Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

by Sue Johnson

Hold Me Tight contains valuable information from the long-term practical experience of Dr. Sue Johnson, a clinical psychology professor. She guides us to solving love problems and creating quality and happy relationships and marriages built on the foundations of deep emotional connection.

Summary Notes

Understand Emotional Attachment

“When marriages fail, it is not increasing conflict that is the cause. It is decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness, according to a landmark study by Ted Huston of the University of Texas.”

Loneliness elevates blood pressure to a degree that doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke. Hundreds of studies have shown that positive, loving ties with people help us manage life's obstacles.

According to Attachment Theory, our loved ones are our safe place in life. We find ourselves lonely and hopeless when a loved one is emotionally unavailable or unresponsive.

Lack of emotional responsiveness is the main reason marriages and relationships fail. When partners are disconnected for a long time, it leads to negative communication and interaction. This emotional responsiveness is composed of three components (A.R.E.):

  1. Accessibility - This revolves around the question: Can I reach you? It entails remaining open to your spouse even when you have concerns and feel uncertain. You should take a step back from the detachment and listen for your lover's attachment signs.

  2. Responsiveness - This revolves around the question: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally? It means paying attention to your partner and demonstrating their emotions, particularly attachment needs, and concerns, affect you. This also implies that you appreciate the emotional signals that your partner sends you and that you respond to his emotional needs.

  3. Engagement - This revolves around the question: Do I know you will value me and stay close? Emotional engagement refers to the type of attention we only offer to a loved one. We spend more time looking at them and touching them.

Actions to take

Stop the “Demon Dialogues”

“After a while, all it takes is a hint of negativity from a lover to set off a Demon Dialogue.”

The more emotionally distant partners are, the more destructive their relationships become. Researchers have uncovered several such harmful patterns, called “demon dialogues.

  • Find the Bad Guy: This refers to blaming the partner, looking for the culprit, and trying to protect ourselves. Over time, we get used to this behavior, and it becomes our behavior pattern; every time we feel bad, we look for a culprit instead of a solution.
  • The Protest Polka: This involves one partner reaching out, usually negatively, while the other steps back, and the sequence is repeated. We are programmed to rebel when we do not receive an emotional reaction from a loved one. The Protest Polka is about evoking a response that connects and reassures. Many couples who fall into this habit early in their marriage do not reach their fifth wedding anniversary.
  • Freeze and Flee: When the chasing, critical partner stops attempting to capture the spouse's attention and goes mute, the Freeze and Flee dance occurs. If this pattern continues, the aggressive partner will grieve the relationship and then leave. The extreme effect of this distance is the inability to feel positive emotions about our relationship as if we are frozen - no one does anything, and the relationship collapses.

Actions to take

Find Raw Spots

“We all are vulnerable in love; it goes with the territory. We are more emotionally naked with those we love, and so sometimes, inevitably, we hurt each other with careless words or actions.”

The raw spot is hypersensitivity caused by a person's past or present relationships in which an attachment need was repeatedly neglected, ignored, or rejected, resulting in the "2 Ds" — emotionally deprived or deserted. The “2 Ds” are two typical raw spots for lovers.

These sensitivities are typically the result of traumatic connections with significant people in our past, particularly parents, who provide us with our fundamental pattern for loving relationships, siblings and other family members, and past and present partners. 

For example, Linda expresses her disappointment when her husband, Jonathan, refrains from complimenting her. She becomes hurt and angry and so she attributes her sensitivity to her mother, who never praised her. Reacting to past wounds in the present relationship is a mistake. 

How do we know that we have hit the raw spot with the partner? The partner overreacts to our actions, or our words change the emotional tone and becomes agitated or angry. These reactions stem from our deep need for attachment and our fear of losing it. That is why it is crucial to understand the deep wounds from which our vulnerabilities and emotional overreactions originate.

Actions to take

Stabilize Instability in a Relationship

“We need to recognize how our usual ways of dealing with our emotions pull our partner off balance and turn on deeper attachment fears.”

Every relationship has unstable and rocky moments, conflicts, and emotional disconnections, but some couples cannot overcome them. 

These couples often fall into demon dialogues, a harmful behavior pattern in a relationship such as looking for the culprit, the Protest Polka, or Freeze and Flee. It's just that everything they do does nothing to improve the situation; they only cause more damage to their relationship.

