Thursday, July 10, 2014

Library Shelf: Hold Me Tight

"Love is not the icing on the cake of life. 
It is a basic primary need, like oxygen or water."

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson

I've read numerous relationship advice books over the years. Some were common sense; some were bullshit; some were just too long and boring! But this volume stands out because A) it is secular, B) it is research-based, and C) it made me cry. Any book that can draw out healing tears is worth my time!

Dr. Johnson, a clinical psychologist in Canada, uses this book to present her Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy approach. With examples from her decades of counseling practice and research studies to support her points, she guides couples through their unique trouble spots to recognize, value, and enhance their emotional engagement. Johnson builds her work on attachment theory, which resonated strongly with me, though I hadn't seen pair-bonding examined before from that angle.
The drive to emotionally attach--to find someone to whom we can turn and say "Hold me tight"--is wired into our genes and our bodies. It is as basic to life, health, and happiness as the drives for food, shelter, or sex. We need emotional attachments with a few irreplaceable others to be physically and mentally health--to survive.
The people we love...are the hidden regulators of our bodily processes and our emotional lives. When love doesn't work, we hurt.
 The book is organized by different conversations a couple can use to emotionally connect or reconnect. Johnson guides couples as they identify and work through present threats or past trauma to their secure connection then offers advice as they plan ways to cultivate safety and bonding for their long-term relationship.
Until we address the fundamental need for connection and the fear of losing it, the standard techniques, such as learning problem-solving or communication skills, examining childhood hurts, or taking time-outs, are misguided and ineffectual.
This book is do-it-yourself therapy, whether or not you have the aid of a paid professional. It is for couples--married or not, gay or straight--who believe that what they have is worth investing in, worth caring for and repairing so it will last.

Ultimately, Hold Me Tight is about finding comfort and strength in a loving adult relationship. It's about healing each other with love, developing sensitivity to each other's cues so that we can share life's dance with grace and passion. When this bond between partners is secure, Johnson says, "sex becomes intimate play, a safe adventure." (Sexual distress, she writes, is a romantic relationship's "canary in the mine".)

But a healthy love relationship is so much more than a satisfying romance--it blesses all it touches. People who are confident of their partner's loving connection and support have less stress, faster healing, better problem-solving, and more curiosity about new information! Johnson sums up what she has learned from her clients: "All the cliches about love--when people feel loved they are freer, more alive, and more powerful--are truer than we ever imagined."

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