Category Archives: Attachment

Anxious Children

5 Tips for Supporting Anxious Children

Amber McKenzie  

Upset problem child with head in hands sitting on staircase concept for bullying, depression stress or frustration

Pax woke up each morning to his father calling his name from the hall. Pax often woke breathless, unsure about what. They had visited the family physician, who could not find a cause for Pax waking this way. Pax would sit in bed paralyzed and could not move, despite wanting to. He knew his parents would be upset with him in a few short minutes.

Each morning his father would repeatedly call to him and, exasperated, would call Pax’s mother to go into his room and get him ready for school. His mother was also consistently frustrated and would plead with him to get up, or try to bribe him out of bed.

Pax could not contain his tears at the mention of getting out of bed to get ready for school. He tried every excuse to get out of it: strep throat, headaches and stomach aches. Pax tried to explain the dread to his mother, and how his heart seemed to thump so loudly that all the other children looked at him.

Each morning, Pax’s mother felt her palms get sweaty and her mind begin to race as she contemplated how to get him out of bed.  She thought she had failed him and was not fulfilling her roles as mother and wife. She felt powerless about how to help her little boy. It seemed that each morning, as she became more frustrated with him, he cried harder, making her feel worse and more confused.

Children experience anxiety in a number of different ways. A child might explain it as a feeling of dread, panic, sadness or fear. They might talk about it in terms of physical symptoms like sweaty palms, trembling, butterflies in their tummy or a fast heartbeat.

Children’s anxiety can manifest as a limitation in their ability to concentrate, experiencing “clamming up” or “going blank.” Some children may get caught in worry, or say the same thing over and over. Other children may experience somatic complaints such as a headache or tummy ache.

Some children will have no language to described their symptoms, and their anxiety may show up through refusing to go to school or not wanting to play with their friends. They may follow the parent around like a shadow, watch too much television or use electronics to excess.

Here are some strategies to work with children who are facing anxiety.

1. Manage Your Own Anxiety First

Anxiety is almost contagious. If you are anxious, and supporting an anxious child, your lack of anxiety regulation can influence the child’s anxiety, making it worse. It is important to work on your own ability to calm down.

2. Create Emotional Safety with the Child

Emotional safety in a child’s brain is the foundation for emotional regulation. When a child feels safe with the person supporting them, they create a story in their brain that tells them they can feel good about themselves, they can connect with others, and their needs will be met.

To do this the supporter needs to make the child feel seen, safe, and soothed. Emotional safety needs to start with the supporter being predictable and consistent in the child’s life. It is critical that the child knows what to expect from the supporter, as this predictability make the world increasingly secure. Another thing the supporter can do is to engage the child in affectionate and nurturing play.

3. Give Anxiety a Language

When we recognize our feelings, we can develop the ability to accept them, learn about them and conquer them. When we do not understand a problem, we cannot solve it.

Therefore, we need to help the child understand the problem. We could say “When you are feeling your heart thud quickly in your chest and your hands are shaking, this is called anxiety,” or “Oh, you blanked out on your math test? Anxiety must have hijacked your memory.”

Often the act of giving anxiety a name can calm anxiety down.

4. Acknowledge the Struggle

Validate the difficulty the child is having. Do not pretend the problem does not exist. When we ignore the anxiety in hopes to make it go away, this usually fuels the anxiety and makes it stronger.

You could say things like “I know it’s overwhelming to go to dance today,” “You are trembling; come here, I’ll hug you,” or “Going to birthday parties with new kids can be really scary. You can do it, I believe in you.”

5. Practice Coping

Practice, practice, practice. The person supporting the child with anxiety is like the coach in anxiety regulation. It is the coach’s job to practice, practice, practice with the child. The more times you practice a coping technique with a child, the more you are reinforcing a new brain pathway. Be a broken record and practice over and over again.

Some practical strategies could involve deep breathing, tensing and relaxing muscles, wrapping yourself in a blanket or hugging a loved one.

It is possible to help a child overcome their anxious patterns. With patience, practice, and persistence, change is possible.

Amber McKenzie, MSc., R.Psych
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.
Content of this blog may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.


Knapp, S.E., & Jongsma, A.E. (2005). The parenting skills treatment planner. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Siegel, D.J. (2013). Brainstorm. New York: Penguin.
Siegler, A.L. (1997). The essential guide to the new adolescence. New York: Penguin Group.

The Connection Between Childhood Experiences And Adult Problems

by Marcia Sirota       Author, speaker, coach and MD

As an adult psychiatrist, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about childhood, and there’s a good reason for this. It’s become abundantly clear over the past 20-plus years of doing psychotherapy that childhood experiences are at the root of adult problems.

Every person who’s walked through my office door suffering from depression, anxiety, relationship or work problems, low self-esteem or addiction has a history of some type of adversity in their childhood. It’s become clear to me by listening to their stories that were it not for these painful events, the person wouldn’t be struggling as much as they are, today.

When we look at a young child who’s beginning to show signs of emotional disturbance or behavioural issues, what we’re seeing is that something has happened to them, or something is happening, that is causing them the beginnings of a problem.