Couples who successfully overcome such negative moments know how to pause, objectively evaluate the situation, describe and interpret the incident/argument together, analyze their behavior, and express their genuine emotions, fears, and needs. Finally, they know how to devise a different, more positive solution to the conflict.

Relationship conflicts develop because of a misunderstanding of underlying needs and fears that drive us to respond emotionally and adversely. This is why sharing our feelings is essential for a quality relationship.

Actions to take

Build Emotional Closeness

“To build and sustain a secure bond, we need to be able to tune in to our loved one as strongly as we did before. How do we do this? By deliberately creating moments of engagement and connection.”

After learning to spot the negative behavioral patterns that lead to frequent disagreements and conflicts in a relationship, we must focus on a critical component of every successful relationship or marriage: emotional connection and closeness. 

Hold me tight is a metaphor for dancing the tango with your partner and thus represents harmony in a relationship. 

Our feelings of connectedness are conveyed not just in our emotions but also in our cells. Research shows that when couples respond compassionately to one other, certain nerve cells in their brain's prefrontal cortex, known as mirror neurons, buzz. 

These neurons are one of the fundamental systems that allow us to experience what another person is feeling, and they are an excellent tool for developing profound love. So, emotional closeness is crucial for a good relationship, and we can cultivate it by sharing our deep feelings and thoughts with partners and being honest about our emotional needs.

Actions to take

Forgive and Heal

“Understanding attachment injuries and knowing that you can find and offer forgiveness if you need to give you incredible power to create a resilient, lasting bond.”

For the relationship to progress, it is necessary to recognize the reasons for the behavior that led to conflicts and arguments. Understanding why such behavior causes strong and negative emotions in our partners is essential. This can be achieved through honest and open conversation.

Partners should listen well to each other, express their deep emotions about the incident/ conflict, and show true understanding to each other. After opening up to each other, partners will be able to apologize and accept the apology - which is the basis for repairing the relationship.

When one partner sincerely apologizes and the injured partner sincerely forgives, they can easily discuss the needs of the wounded partner that need to be met for him to feel safe in the relationship again. Ultimately, they must find a way to prevent such emotional injuries from recurring.

Actions to take

Bond Through Sex

“In fact, good sex is a potent bonding experience. The passion of infatuation is just the hors d’oeuvre. Loving sex in a long-term relationship is the entrée.”

We may think sex is only about instant physical pleasure. But truthfully, secure attachment and fully satisfying sexuality are closely connected. 

Great sex comes from an emotional connection, resulting in a deeper emotional connection. Securely bonded couples are freed and confident in exploring and satisfying their sexual desires and sharing their deepest pleasures, longings, and insecurities.

According to the amount of relaxation and feeling of security in an intimate relationship, there are three types of sex:

  • Sealed-Off Sex - where the focus is on the discharge of sexual tension, and emotional closeness with the partner is in the background. There is no secure attachment to the partner.
  • Solace Sex - this approach to sex involves using sex as a consolation for insecurities and attachment fears. We use it to ensure we are valued and loved by our partners.
  • Synchrony Sex - the best sexual relationship that implies synchronicity of physical and emotional connection during sex. Partners are closely emotionally connected, they are each other's safe base, and therefore they can enjoy, explore and improve their sexual relationship without hindrance.

For a good relationship, we need to explore our sex life with our partner - to openly talk about our insecurities, desires, and what we don't like or like in our sexual life.

Actions to take

Maintain a Quality Love Relationship

“Couples who learned to reach for each other and create a more secure bond rapidly became skilled at solving the everyday problems that had plagued their relationship.”

A quality love relationship implies constant work on it. This work includes:

  • Recognizing potential problems - paying attention to a partner's feelings. If negative emotions are ignored and not discussed openly, it can easily lead to a bigger fight. We should not allow small problems to accumulate; instead, we should notice them and solve them.
  • Focusing on what makes us happy in love - this will help us increase the presence of positive moments in our relationship. We should say to our partner precisely what makes us happy.
  • Creating daily rituals that improve our relationship and emotional connection - this includes things such as holding, hugging, kissing, leaving short notes for each other, having breakfast in bed without the kids, taking some class together, celebrating special moments, etc.
  • Seeing the reasons behind typical arguments - through this, you’ll find a way to prevent them from happening again.
  • Planning and designing our ideal love relationship - once defined, you can now start taking actions that can lead to the fulfillment of that plan.

If we follow the advice given above, we will develop a strong emotional bond and emotional responsiveness, making our relationship better, more meaningful, lasting, and happier.

Actions to take

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