In 1972 psychologist Ed Tronick first did the “still-face experiment” that forever changed our understanding of the parent-child bond and how our childhood experiences influence the success or failure of our adult relationships. Find out why 12 million people have found these two minutes life-changing. In the video, you will experience a healthy mother-child bond that many of us remember and some us never had. You’ll experience the pain when the mother-child bond is broken. And finally, the repair and reconnection when the two are back in sync and experiencing the joy of being reunited with our primary love partner.
Tune in to your own feelings as you watch the mother and baby interact. What feelings come up for you?
I’ve been a marriage and family counselor for fifty-two years now. I have come to recognize that whether we become, what relationship experts John and Julie Gottman call, “masters of love” or “disasters of love,” have roots in our earliest childhood experiences. Like John Gottman, I had been married and divorced twice before I finally learned the secrets of real, lasting, love. My wife Carlin and I have now been happily married for forty-one years.
I wrote about our journey in my book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationship and Why The Best is Still to Come. One of the other relationship experts that helped us is Dr. Sue Johnson, author of numerous books including, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for Lifetime of Love. I first met Dr. Johnson at a conference and was impressed by her honesty in sharing her own relationship journey.
“I have always been fascinated by relationships,” Johnson says.
“I grew up in Britain, where my dad ran a pub, and I spent a lot of time watching people meeting, talking, drinking, brawling, dancing, and flirting. But the focal point of my young life was my parents’ marriage. I watched helplessly as they destroyed their marriage and themselves.”
Johnson continued saying,
“My response to my parents’ pain was to vow never to get married. Romantic love was, I decided, an illusion and a trap. I was better off on my own, free and unfettered. But then, of course, I fell in love and married. Love pulled me in even as I pushed it away.”
Most of us have been burned by love and vowed to keep ourselves safe and not get pulled in again. But, inevitably, we do. Then we vow that this time it’s going to be different. This time we’re not going to make the same mistakes. And things seem wonderful, for a while. But more often than not, the same problems come up over and over. The fights start and the cold silences that are much worse than the fights. “Not again,” we lament. “What the hell went wrong?”
Johnson recognized that a lot of the disconnections we experience in our love relationships have roots in our early family relationships. Here is a video clip of Sue Johnson and Ed Tronick exploring the connection between his still-face experiment and how it plays out in our adult relationships. Here you’ll see a clip from Ed’s original experiment and then see how the same things happen in our adult love lives.
So, what can we learn from these powerful videos and the fifty years of research and clinical practice that underlie them?
“Forget about learning how to argue better, analyzing your early childhood, making grand romantic gestures, or experimenting with new sexual positions,” says Dr. Johnson. “Instead, recognize and admit that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and protection. Adult attachment may be more reciprocal and less centered on physical contact, but the nature of the emotional bond is the same.”
I’ve found that both men and women find it easier to accept that women need this kind of emotional support. However, we often resist the reality that men need it just as much, or even more than, women. It took me and my wife a long time to accept that it was “manly” to ask for help, support, and nurture, that I wasn’t acting like a child if I cried or felt frightened and lost. It helped us both to remember that our boys needed just this kind of love when they were little. We never felt that our little girl needed more nurturing than our little boys. It stands to reason that when we grow to be adults, men need this just as much as women.
In Dr. Johnson’s program the key to a lifetime of good sex and love is “emotional responsiveness.” The basis of Dr. Johnson’s approach is to teach people the secrets contained in the phrase “How ARE you really?”
A is for Accessibility: Can I reach you?
This means staying open to your partner even when you have doubts and feel insecure. It often means being willing to struggle to make sense of your emotions so these emotions are not so overwhelming. You can then step back from disconnection and can tune in to your lover’s attachment cues.
R is for Responsiveness: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
This means tuning into your partner and showing that his or her emotions, especially attachment needs and fears, have an impact on you. It means accepting and placing a priority on the emotional signals your partner conveys and sending clear signals of comfort and caring when your partner needs them. Sensitive responsiveness always touches us emotionally and calms us on a physical level.
E is for Engagement: Do I know you will value me and stay close?
The dictionary defines engaged as being absorbed, attracted, pulled, captivated, pledged, involved. Emotional engagement here means the very special kind of attention that we give only to a loved one. We gaze at them longer, touch them more. Partners often talk of this as being emotionally present.
The A.R.E. Questionnaire: How’s Your Love Flowing?
Johnson has developed a simple questionnaire that allows us to easily assess the strength of our emotional connection. Simply read each statement and circle T for true or F for false. To score the questionnaire, give one point for each “true” answer. You can complete the questionnaire and reflect on your relationship on your own. Or you and your partner can each complete it and then discuss your answers together as described just after the questionnaire. Remember, we don’t have to have perfect scores to be having a relationship that survives and thrives. This will help you recognize your relationship strengths and weaknesses. We all have some of both.
From your viewpoint, is your partner accessible to you?
1. I can get my partner’s attention easily. ( T – F )
2. My partner is easy to connect with emotionally. ( T – F )
3. My partner shows me that I come first with him/her. ( T – F )
4. I am not feeling lonely or shut out in this relationship. ( T – F )
5. I can share my deepest feelings with my partner. He/she will listen. ( T – F )
From your viewpoint, is your partner responsive to you?
6. If I need connection and comfort, he/she will be there for me. ( T – F )
7. My partner responds to signals that I need him/her to come close. ( T – F )
8. I find I can lean on my partner when I am anxious or unsure. ( T – F )
9. Even when we fight or disagree, I know I am important to my partner and we will find
a way to come together. ( T – F )
10. If I need reassurance about how important I am to my partner, I can get it. ( T – F )
Are you positively emotionally engaged with each other?
11. I feel very comfortable being close my partner. I trust him/her. ( T – F )
12. I can confide in my partner about almost anything. ( T – F )
13. I feel confident, even when we are apart, that we are connected to each other. ( T – F )
14. I know that my partner cares about my joys, hurts, and fears. ( T – F )
15. I feel safe enough to take emotional risks with my partner. ( T – F )
Johnson says that a score of 7 or above indicates that you are well on your way to a secure bond and can use the tools here to deepen what you already have. Don’t worry if you scored below 7. It just means that you haven’t understood the importance of emotional bonding in a healthy relationship.
I realized that although I consciously believed each one of these statements was important in having a good relationship, unconsciously I had a lot of conflicts. I found that when Carlin would feel insecure and want me to call home more often or would ask for reassurance, I felt she was being “too needy.” When I was hurting and wanting to be held, I often felt I was “acting like a child.” It takes some work for most couples to overcome all the societal messages that tell us we shouldn’t need each other in these deeply emotional ways.
Diamond Relationship Training: Are You Ready to Join Us?
The truth is most have us have never been properly trained to have a relationship where our needs for connection and love were fully satisfied. Most of us grew up in families where there was some degree of disconnection, pain, and trauma. Even in the healthiest family there is always some degree of “still face” where our parent was not there for us. Everyone gets stressed, overwhelmed, and preoccupied.
But we can all learn to heal old wounds and develop real, lasting, love. I will be offering a series of classes to help individuals and couples to learn the skills to necessary to be a master of love and avoid becoming a disaster of love. If you’re interested in receiving more information, drop me a note to Jed@MenAlive.com and put “Diamond Relationship Training” in the subject line.
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