If we’re to do the best for our children, we have to understand the basic emotional necessities of childhood and the types of events that are likely to cause a child difficulties, now and in the future.

Whether we’re dealing with a child who seems mostly well-adjusted in the moment, or one who’s begun to exhibit signs of more significant dysfunction, those of us in the helping fields want to do everything we can to optimize the child’s emotional and psychological well-being so as to prevent future problems.

If we’re to do the best for our children, we have to understand the basic emotional necessities of childhood and the types of events that are likely to cause a child difficulties, now and in the future.

When it comes to the necessities of childhood, we have to remember that perfect parenting is neither necessary nor possible. A child just needs, as the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott so aptly put it, “good enough parenting.”

Good enough parenting means that the child is loved and valued for who they are, not for how they behave, and the child is nurtured, cared for and protected, but not coddled. In fact, the “good enough” parent allows the child to be disappointed and frustrated at times, so that they learn to tolerate and cope with these types of experiences in adulthood.

And interestingly, “good enough parenting” also applies to the other adults in a child’s life; the adults who teach, guide and support the child. Each one of these adults has an important role to play in the child’s development and emotional well-being.

When we think about the experiences that lead to difficulties in childhood and beyond, there are two distinct types: the absence of certain necessities or the presence of hurtful events.

Children need to feel important, but not so important that their agenda supersedes that of the parent. Overly-permissive parents who indulge their children are depriving them of the guidance and limits they need in order to develop appropriately and function optimally as adults.

Love, affirmation, guidance, protection and limits: these are the necessities of childhood. When a child is raised with all of these things, they’re far more likely to grow into high-functioning adults with good confidence and self worth, who have constructive coping strategies in difficult times.

When we think about the experiences that lead to difficulties in childhood and beyond, there are two distinct types: the absence of certain necessities or the presence of hurtful events.

If a child is neglected; if they’re not praised enough — perhaps from a parent’s misguided notion that this will give them a “swelled head” — or if they’re not encouraged to do things, the child will grow up with a lack of confidence and self-worth.

Children take things personally, so what they experience informs their identity. 

If part of the neglect includes a lack of protection from hurtful experiences, the child will grow up feeling helpless, worthless — because they’ll start to see themselves as not entitled to protection — and perhaps even deserving of harm. Children take things personally, so what they experience informs their identity. Love them, and they feel good about themselves; neglect them, and they feel bad.

In terms of adverse events that happen to a child, these experiences can take many forms: a child can be emotionally hurt or abused through harsh criticism, shaming, blaming or the instilling of guilt; they can be physically assaulted via overly harsh corporal punishment or beatings with fists, belts or other objects, or they can be sexually abused.

The child can have an overly-controlling or perfectionist parent; a narcissistic parent who expects the child to excel so that the parent can feel good about themselves, or a parent who competes with their child because they’re threatened by the child’s youth and promise.

A child can be picked on, bullied, made fun of or taken advantage of. They can be ostracized and isolated by those around them, and made to feel worthless and useless.

These experiences can occur at home, at school, during extra-curricular activities or in play-time. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, even members of the clergy can be responsible for hurting a child. Sometimes, more than one person is doing so, which of course adds to the child’s current and future emotional difficulties.

There’s another, more subtle way a child can be hurt, and this is when one or both parents make the child responsible for tasks that they’re too young to manage. This makes the child feel incompetent and inadequate and often filled with shame for “failing” at tasks that developmentally, they’re not expected to know how to accomplish.

These types of tasks can include being made to care for younger siblings or managing the household at a very young age; being put in the role of parental confidante; being thrust into the position of mediator between fighting parents; being responsible for the family’s finances, or being pressured to perform at school, in their hobbies (for example, performing arts, spelling bees or math competitions) or in individual or team sports at a level that is beyond them, or not what they themselves want to do.

Sometimes, it’s not the parents who expect too much from a child; it can be a teacher, a coach or anyone else who is pushing a child beyond the limits of their ability. There’s a fine line between encouraging a child to do their best and making a child feel oppressed by adult expectations. Encouragement and support will most likely bring out the best in a child, but pushing them too hard could cause them to have emotional problems.

If we want to protect our children from harm and prevent current and future difficulties, we need to be aware of the ways in which a child’s self-confidence, self-worth, sense of optimism and ability to function can be compromised.

Some hurtful experiences come from other types of family stressors; for example, when one of the parents or a sibling becomes ill or dies; when one or both parents are very young and ill-equipped to handle being a parent; when a parent is suffering from mental illness and their symptoms are expressed in bizarre or unpredictable behaviour toward their children; when parents are dealing with other difficulties such as work stress, financial problems, crises in the extended family, serious addictions or a troubled marriage.

All of the above are experiences which will have a negative impact on a developing child. If we want to protect our children from harm and prevent current and future difficulties, we need to be aware of the ways in which a child’s self-confidence, self-worth, sense of optimism and ability to function can be compromised.

