“We now begin to see love as intelligible and malleable.  We will be able to shift from an obsession with the FALL part of love to the MAKE aspect of love, and make this more than sexual connection.  We can develop confidence in our ability to work with and mold our most precious love relationships.  This changes everything!”


Dr. Sue Johnson

The Message of Marriage Story Works… Everyday!

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(I don’t always keep up with what’s going on in popular culture – so this blog post may seem a bit late.)

The recent Netflix film Marriage Story had its share of awards buzz this year, and deservedly so. It hits home because it shows all the nuances of an unravelling bond. There are the rituals of care that any two lovers develop over time, for example her cutting his hair and his tidying up. We see the soft feelings, with the lists of “What I love about my partner,” as well as moments of loss and terrible pain throughout win-lose battles set up by the lawyers hired by the couple. Marriage Story shows how the sinews of a relationship remain, as the bones – the emotional connection that provides the real structure – melt away.

This couple have a shared life, with a child and a mutual passion for theatre, but ultimately what they have not guarded is their emotional connection.

This happens to so many of us.

Like the Paul Simon song “Slip Sliding Away,” we let this core element in our relationships just …….slip. We take emotional connection for granted or dismiss its importance. But this connection – the attuning to each other’s softer feelings and longings – is the core of love. This kind of sharing FEEDS the emotional bond that is love. In our EFT couple therapy sessions and in my book Hold Me Tight, my team and I show just how to help people bring this connection alive and hold onto it!

As a couple therapist, I found myself yelling at the screen, as a rabid hockey fan would at their losing team.

In the movie, Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, digs at her partner or just stays distant. Can you imagine how things might have been different if she had been able to turn and tell him, “I am afraid. I seem to be getting smaller. Disappearing. I need you to ask me what I want – to know that the longing in my heart matters to you.” 

And if only Charlie, played by Adam Driver, had been able to respond to her plea. Or if Charlie had said to her, “We are so distant. I don’t know how to fix it. I feel alone and a friend is coming on to me – can we talk about what is happening to us? Are we losing each other? I don’t want to lose you. I need you.” 

Both Nicole and Charlie’s statements would make up what we EFT folks call a Hold Me Tight conversation.

Regarding divorce, the movie got it right as to how the PROCESS of divorce, especially how the legal system, which in North America, at least, is an adversarial system of winners and losers, exacerbates emotional pain and works against the collaboration and closure that is in the interest of kids and their parents.

Do Charlie and Nicole still love each other? Of course they do. That is very clear, but they do not have what you need to keep and repair a bond.

We call it A.R.E., as in ARE you there for me? THIS is the key question in love relationships always. In numerous studies of bonding science and in EFT, we lay out the

(emotional) Accessibility

(emotional) Responsiveness, 

and (emotional) Engagement

 

that defines the security of the bond between lovers.

They have lost this emotional connection. Nicole rejects mediation because she has lost hope and lost her sense of trust in Charlie and their relationship. She sees him as obsessed with his career and almost indifferent to her needs and wants. She was also wounded his by having a sexual fling.

We don’t see exactly how the ARE in their relationship erodes, just the end result.

If they had found an EFT therapist, our studies – 20 positive outcome studies of distressed couples – tell us that we could have helped them to repair their bond in about 15 sessions. We could have showed them the way back to A.R. E, and to a Hold Me Tight conversation where they share hurts needs and fears in a way that pulls them closer and closer. So the answer to the question, “ARE you there for me?” would then have been YES.

No one needs to just let the script of Marriage Story run its course any more. We can understand, shape, repair and hold onto love. After 30 years it still leaves me a little breathless each time I say this!

This is good news, not just on holidays that celebrate love, but every day. And as the Sondheim song at the end of the movie says, love is what makes us truly ALIVE!


Touch and Tango… In a Feminist World

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As someone who loves to dance Argentine Tango, I was drawn to this this recent article in the New York Times about how feminists in Argentina are reshaping tango. Here is my take on the views expressed in this article about the patriarchal culture of Tango and issues like “How much touch is too much?”

 

First, PLEASE don’t let’s get all politically correct and get vigilant about “touch” in tango. Tango is a CLOSE dance: you have to literally feel your partner’s body cues. If you want to avoid intimate touch, then best to choose another dance. That being said, in 15 years of dancing I have never experienced inappropriate touch on the dance floor anywhere in the world. After all, the dance floor is a very public place.

 

And, yes, there is a machismo culture in tango, especially in stage or performance tango, which is what the public sees most. This tango is all totally choreographed dramatic moves filled with phoney romantic angst and presents a parody of cliched romantic passion. But real tango, called Tango de Salon, is all about connection, like real love relationships. When done well it is all about attunement and responsiveness, and it is improvised in the moment. The dance is sensual, but not sexually charged, per se.

 

In terms of same-sex couples dancing together, the negative views expressed by the gentleman quoted later in the article are out-of-date and even bizarre, since tango started in Buenos Aires with men dancing with men. There were just not that many women around when the thousands of working immigrants streamed into that city early in the 20th century and merged their European music and dance styles with the songs of the gauchos and the black slaves.

 

For myself, I love dancing with women. They are often gentler and more focused on the connection, and I love watching two men dance – it has a different quality but it is still intimate play. This again is just like love relationships, gay or straight: a love relationship is all about emotional connection and moving together.

 

Given that in a typical milonga (a tango dance social), female dancers often outnumber males by at least two-to-one, the place many women feel demoralized and “less than” comes from the tradition of cabaceo, where the woman must sit and wait until the man signals non-verbally that he wishes to dance with her. This passive role and the lack of active choice does not seem to fit with modern female empowerment. Some of us break the rule and just stand up and go ask a man to dance. To do this, you have to be okay with the fact that they may refuse, hence the maxim, “Tango is for those who do not have enough rejection in their everyday lives.” Men also take a risk when inviting a woman to dance, but refusal is usually just a woman looking in the other direction and the men can very easily find other partners.

 

Tango is changing. Young people in the big cities around the world are stepping outside the rules and changing the moves, along with the rules. They know that the aim in tango is to find synchrony – to be able to move together seamlessly, in safety, reading each other’s intentions, mirroring the other in time to beautiful emotional music.

 

We are bonding mammals and our nervous systems turn on to the kind of connection so readily available in tango, and recognise it. It is called JOY!

 

(Still not sure why I insist on using this love = dance metaphor? Read on about how love and relationships are a dance.)