Hold Me Tight

Seven conversations for a lifetime of love

…love is like a language. If you speak it, it flows more and more easily. If you don’t, then you start to lose it. - @Dr_SueJohnson

Author(s): Dr. Sue Johnson

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Where was I and what was I doing when I read this?

On my drive to Detroit for an office visit, I listened to The Knowledge Podcast episode where the author of Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson, was a guest. This episode was especially impactful as my wife and I have been together now for almost ten years and this past year concluded our first year of marriage and living together in our own home. My wife is phenomenal at being emotionally connected, where as I am not. I often withdraw into my office and suppress my emotions which often causes problems.

After listening to this episode of The Knowledge Project and knowing that we had an upcoming family vacation in Virginia Beach, I purchased Hold Me Tight and read it on the beach.

The Knowledge Podcast: Episode #63

I listen to a lot of podcasts — primarily on my drives to Detroit — and it is from these that I get a lot of my book recommendations. One of my favorite podcasts is Farnam Street’s The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish. I couldn’t give a better description of the podcast than the summary on their site.

The Knowledge Project is a podcast that explores the timeless ideas of how to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you.

Together with host Shane Parrish, you’ll uncover the mental models, stories, and lessons that help you master the best of what other people already know.

It was in episode 63, Cracking the Code of Love with Dr. Sue Johnson, where Shane spoke with Dr. Sue Johnson, the developer of EFT or Emotionally Focused Therapy and author of Hold Me Tight.

Hold Me Tight

Hold Me Tight describes a method of therapy known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). EFT is derived from John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory which suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to need to be close or “attached” to others, primarily their parents.

EFT builds on this and suggests that in addition to being close to our parents while we are young, we need emotionally-close relationships throughout our life as we go through the inevitable trials and tribulations.

Suffering is a given; suffering alone is intolerable. - @Dr_SueJohnson

Dr. Johnson suggests three components — summarized by the acronym A.R.E. and the phrase “Are you there, are you with me?” — of being emotionally-close. Availability (i.e., “Can I reach you?”), Responsiveness (i.e., “Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?”) and Engagement (i.e., “Do I know you will value me and stay close?”). We need healthy, emotionally-close relationships to be the best version of ourselves. In the introduction of Hold Me Tight Dr. Johnson makes the point about her parents’ relationship,

I watched helplessly as they destroyed their marriage and themselves. - @Dr_SueJohnson

As we grow older, we form fewer new relationships in general, but especially fewer “close” relationships. However, we still innately remain dependent on others. While we may be less dependent on our parents for nurturing, soothing and protection, this dependency doesn’t go away, but rather shifts to our partner. EFT suggests that the key to an loving adult relationship is “being open, attuned, and responsive to each other…not making grand romantic gestures, or experimenting with new sexual positions”.

…being open, attuned, and responsive to each other…not making grand romantic gestures, or experimenting with new sexual positions. - @Dr_SueJohnson

Our Culture

Today our culture encourages “chronic obsessive overwork and burnout” and competition rather than connection. This often means that we increasingly work longer hours, further isolating ourselves. Most often the drive to do this is to acquire the image of “richness” and to be “better” than our neighbors. TV shows and movies show us that maturity means being independent and self-sufficient. “The notion of the invulnerable warrior who faces life and danger alone is long ingrained in our culture.” Culture also shows us that men are “invincible” and are not supposed to be emotional. Instead, mean are supposed to suppress emotional responses and needs.

…our culture encourages us to compete rather than connect - @Dr_SueJohnson

The Seven Conversations

  1. Recognizing the Demon Dialogues
  2. Finding the Raw Spots
  3. Revisiting a Rocky Moment
  4. Hold Me Tight – Engaging and Connecting
  5. Forgiving Injuries
  6. Bonding Through Sex and Touch
  7. Keeping Your Love Alive

“Demon Dialogues” are cyclical demand-withdrawal or criticize-defend patterns with a partner. Demon Dialogues are built on an Attachment theory notion, namely “primal panic”. In this primal panic, we are trying to emotionally connect with a partner and they are emotionally unavailable or unresponsive. Therefore, leaving the other partner alone and helpless.

There are three patterns in the Demon Dialogues: Find the Bad Guy or “It’s Not Me, It’s You” (i.e., rather than mutual blame finding the underlying problem.), the Protest Polka (i.e., the demand-withdrawal/criticize-defend phase) and Freeze and Flee (i.e., partner(s) is/are completely withdrawn from the relationship).

In this cycle, we cannot connect with a partner because we are always on the edge, ready to attack or defend ourselves. As part of EFT, Dr. Johnson suggests the solution is to mutually acknowledge that there is a problem (not with either partner) and working on solving the root problem rather than blaming or withdrawing from each other. The cultural definition of how men shouldn’t respond emotionally sets them up particularly well for the withdrawing partner.

…love is like a language. If you speak it, it flows more and more easily. If you don’t, then you start to lose it. - @Dr_SueJohnson

In Psychologist Robert Karen’s book, Becoming Attached, he suggests that we don’t need to be rich, smart or funny. We just have to “be there”, physically and emotionally.

Dr. Johnson concludes Hold Me Tight with a chapter titled, Ultimate Connection — Love as the Final Frontier. In this chapter, Dr. Johnson suggests reversing the current culture norm of competing with our neighbors and instead focusing on connecting with and supporting each other. She says, “[t]he circle of loving responsiveness widens like the ripple from a stone dropped in a pool”. If we have better relationships with our partners, families and then communities, we will foster a “more caring world”. She agrees with the thoughts of Thomas Merton, who believed that compassion had to be based on “a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living things”.

The circle of loving responsiveness widens like the ripple from a stone dropped in a pool. - @Dr_SueJohnson

Disclaimer: I am not an EFT-certified therapist, nor am I a therapist at all. Therefore, please do not take this post as advise, but rather take this post as my personal takeaways of the Hold Me Tight book.