When we see signs of dysfunction or disturbance in a young child, such as excessive anger, sleep refusal, acting out, defiance, compulsive behaviours, destructive behaviour toward themselves or others, truancy, school failure, agitation or moodiness, we need to search carefully for the roots of this behaviour and as much as possible, address the problem immediately, so as to improve things for the child, now and for the future.

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. 

Kids and Boundaries

Teaching Kids How To Set & Protect Their Boundaries (And Keep Toxic People Out)

Teaching Kids How to Set Boundaries and Keep Toxic People OutPart of helping our kids to be the best they can be sometimes means pointing out things they can do differently. They might not always be happy to receive the information – they’re no different to the rest of us like that. There’s a difference though – a big difference – between feedback that’s given with generous intent and that which fractures the child’s self-concept or self-esteem. Anything that causes shame, humiliation or the ‘shrinking’ of a child is toxic.

We’re here to grow our kids, to help them find flight, and to help them navigate around anything that might lead them to believe those wings of theirs are broken. Their wings are never broken, but the people who touch their lives sometimes are.

It’s not always easy to withdraw a child from a toxic adult, particularly if that adult is a teacher or a parent, but there are things we can do to strengthen the shield around them and teach them the skills that will protect them for life – because let’s be honest, toxic people will come and go throughout the healthiest of lives and it’s not unusual for them to latch on to people who are kind, generous or open.

Strength of character seems to be no barrier to their poison. Sometimes we won’t see them coming and the first we’ll know is that day we wake up and the world feels a little blacker.

Strength and courage come in at the point of closing down to the influence of somebody who’s toxic. It’s in all of us to do this, and it’s up to us to give our kids a lamplight to find theirs, permission to use it, and modeling to show them how.

Here’s how to protect the little humans in your life (and you) from the people who might shrink them now, and against the toxic ones who might come later.

  1. First things first – is it really toxic?

    Rule out other explanations for how your child is feeling. Is your child struggling with work and misreading the teacher’s response? Is your child sensitive to an adult’s tone or volume or abrasive manner? If the adult is like this with everyone, the behaviour is not necessarily toxic. It might not be friendly, but it’s not toxic.

    Also rule out that your child is not doing anything that keeps them under the spotlight. Is is a true case of being targeted by an adult, or is your child consistently talking or interrupting the class, the lesson, the training. How does the adult respond? The response should never be shaming or humiliating. Check this out by chatting with your child and the adult. Then keep an eye on things. Remember that one of the tools of the trade for toxic people is to blame other people for their own messed up behaviour.

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    Toxic People Affect Kids Too: Know the Signs and How to Explore a Little Deeper
  2. Does the person involved have all the information?

    Does the adult have all the information he or she needs to best look after your child? For example, are there things happening at home that might be affecting your child’s behaviour? Is your child a little bit anxious and prone to being sensitive to behaviour which would be inoffensive to most? Give the adult the benefit of the information. Most people will be pleased to receive the information as the last thing a non-toxic person would want to do is to unknowingly cause distress.

    If you’ve established that it’s not an oversensitivity or anything the child is doing …

  3. Withdraw support for the adult.

    We’re constantly told as parents to support the teacher, the other parent, the coach, and this is true but as with everything else, there’s a limit. When supporting the adult becomes supporting his or her toxic behaviour (the contamination of the child’s self-esteem, confidence or self-concept), it’s time to withdraw support. Let your child know that you don’t agree with the adult – whether it’s a teacher, coach or whoever, and that whatever was said or done should not have happened.

  4. Now for how to set boundaries.

    We hear the word ‘boundary’ a lot but what is it actually? A boundary is the line between what is me and what is not me; between what they think and what I think. With a strong boundary, there’s an acceptance that just because they think it/ feel it/ say it/ do it/ doesn’t mean I have to as well. Here are a few ideas for the words:

    ‘We all have a thing around us called a boundary, which is a line between ourselves and other people. You can’t see it but it’s there. It’s kind of like an invisible forcefield and it’s there to protect each of us from the people who feel bad to be around – not the ones who feel good to be around most of the time but sometimes get cranky or cross, but the ones who say mean things or do mean things that you just don’t deserve.

    You are completely in charge of that forcefield around you. You can decide when it goes up and when it comes down. You can decide what’s allowed in and what has to stay out. You’re the boss and you’ll always be the boss.

    Now, it’s still important to listen and learn from people when they remind you about things you need to do differently – it’s the secret of being awesome. Sometimes though, there might be people who do or say mean things so often that you never feel good when you’re around them. That’s when it’s okay to put your forcefield up. In fact, it’s one of the bravest things you can do. It’s important to respect other people, but it’s even more important to respect yourself first – and putting up your forcefield is one of the ways you can do this.

    We can’t control other people but we can control whether we let the mean things they say or do come close enough to hurt us. Being a kid is hard work – and you’re awesome at it. Everyone is responsible for how they treat other people, including grownups and you, but the person you have to treat the very best is yourself. Sometimes that means not listening to what other people might say about you.

    Sometimes you have to be your own hero and protect yourself from being hurt by people who don’t know the rules about being kind and respectful. This is important because you’re awesome – you’re clever, kind, funny brave and strong – and the world needs every bit of you.’

