• The Secret to Lasting Love in An Age of Instant Gratification

    According to Dr. Sue Johnson, we can boil troubles within a relationship down to a singular cause: a loss of connection met with a desire to connect. It’s our inability to effectively communicate that desire (usually due to feelings of hurt, guilt, or fear) that prevents the relationship from moving forward. From healing the wound to the bond.

    The mammalian brain can’t distinguish between physical and emotional pain. That is to say, that when you stick someone in an MRI machine and administer an electric shock, the same parts of their brain light up as when they hear someone they love is leaving them. We are hard-wired to fear rejection and abandonment as deeply as any physical wound. Both are danger cues leading us down a dark tunnel where we believe we are alone and others are the enemy.

    This ancient wiring is part of our survival code. An evolutionary drive to keep the people we depend on close to us so that we can thrive in the world. So that we can step forward without fear. And love accomplishes this. The presence of love can actually turn off the fear and pain centers in our brain. When we feel safe and secure in our love bond, the world is less formidable. The unknown a little less scary.

    Which then explains why feeling cut off from this source of security and strength can have such disastrous effects on our relationships and sense of well-being. How pain can manifest itself as angry criticism. How angry criticism begets stonewalling. How stonewalling begets angry criticism. The recipe for successful relationships, Dr. Sue Johnson says, only requires three ingredients:


    Is my partner accessible to me? Do they make themselves accessible to me? Is it easy for me to reach them when I need them?


    Is my partner responsive when I reach for them? Is their response immediate or delayed? Is their response to my reaching positive or negative?

    Emotional Presence

    When my partner is with me, are they really with me? Do I feel empathy from my partner? Is my partner a source of security or anxiety?

    It wasn’t long ago that love was thought to be some “strange semi-psychotic mix of sex and sentiment that no one can understand.” But science understands a little more each day. Today we know there are certain actions, techniques, and practices that successful couples do which promote the stability of their bond. Such as slowing down an interaction to tune into body language and the expressed emotion of their partner. This simple step of slowing down is imperative to working through a conflict. Our initial reaction when met with discomfort is to close our minds and hearts, but this closing only contributes to the already overwhelming feeling of disconnection. By taking a breath and observing the entirety of the situation—how your partner is seated (crossed arms or legs, slouched or upright), the tone in their voice (is it strained or easy flowing?)—you can respond instead of react.

    The root of all anger, fear, and guilt is pain.


    If you can dig through to the crux of that pain, that is where you’ll find healing. Providing an invitation to emotional safety is another strategy of successful couples. It involves being fiercely vulnerable and allowing your partner to be fiercely vulnerable with you. Welcoming each other into a safe space where they can share feelings and emotions without judgment or hostility.

    Finally, a third technique used by successful couples is the practice of offering positive memories of needs met (the Hold Me Tight conversation). When we’re hurt in a conflict, it’s very easy to tie the situation that’s affecting us currently to another sleight we may have felt in the past. Pain is pain, in the end, and it all hurts. But dragging old conflicts into present ones means the old conflicts were probably never fully resolved, and now they’re compounding.

    It’s much more productive to share past experiences of needs met. Where your partner was accurately and effectively tuned in to your emotional needs and responded appropriately. It’s akin to teaching someone what TO DO rather than teaching them what NOT TO DO. One curriculum leads to growth, the other to restriction.

    It’s always better to grow.

    John Gallagher, LMHC has been a practicing therapist for over 20 years and specializes in both individual and couples therapy. Schedule your appointment today.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.