In her groundbreaking book, The Love Secret, Dr Sue Johnson reveals that love is not the least bit illogical or random. When we understand the laws of love and develop better ‘love sense’, we can achieve a strong relationship with our loved one. Internationally renowned, Dr Sue Johnson is also the creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, one of the most successful forms of couple therapy.
Want to know more about The Love Secret? Below Dr Sue Johnson has answered some of our burning questions about love.
Q: How does The Love Secret change the way we look at love?
A: The Love Secret offers us a view of love that, at last, makes sense of this ‘mystery’ that we all long for and depend on for our health and happiness. Science has unlocked so many secrets. Now we can use it to crack the code of love. Romantic love is not a sexual fever or teen illusion – it is an ancient survival code wired into your mammalian brain. It is designed to keep you close to others who will come when you call, offering you a safe haven of emotional connection that calms and balances you, allowing you to move confidently in an unknown world. Strong people have strong bonds with others.
Q: Every day the media is filled with stories of break-ups. Are we meant to be monogamous?
A: Break-ups should not surprise us. It is amazing that more than half of marriages survive over so many years when we have known so little about how to love. Break-ups begin with emotional disconnection that we do not know how to repair, not with fights or affairs. Our natural state is monogamy, which does not mean that we never want to mate with another; it means that as a species we prefer and struggle for connection with one person with whom we raise children and on whom we depend. Mammals who depend on each other’s support to rear young possess a cuddle hormone called oxytocin, released when a loved one is close or even comes to mind. Oxytocin builds trust and biases them to turn to loved ones rather than to invest in sexual adventures.
Q: What advice would you give a couple worried that they no longer share any intimacy in their relationship?
A: When couples feel disconnected and miss being close, we teach them to create a safe haven by letting their partner know what signals he or she sends that trigger attachment insecurities (we all have them) and by sharing specific attachment needs and fears. But the secret here is to give emotional support NOT advice or even practical solutions. So Amy tells Bob, ‘I know you are stressed and busy, but when you are distant with me, I worry that I am not important to you. I need you to reassure me and spend a little time talking with me when I feel this way.’ Bob can answer Amy’s worry by putting her need for connection first, taking her in his arms and telling her how much she matters to him. They have moved from disconnection to connection in two simple steps.
Q: How can a couple break a cycle of constant arguing?
A: A cycle of constant arguing is never about the content of the argument. The fight is always about the nature of the bond – the loss of emotional connection. We teach partners to grasp how they scare the hell out of each other – everyone is afraid of rejection and abandonment – and push each other into the two dead ends: critical demanding comments or dismissive distancing. If Amy can’t reach for Bob but instead says, ‘You never have time for me. You are just uncaring and difficult like your Dad’, she pushes Bob away just when she needs him to come close. He hears rejection and steps away – ‘I haven’t got time to fight with you.’ Then she feels alone and attacks more. And on they go. We teach partners to see the dance and change the emotional music with remarks like – ‘Hey I am getting all angry and blaming you and you are backing off. We are caught in that push-exit dance we do. I just want to be closer here.’
Q: What is the best bit of advice you would give anyone in a relationship?
A: The best bit of advice I would give is to look past all the hype about sex and learn about human bonding. We know what this looks like between parent and child, and romance has many of the same features as this primal bond. The key question in love is: Are you there for me? Can I reach for you and have you respond? So, learn about love. Don’t believe the clichés and take the time to learn how to tune into your partner and help them with their softer feelings. Partners don’t need us to be perfect or super performers – they need us to be available emotionally.