  5. ‘Did you know ….?’

    Toxic behaviour is often automatic. People do it without thinking about it or considering that there’s a better way to be. That’s not an excuse – not an all – but it can be an important way for your child to further take on the truth that the way someone is treating them actually has nothing to do with them at all.

    Kids will often tend to assume that adults know what they’re doing. Let them know that nobody is perfect – and that when it comes to how to ‘be’ with people, some adults don’t know what they’re doing at all.

    Here’s how to start the chat:

    ‘Did you know that a lot of the things we do are automatic? A lot of time, people just do things because it’s what they’ve always done. They don’t even think about it.

    What this means is that when people are mean and do things that feel bad for you, they haven’t stopped to think that there might be a better way to do it. Sometimes it’s because they haven’t had any adults in their lives to teach them when they were kids, so they grow up doing things that aren’t that great. The habit part of their brain does things before the kind part of their brain can say, ‘Hang on a second. You’ll hurt someone if you do that to them.’

    Our behaviour depends on many different parts of our brain working together and sometimes, they don’t work together that well. It’s important to know that people’s brains can change. Just because someone is mean to you now, doesn’t mean that person will always be mean to you – but you don’t have to wait for that to put your forcefield up. Nope. Not at all.’

  6. ‘No!’ It’s the best word in the universe when you use it the right way.

    ‘For such a little word, saying ‘no’ can feel really hard sometimes but the thing is, it can be the bravest, most powerful word in the universe. It can take strength and courage to say but you have plenty of that. If somebody is asking you to do something that feels bad, wrong, or embarrassing, it’s always okay to say, ‘No’. It can be a hard word to say because you might worry about what people will think of you if you say it, but if they’re asking you to do something that feels bad, then what they think of you already doesn’t matter. Listen to that little voice inside you. If it’s telling you something doesn’t feel right, then listen. I’ll always back you up on that because I trust that little voice of yours, and you need to trust it too.’

  7. Don’t let them change you.

    Help your kids to see the importance of preserving their own character and the great things about them in the face of the things that might change them.

    ‘There’s a bully and a hero in all of us and it’s important not to become a bully when you’re dealing with bullies. This isn’t always easy. You might feel sad or angry or scared and want to hurt the person who has hurt you – but you’re better than that. Respecting yourself doesn’t mean disrespecting other people. Be kind. Be caring. Be strong. But that doesn’t mean you have to like them.

    It’s completely okay to forgive people who are mean. In fact, it’s a very strong thing to do, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept these people back if you don’t think they deserve you. Just understand that there are so many reasons that people do mean things, and none of them are because of the person you are. You’re awesome. We already know that. Mean people weren’t born mean. Something happened to change them that way. Probably something pretty awful. Just don’t let that happen to you.’

  8. Your happiness doesn’t depend on what someone else thinks of you.

    ‘The truth is, nobody will ever know everything about you. If it’s someone who says mean things and who feels bad to be around, that sort of person will really never know the best of you and actually, they don’t deserve to. They’ll never know how funny you are, how kind you are, the amazing way you think about things, how brave, smart and strong you are and how crazy good you are to be around when you trust the people you’re with.’

  9. Stay calm.

    Your child needs to know that you’ve got this. The worst thing you can do is anything that will cause them to regret telling you. You’ll probably feel angry and upset – that’s completely understandable! – but just don’t get angry and upset in front of them. It’s so important not to do anything that might cause them to feel as though they need to look after you.

  10. Be their voice.

    Sometimes we have to be the voice for our children, particularly in relationships where theirs is the quieter, softer and less powerful. When it’s time to talk to the adult involved, start by being curious and open: ‘Is there something my child is doing that he or she needs to improve on?’ Then, keep emotion out of it and stick to specific data, ‘I’d like to talk to you about something you might not be aware of …’

    You’ll have more chance of being effective if you can limit the likelihood of a defensive reaction. That means not going on the attack. You’ll want to, but don’t. Stick to the facts. Share the information you have about how the behaviour is effecting your child or their capacity to work, train, be: ‘When you do [ … ], [ … ] happens. I understand that you might not mean anything by it and you might not even realising it’s happening, but it’s just not getting the best result.’

    Ask how the person plans to address things for the future. If they aren’t prepared to do anything, go to someone higher up than them or, if you can, take your child out of their hands – they don’t deserve the influence. No adult has to like your child but if they don’t, they need to keep that to themselves and not let the child know. And that’s a big ‘Don’t argue’ to the adult. No child should have to manage the feelings of an adult.

  11. And When It’s Peer Friendships …

    Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us or who are ready to move in a different direction. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can have our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.

‘Sometimes people just aren’t able to be the way you would like them to be. It’s okay – really okay – to leave friendships that feel bad more than they feel good. In fact, it’s important. There are people out there who will love you so much and love being with you just the way you are, and letting go of the people who feel bad to be around will make room for the ones who feel good to be with.

Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that how awesome you are depends on the number of friends you have. It doesn’t. Not at all. Sometimes people with less friends are the most amazing people you could ever meet – it’s just that they’re waiting for the right people to find them. And that’s completely okay. Being on your own doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you – it certainly doesn’t mean that! It means that you know what’s right for you and you know you deserve someone who who has make the effort to find out the wonderful things about you – and that is totally awesome.

There are plenty of people who will love your socks off when they get to know you and who will want to be around you. They just have to find you, and you them, which you will. But the most important things is not to stay with people who are mean because you’re scared of being on your own. Being on your own can feel lonely, but being around the wrong sort of people feels even lonelier, and completely awful.

Kids are clever. They know what’s going on and they’re intuitive. When they say something is off, it usually is. Ask them for information. Ask them for their opinion. Ask them what they think you should do and let them know that you understand. Kids just want to be our heroes too.

Eight Things Happy Couples Do Differently!

Steal these habits to make your relationship stronger than ever

Happy couple laughing

We all know them. The couples who revel in each others’ company, are each other’s number one supporter and clearly prefer each other over everyone else. Lucky them, eh?

Well, it’s not so much luck as hard work, says relationship psychologist and author Susan Quilliam. That easy camaraderie and total togetherness actually takes real graft.

“From the outside looking in, other people’s relationships can look effortlessly strong. However, this is rarely the case. Good relationships take work and constant attention. Being in a long-term, committed relationship means finding a way to retain our own identity while making room for someone else’s at the same time as creating a new one – an ‘us’ or ‘we’, rather than an ‘I’ or ‘me’ – each party is able to take on and share their partner’s life goals,” she says.

This is just one of the signifiers relationship psychologist John Gottman, world-renowned for his work on marriage stability and long-term relationships, flags up as a sign of a healthy, committed partnership. Read on for seven more ways to build stronger bonds and happier futures.

1. Happy couples…communicate

Successful couples don’t experience fewer set-backs than the rest of us, they just deal with them differently.

“It’s important to keep talking when these ‘life events’ strike, no matter how anxious or tense you might feel,” says Susan. “Sharing the load and coming to a practical solution together help you strengthen and build confidence in your partnership.”

2. Happy couples…check in with each other

Long-term relationships – or more specifically, the people in them – change, so don’t assume you know everything about your other half.

“Don’t take your partner for granted,” says Susan. “Opinions, hopes and dreams evolve. Is that the case with your partner? I often hear one half of a couple insist he or she isn’t supported in their goals, only for these goals to be complete news to the other party.”

3. Happy couples…show empathy and are self-aware

If you’re lucky, says Christine Northam of Relate, you’ll have grown up with a healthy model of arguing.

“If your parents argued productively – they were able to ‘fight fair’ – it’s more likely you will too,” she says. “But even if it was all-out war, there are lessons you can take from that. You probably have a good idea of how hurtful that particular behaviour was, and how it’s something you’d rather not repeat. So stop, reflect, and take time out to get some perspective.”

4. Happy couples…stay physically close

This doesn’t necessarily mean sex. Regular touching, hugs, kisses and hand-holding all help build and reinforce feelings of closeness. A recent report from the US, published in The Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, found those couples who had been married for more than 10 years and still described themselves as ‘intensely in love’ were also the couples who showed most affection towards each other.

We look at ways to bulletproof your relationship.

5. Happy couples…share common values

“Generally speaking, there are three indicators of how successful you’ll be as a couple,” says Susan. “These are common interests, complementary personalities and similar values. Of the three, sharing common interests is probably the least important, despite the fact that similar passions are what draw many couples together in the first place.

“Basic personality traits must be reasonably compatible, while common values – in my opinion, the most important of the three – must match,” says Susan. “Being constantly at war about the fundamental things in life that make you happy – family, friends, your work/life balance – is wearing and ultimately, rarely sustainable. These differences will grind a relationship down quickly.”

6. Happy couples…know definitions of love differ

“Your partner’s definition of what loves means, and what it means to be loved, might be different to yours,’ says Susan. “For instance, women like to be listened to, focused on, and appreciate small gestures such as their partner doing the washing up. They also like their partners to tell them they love them.”

Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to show ‘proof of love’ with gifts. In their eyes, the fact that the two of you are still rubbing along together means things must be going OK. Understanding and catering to this is essential in a happy partnership.

7. Happy couples…respect each other’s values

Happy partners understand that they sometimes have to do or put up with things they don’t like, because it makes the other person happy.

“If you have no problem turning a blind eye to an untidy house, yet still get the vacuum cleaner out because your partner hates mess, you’re saying, ‘I don’t understand it myself but I’ll help because you care about it and I love you’,” says Susan.

8. Happy couples…are committed

It sounds obvious, but you both have to want to be in the relationship to make it work.

“You need to place a higher value on ‘we’ than on ‘I’,” says Susan. “You have to show good will; prove that you to want to resolve issues and see them through.”


