by Jim Stockton, LPC
What characterizes a bonded romantic relationship? If you asked ten people this question, you may get ten different answers. You may get answers like good communication, the ability to problem solve, the ability to resolve conflict, or a vibrant sex life. Of course, these are all important elements of a healthy, loving romantic relationship. However, I believe these elements of a loving relationship are byproducts of the presence of a secure attachment and a deep bond, which I have come to embrace as the key elements of a loving relationship and which brings clarity when trying to define the science of love.
I learned this while on my journey of getting trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT), a model of working with distressed relationships developed by the renowned Canadian psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson. EFT focuses on creating and strengthening the emotional bond between partners by identifying and transforming the key moments that foster an adult loving relationship. In EFT work with couples, I focus on getting the couple to break the negative and hurtful cycle that causes them to lose their emotional balance, by experiencing key moments of relationship that entails being open, attuned, and responsive to each other. This experiential process is what brings lasting change in the relationship and creates the safety and security the relationship lacked before. Once the couple begins to experience their relationship in this new way, they will enhance their ability to communicate, problem solve, resolve conflict, and have a more fulfilling sexual relationship.
Looking at romantic relationships through the lens of attachment is paramount to understanding relational distress. Most couple fights are really protests over emotional disconnection and unmet attachment needs. Changing the dynamic of the relationship from disconnection and distress to attunement and emotional responsiveness calms down the frustration and anger reactivity in the couple’s present dynamic and now allows them to relate in a more positive way. This model paves the way for a deeper and longer lasting bonded relationship than merely teaching the partners communication skills. Asking them to remember their communication skills in the heat of their highly escalated cycle is like trying read “how to pull your parachute” manual when you are in free fall.
What are the essential elements that create a healthy loving romantic relationship? I truly believe they are partner accessibility and attunement, responsiveness, and emotional engagement. It is these elements that foster securely attached and deeply bonded relationships.
Jim Stockton is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Foundation Counseling. He is trained in EFT (Emotion-Focused Therapy for couples work) and has extensive experience working with distressed marriages in the Marietta & Kennesaw areas. He also works with individuals, both adults and adolescents. Learn more about Jim at Foundation Counseling here.