One of the things we value most from our relationships is feeling emotionally connected with another person. This connection helps us feel safe and secure not just in our relationships, but in our life in general.
However, when our emotional connection to our partner is not secure, or our partner is inaccessible or unresponsive, we start to feel alone and our relationships become threatened.
According to Sue Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), the basic issue in most relationship problems isn’t fighting or power struggles or lack of communication, but rather that couples have become emotionally disconnected. Johnson finds that marriages fail not due to increasing conflict, but due to decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness.
Underneath all the distress, couples are asking each other: Can I count on you, depend on you? Are you there for me? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you? Do you need me, rely on me?
The antidote for losing emotional connection is to learn to practice a certain kind of emotional connectivity that Johnson refers to as A.R.E., or Accessibility, Responsiveness and Engagement.
Accessibility refers to how much your partner feels they can reach you. In order to increase accessibility:
- Stay open to your partner even when you’re having doubts or feeling insecure.
- Learn to deal with your own emotions so that they don’t overwhelm you leaving you unable to be there with your partner.
- Step back from any disconnection you’re feeling so you can attend to your partner’s cues that they are trying to or needing to connect.
Responsiveness refers to how much your partner can rely on you to respond to them. To increase your responsiveness:
- Tune in to your partner’s emotional signals and let them know their feelings have an impact on you.
- Let your partner know their needs and fears are heard and understood.
- Comfort and care for your partner when they show signs of emotional distress.
Engagement refers to how much your partner knows you value them and will stay close.
- Emotional engagement involves being captivated, absorbed and involved with your partner.
- Be present with your partner and give them the special kind of attention we give loved ones.
When you’re not able to emotionally connect safely with your partner along A.R.E. lines, you risk getting stuck in destructive patterns that lead a relationship towards failure. By staying emotionally connected with your partner, your relationship will be strong enough to withstand and resolve most of the conflicts that may arise.