“We now begin to see love as intelligible and malleable.  We will be able to shift from an obsession with the FALL part of love to the MAKE aspect of love, and make this more than sexual connection.  We can develop confidence in our ability to work with and mold our most precious love relationships.  This changes everything!”        Dr. Sue Johnson

Three Kinds of Sex


Attachment theory can help us understand sexuality better. In a secure attachment relationship, the three aspects of relatedness – sexuality, caregiving and attachment – are integrated. Research says that securely attached couples tend to be more sexually satisfied and better at caregiving. In Hold Me Tight, I connect attachment strategies to habitual sexual behaviors. I suggest that there are three kinds of sex: synchrony sex, solace sex, and sealed-off sex. Synchrony sex is where eroticism, play, openness, and bonding come together and augment each other. In solace sex, more anxiously-attached partners tend to focus on reassurance and affection rather than on eroticism. The third kind of sex is sealed-off sex, where more avoidant partners focus mostly on sensation and performance. This kind of linking of sexuality and attachment – as a theory of romantic love – will enable us to integrate EFT and sex therapy interventions more and more effectively.



Why Men Are So Obsessed With Sex

While this article is written specifically for men, it is not exclusive to the male gender. 

(Originally published in K. Kay, J. Nagle & B. Gould (Eds.) Male lust: Pleasure, power, and transformation (pp. 215-222). New York: Harrington Park Press, 2000.)

Have you ever encountered a baby whose gender is unknown to you?Not knowing can feel profoundly uncomfortable. We barely realize how great the differences are in how we treat male and female people, in what we expect of them. These differences are by no means subtle, but they are so much the air we breathe that we can’t even see them. We have almost no experience of relating to human beings not on the basis of their gender. If we did, we would be at ease with someone whose gender we didn’t know. Instead, the first question we ask about a new person in the world is whether it’s a boy or a girl. Maybe if we can’t tell the difference, it’s because there isn’t one!

Nonetheless, from the moment of our birth, if not earlier, we are treated as gendered beings. We are not merely considered to have a gender, we are conditioned to have it. Moment by moment, day by day, and persistently over long stretches of time, the ways boys and girls get treated shape their identities. And the way boys learn to be male almost inevitably leads them directly to some kind of obsession with sex as they grow older.

Isolating Boys

All babies are considered okay to smooch and squeeze and hold close, female or male, but when they get old enough, boys stop being held and cuddled and stroked. If they reach out to adults for intimacy, we refuse them in the name of “self-sufficiency.” Though this promotes independence, it does so at the cost of intimacy. This isolation is reinforced by early sexist conditioning. Boys are taught that they are different from, and better than, girls, even that they should shun or hate girls. If they are fortunate enough to escape this particular piece of the conditioning and continue to have equal relationships with girls, they are quickly marked as “sissies” and called “girls” themselves. Loving or tender relationships with other boys get them similarly marked as “faggots” and put them in danger of violence and being ostracized.

Instead, boys are encouraged to develop relationships with other boys that are primarily competitive: playing sports, jockeying for higher rank in social hierarchies such as teams, clubs, and later on, gangs and fraternities. These groups often come together to do violence to other groups, either by “beating” them in competitions or in less symbolic forms of violence. In the armies in which so many of the world’s men at some point participate, we learn to kill and to be prepared to go down fighting, and this model repeats itself in gang wars of all kinds. These violence-based communities fulfill some of our needs for companionship and connection, when nothing gentler is available, and so they may not seem to contribute to male isolation. However, competitive and adversarial groups offer solidarity within the group at the cost of turning everyone else into an enemy. They breed fear of other people, even of the others within our group, with whom we also must compete for rank. We may not be alone when among the group members, but the internal isolation is intense. Relationships between group members buckle and break from the pressure of having to defend, protect, and prove ourselves. This is very different from the nurturing ease and satisfaction of a mutual, equal, fear-free relationship.

A systematic enterprise of denied contact, humiliation and name-calling, being ostracized, sexist conditioning, homophobia, competition, and training for violence leaves boys more and more on their own. This habit of being “on our own” becomes familiar. Isolation is a piece of the heritage of our conditioning as boys that we carry with us into our manhood. This description of male conditioning will not exactly match every boy’s experiences. But certain factors are almost universally present in one form or another for boys growing up in our present society. Isolation is one of three primary factors in our early conditioning that later leaves us vulnerable to sexual obsession.

Suppressing Boys’ Feelings

Young people naturally seek out other people for help and support when they are faced with painful feelings. When they get hurt, feel scared, become outraged or embarrassed, frustrated or sad, they seek and expect attention. The loving attention of another human being is necessary to feel these feelings and to heal the hurts that caused them. The isolation of boys keeps them from seeking out the attention they need, prevents them from even believing it’s okay to ask for help. They are left to deal with feelings themselves. Even worse, they are loaded down with messages that feelings are not something “real men” experience. They learn that, “Big boys don’t cry.” The process of crying is interrupted, and the tears are responded to by being ignored, laughed at, or answered with threats of violence.

Being scared is yet another thing boys are told threatens their maleness. They are expected to leap into any activity, no matter how dangerous or unfamiliar, without appearing fearful. Other feelings are in similar ways denied them, and they quickly learn that expressing emotions actually makes their situation worse. Over time, the only ways boys keep from showing their feelings is to train themselves not to feel them, to dull their awareness of their own experience, numb themselves to emotions. In the course of doing so, they decrease their ability to feel any feelings, joyful, painful, or otherwise. At the same time we become disconnected from other people, we are cut off from our own feelings.

