.
A safe emotional connection can help you solve the puzzle of relational chaos. EFT offers a roadmap to connection and long-lasting and meaningful relationships. An EFT-trained therapist can help you learn how to be more accessible, responsive, and engaged with your romantic partner and other loved ones. Never underestimate or give up on connection — reach out if you need help.
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