Research shows that social connection benefits our physical, emotional, and mental health. When we have secure emotional connections, we feel more confident, more independent, and we’re more likely to be successful.
It may not come as a surprise that a thriving intimate relationship is also based on emotional connection. But sometimes those relationships falter and we stop feeling so connected and secure.
So how do we rejuvenate our intimate relationships when we’ve come upon stressful times?
Emotionally Focused Therapy
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an evidence-based and effective approach to therapy that emerged in the 1980’s with Dr. Sue Johnson and Dr. Les Greenberg. Since then, it has proven to successfully improve relationships and wellbeing in the vast majority of couples who receive EFT.
Studies from 20141 and 20152 focused specifically on the effect of EFT on couples experiencing infertility, and the results were the same – EFT had significant positive effect on couples, and the individuals showed significantly improved levels of depression, anxiety, and stress as compared to control groups who did not use EFT.
Triggers for Emotional Disconnection
Common triggers for emotional disconnection in a relationship include:
• Infertility https://www.drirena.com/infertility-counseling/
• Pregnancy loss https://www.drirena.com/pregnancy-loss-counseling/
• Having a new baby https://www.drirena.com/postpartum-depression-counseling/
• Balancing family with busy careers
• Addiction (alcohol, drugs, porn, etc.)
While these triggers incite stress and can lead to feeling distant from a partner, this can be repaired. In order to begin to bridge that gap and escape any negative and reactive cycles that may have begun, it is important to understand the underlying needs that are not being met in the relationship.
4 Needs in Emotional Connection
The following four questions represent the unconscious and often-unspoken needs we try to communicate to our romantic partners. They are derived from Maya Angelou and were recently called out by psychotherapist and speaker Katherine Schafler in this article. The questions we’re longing to have answered by our partner are:
- Do you see me?
- Do I matter to you?
- Do you accept me the way I am? / Am I good enough for you?
- Am I important/special to you?
These are not questions we voice in so many words, but we ask them through our interactions with the other person. We reach out, pester, retreat, worry. We ask them through a look, a text, a touch-and we’re desperate to know the answers.
If the Answer is No
If it feels like your partner is leaving your questions unanswered or communicates through their non-verbal cues that the answer might be “no,” you may become irritated, critical, and angry. You may attack to get a response or become distant and disconnected.
This can happen in small moments throughout the day. Maybe you’re sharing with your partner something that happened at work, but they keep checking their phone. Or you came to the living room to say good night, but your partner keeps watching TV and barely acknowledges you.
Answering the 4 Needs Positively
In contrast, when your partner answers “yes” to those four questions, you feel close to them, valued, and loved. Answers in the affirmative communicate:
- I see you.
- You matter.
- You are enough.
- You are important.
These answers provide the feeling of secure connection that is necessary to calm our fears of isolation and abandonment. Seeing your partner, acknowledging them, and feeling seen and acknowledged in return builds that health-supporting bond of relationship that can carry you through hard times.
EFT Exercises for Connection and Relationship Rejuvenation
Since asking and answering these questions that are the crux of our relationships and our emotional wellbeing happens subtly and almost unconsciously, it can take practice to improve the communication within a romantic couple. The following emotionally focused therapy exercises are built around answering those questions for each other.
1. Slow Down
It is easy to get caught up in the commotion of work and social lives and family. We all get distracted and stressed. But in order to answer the first question–“Do you see me?”–we have to stop long enough to make the other person feel seen.
This does not mean opening your eyes wide and staring at your partner, though if you think they’d like the laugh, give it a try.
This means slowing down between stopping home to grab your shoes and running off to the gym to take an unhurried moment with your partner. Maybe it’s a kiss. Maybe it’s asking how their day went and holding still long enough to listen to the answer. It could be noticing something they seem to need and offering it to them.
This leads to exercise number two
2. Be Present
You cannot see someone if you are not present for them in that moment. Even if you ask your partner how their day was, if you are too distracted to really hear the answer, your partner will be left wondering if they really matter to you. Being present for them, to hear their stories, witness their emotions, and share in important moments, also takes practice.
But it doesn’t take special training or skill. You don’t even need to be in a good mood. It’s just willingness and intention to be present. Try bringing yourself into the present by thinking, “I want to be present now. This is important.”
We routinely fall out of the present moment and become distracted or stressed, so remind yourself throughout the day to be present in little moments. There are whole religions dedicated to the practice of being present. It takes time and repeated reminders, but it will pay off in the connection between you and your partner.
3. Be Emotionally Engaged
Emotional presence involves giving your partner that special kind of loving attention like gazing at them longer, or touching them in a way that communicates, “I like the way you are, and you are important to me.”
Show that you are open and available to connect. Try uncrossing your arms if you find them crossed or turning your body toward your partner as you sit on the couch together. Show that you care with your presence, your face, and your eyes.
Being emotionally engaged creates a sense of safety for the other person who can sense that they have a place to land in stormy waters, and someone with whom to share their joy.
4. Be Emotionally Responsive
Beyond emotional presence, emotional responsiveness shows your partner that their need to connect is important to you. Responsiveness validates fears and provides comfort. It shows your partner that they can depend on you.
If your partner has been struggling at work for a while now and you’ve heard about it so many times that you’ve started to tune out, try tuning in again and validating the emotions behind what your partner is experiencing.
If you’ve been stressed and haven’t been reciprocating your partner’s caresses, try making it your intention to notice the next time and touch them in return.
Of course, it would be impossible to always be emotionally responsive, but with practice and intention you can become more consistent. In relationships there is a continual process of losing emotional connection and reaching out and finding it again.
5. Create Rituals to Connect
To build and maintain close, intimate connection, we need to be able to slow down and tune into our loved one. Setting aside times specifically designed to build connection can help to rejuvenate our relationships.
Try purposefully creating moments to engage and connect especially around times of meeting and separating. For instance:
• Hug and kiss when leaving home and returning/waking up and going to sleep
• Write letters and leave short notes when one of you is going away
• Call during the day to check-in
• Create personal time just for sharing thoughts and emotions
• Create memories together by doing something you both enjoy
These exercises can have a profound effect on your relationship. Taking the time to show your partner you are present for them and make them feel important and connected will strengthen the emotional connection between you and reduce feelings of distance and frustration.
Sometimes, though, addressing the disconnect with your partner can be intimidating. If you and your partner are experiencing difficulties, the support of a psychologist with experience in couples therapy and EFT can help. Call Dr. Irena for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation at (281) 267-1742.
Linked References in order of appearance:
- Soltani M, Shairi MR, Roshan R, Rahimi Ch. The impact of emotionally focused therapy on emotional distress in infertile couples. Int J Fertil Steril. 2014; 7(4): 337-344.
- Najafi M, Soleimani AA, Ahmadi Kh, Javidi N, Hoseini Kamkar E. The effectiveness of emotionally focused therapy on enhancing marital adjustment and quality of life among infertile couples with marital conflicts. Int J Fertil Steril. 2015; 9(2): 238-246.