Desensitizing Boys’ Bodies

As a subset of all the feelings we are forced to numb ourselves to, we “lose touch” with how our bodies feel. We learn, sometimes literally, to harden ourselves against pain, strain, and physical effort. The training to “act like a man” is present when young boys are encouraged to ignore physical injuries, not to cry, to bear the pain and go on as if nothing happened. This is exactly the training needed to convince men to work ourselves to the point of abuse, in both the workforce and the military. The sensuality of being alive in our bodies, aware of our senses, and breathing full breaths has been written off as an unmale attribute. Sensuality has been replaced with routine. Though we notice extremes, we are unable to perceive subtleties of feeling. Tenderness and gentleness, subtle and slow as they are, have been lost. Born into bodies marvelously equipped to feel, we are forced to shut down and accept numbness.

Is Sex The Answer?

This description may sound quite extreme. Yet it is only a picture of what is considered normal to impose on boys, what we take for granted. We don’t like to believe ourselves to be in such an extreme state. We think anything we made it through must not have been that bad. If it doesn’t seem, as men, that we have been so separated from each other, from women, from our feelings or our bodies, this may be because we have lost our memory of being that integrated, that connected. For most of us, the joy that is possible in our daily lives is so outside the scope of our experience that we have difficulty even imagining it. So consider here for a moment that most men alive have been through some form of this systematic conditioning. What happens to human beings who have been, since early in life, isolated from intimate connections with other people, cut off from their own feelings, and numbed to bodily awareness?

There was a time when we could perceive a loss of vividness, when it was clear that what was being offered us in our adult lives was far less than the abundance we knew was possible. As we stood facing the possibility that we would have to cope with the loneliness of isolation, the emptiness of lost feeling, the dullness of disembodiment, just then, intimacy, passion, and sensuality were all offered back to us in one, solitary form. Sex, we were told, is the answer. Everything you have lost can be found through sex. But here’s the catch: sex is the only way you can get it back! Imagine yourself in this scenario. The urgent need to pursue sex would bear down with great pressure.

Adolescent boys are exposed to a social imperative to get laid in order to prove their maleness, long before they even know what “getting laid” means. They are bombarded with sexual images through television, advertising, and pornography. These images are very compelling, somehow conveying to them that the great mystery of life can be experienced through sex. Every story of “true love” in the cultural mythology implies that relationships are built on sex, that sex consummates love, that feeling sexual feelings is the same as being in love. Directly and indirectly, we are handed sexuality as the one vehicle through which it might still be possible to express and experience essential aspects of our humanness that have been slowly and systematically conditioned out of us. Sex was, and is, presented as the road to real intimacy, complete closeness, as the arena in which it is okay to openly love, to be tender and vulnerable and yet remain safe, to not feel so deeply alone. Sex is the one place sensuality seems to be permissible, where we can be gentle with our own bodies and allow ourselves overflowing passion. Pleasure and desire, vitality and excitement, seemingly left behind somewhere we can’t even remember, again become imaginable.

This is why men are so obsessed with sex. We are born sensual creatures with an unlimited capacity to feel and an effortless propensity to deeply connect with all human beings. We are then subjected to continuous conditioning to repress sensuality, numb feelings, ignore our bodies, separate from our natural closeness with our fellow humans. All of these human needs are then promised to us by way of sex and sexuality. This is an effective lure because sexuality genuinely can be a potent source of love and pleasure, intimacy, sensuality, and beauty. But in no way can sex completely fulfill these needs. Such needs can only be fulfilled by healing from the effects of male conditioning and suffusing every area of our lives with relatedness and aliveness.

From Passion to Obsession

It’s as if a being of extraordinary power and passion had been reduced and dulled and diminished over many years. The memory of passion was put to slumber deep within this being, and the being walked through life with an elusive sense of something missing, something wrong. One day, a billboard appeared, and on that billboard, surrounded by images of naked bodies and erotic acts, were the words “PASSION AVAILABLE HERE!” So excited was this being to get at even the possibility of passion, which he could feel awakening deep within, that he rushed impulsively forward, never taking the time to read the small print at the bottom of the ad. This is what the small print said:

If you follow this path, be prepared on your way to reawakening passion to pass through a land called Obsession. Be aware that most men never make it out the other side. Sex, which will feel like the answer to your loneliness and deadness, will turn out to reinforce those feelings. You will come to feel more alive when thinking about or engaged in sex than at almost any other time. When you do experience sex, you may come closer to another human being than you can remember ever being. Sensing the safety to do so, you will begin to care deeply, and to feel all the joy and pleasure and every other feeling that has been trapped inside of you for so long, including all the fear you have never been safe enough to feel. And so the closer you get, the more scared you will feel. And you will find ways to pull back, and you will begin to believe that it is not safe and that you are just as alone as you have always felt. You will come to blame your partner or yourself for the inadequacy and for the inability of sex to make you back into the great, vulnerable, courageous, and free being you were born to be. But because some taste, some glimpse is available through sex, you will be driven to seek it out as the solution to your life-sized dilemma. If you escape the self-condemnation of sexual repression, you will desperately search for new kinds of sexual contact, real or imagined, to make you feel whole or to make you feel anything at all. But no matter how much sex you encounter, it will not be enough to fill your enormous need to love and be close and express your passion and delight in your senses and feel life force coursing through your muscles and your skin. All sexual desire will become tainted with your desperation. Passion and desperation will begin to seem one and the same. You will be Obsessed.

