Relationship Tip: Emotional Connection 101

Emotional Connection 101

Do you ever wonder what emotional connection is? If so, you are not the only one! I am excited to call myself an Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist for a number of reasons. The main one; however, is because Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is based on the new science of love, and it is proven to help 7 out of 10 couples repair (or build) their emotional connection (Johnson, 2009). So what is emotional connection?

 Sue Johnson described it best: EMOTIONAL CONNECTION IS A FELT SENSE OF CLOSNESS. That sense of closeness is coded in our brains as SAFETY.

SENSE OF SEPERATION OR ISOLATION on the other hand, is coded as DANGER. That is all because we are mammals, and mammals are attaching animals who are born helpless and need to be attached to others.

Did you know that this need to safely attach to someone who can offer us comfort, support, and safety is literally wired in us? And, in fact, this need to attach is even more primary than aggression and sex.

Did you also know that to be connected to a spouse makes you stronger and more resilient? When I know that my husband has my back, I am more willing to go out into the world and take risks because I know that if I fail, he will be there to “catch me”/support me.

Unfortunately, too often, people believe in the opposite…that to be closely connected to their spouses appears “needy” or “too dependent” or immature.

Did you know that emotional closeness to others TURNS ON the cuddle hormone—oxytocin—and oxytocin TURNS OFF the stress hormone, cortisol?

If a couple is emotionally close to each other, and they do have a safe, emotional connection, they are able to be emotionally ACCESSIBLE, RESPONSIVE, and ENGAGED with one another. They can SEND clear emotional signals to each other, and they can RESPOND to these signals.

For example, a CLEAR EMOTIONAL SIGNAL is when I tell my husband that I miss him and want us to spend time together. He RESPONDS by not only spending time with me, but by also understanding and empathizing with my feeling of missing him. An UNCLEAR EMOTIONAL SIGNAL is when I tell my husband that he is never home and he doesn’t care about his family anymore. He RESPONDS with saying that he works hard, and says that he doesn’t know how to make me happy anymore. Can you see (and feel) the difference?

Now, when a couple experiences emotional disconnection, as opposed to emotional connection, any conflict, disagreement, or even a difference in opinions can cause a major relationship distress. If partners are unable to tune into their emotions and needs, and ask for what they need, they are destined to deal with these feelings alone. Well, dealing with distressful feelings in isolation can be quite challenging, so couples usually start developing ineffective ways of coping with these distressful feelings.

Usually, one partner copes by getting more demanding and angry about what they need, AND the other partner deals by moving away and trying not to need anything. This is how Demon Dialogues start. If you would like to read more about these dialogues, go back to my posts from April, May, and June of this year.

One of the things that you can do with your partner tonight is to talk to them about how emotionally connected you feel to him/her. A.R.E. QUESTIONS might get you started. Please remember that if you have been disconnected for a long time and your level of distress in the relationship is high, this conversation might be difficult to have. Therefore, I gave you some ideas of how to soften this conversation.

A.R.E. QUESTIONS:

  1. Are you there for me? To soften it ask yourself honestly and share your answer with your partner: Am I there for you? (Remember, are you there for your partner in that emotional way…not “I helped with the chores” way.)
  2. Do I matter to you? To soften it ask yourself: How do I let you know that you matter to me?
  3. Can I reach you? To soften it ask yourself: Can you reach me emotionally when you need me?
  4. Are you accessible, emotionally available to me? To soften it ask yourself: Am I accessible and emotionally available to you?
  5. Can I rely on you to respond when I need you? To soften it ask yourself: Can you rely on me to respond to you when you need me?
  6. Will you engage with me, give me your attention? To soften it ask yourself: Can I engage with you and give you attention?

How did you do? Feel free to let me know! If you ever need help with having these types of conversations with your partner, give me a call. I would be happy to help you rebuild your emotional connection with your partner!

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