Sex quickly becomes addictive for most men. Like all addictions, it offers what feels like temporary relief from difficult circumstances, only to leave us more thoroughly immersed in those circumstances, and feeling as if more of it is the only way to even come up for air. Even if we do not engage compulsively in anonymous casual sex, pornography, masturbation, or fetishistic attempts to recover what has been forgotten, sex nevertheless takes on an addictive character. When we automatically fantasize about sex and sexualize people we meet in passing, when we are sexually engaged and feel an urgent need to have intercourse, to “get off”, to orgasm at all cost, we are being driven by these addictive impulses. It is difficult to accept that such attempts to get back what we’ve lost will always ultimately fail. Even if we accept it, we can’t find our way out. An addiction this persistent occurs for very definite reasons, and until those reasons are addressed, escaping the addiction may not be possible. In the absence of healing, the addiction serves necessary functions.

Men are frequently believed to be fundamentally malevolent and untrustworthy, particularly because of our “uncontrollable” sexual desires. In light of the compulsive form sexuality often takes, we attempt to repress all of it. Yet repression is exactly the wrong idea. If sex really is one of the few areas of our lives where we can still feel, can still tell that another person is actually there with us, can still sense the joy of inhabiting a body, then repressing sexuality, vilifying it, or sublimating it into work, plugs up one of the few remaining springs of vitality. Repression is not the solution. Repression is, in fact, the origin of the problem, and additional repression squelches our vitality even further. Passion, not repression, is our greatest ally in the battle to liberate our complete humanity. The message being offered us by our sexual obsession is that we are reaching for something we know we so badly need. The passion and the desire for closeness behind the obsession are our guides, despite the fact that they have kept us isolated when followed without reflection or awareness. Sexual obsession, when turned inside out, holds the key to our liberation.

Reclaiming Our Full Humanity

My vision for myself and for all men is that we reclaim every piece of our humanity that has been denied us by our conditioning. Obsession with sex can be healed when we reclaim all the essential aspects of the human experience that we have learned to manage without: our affinity for one another, caring connections with people of all ages and backgrounds and genders, sensual enjoyment of our bodies, passionate self-expression, exhilarating desire, tender love for ourselves and for one another, vulnerability, help with our difficulties, gentle rest, getting and staying close with many people in many kinds of relationships. If sex makes us feel more alive or less alone than anything else, this is an indication that vitality and closeness are glaringly missing from every other part of our lives. Because of the nature of male hurts, our healing requires that we get in close, and stay close, with other men and women whom we choose as our allies and to whom we choose to show ourselves. It requires that we move back into our bodies and care for them deeply. Because we have been alienated from other people, our feelings, and our bodies, we must now reclaim each of these in order to take back our humanness, and in doing so, end the desperation and the lack that keeps us obsessed.

The instruction manual for men reclaiming our full humanity, recently unearthed, contains the following highlights.

Reclaim Intimacy: Begin by directing the unconditional, loving admiration you used to reserve for people you’re attracted to, outward toward all kinds of people in all kinds of relationships. Start ten new kinds of relationships with people you never imagined could be your dearest friends and most dependable allies. Who are the people in your life who are ready to receive your trust and vulnerability? Give your trust to them and ask the same in return. Since there are no limits to the closeness possible with another person, what fears do you have to face to get even closer? Share those fears and ask for help instead of trying to manage them alone. Let the people in your life know what it’s really like for you, and enlist their help to bring closeness back into your daily existence. If you choose to have a primary partner, please remember that no matter how strong the relationship, one person is not enough for any human being to be close with. It is in your nature to desire closeness with all people, closeness that rarely has anything to do with sex. We have yet to discover what it will be like to have so much and such varied closeness in our lives.

Reclaim Feelings: The passionate intensity you’ve saved only for sexual encounters can fire up all areas of your life. What else besides sex ignites that much passion? What dreams and desires for your life would you need to rekindle in order to burn as brightly about your daily existence? Take on the challenges that make waking up exciting, that fill you with a sense of wonder and magic. Expand the envelope of who you think you are. Find feelings long buried and set them free. Cry wet tears and laugh with your whole voice; tremble with fear and giggle with embarrassment; storm with outrage at the cruel ways we’ve been hurt; weep with tenderness at the beauty of our existence. We need one another to feel these glorious feelings, so ask for all the help and love and attention you need. And you do need it. We just can’t do this alone, and we should never have had to in the first place.

Reclaim Your Body: Sensual pleasure is our birthright, and it is available in thousands of forms besides sex. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot through the grass, the mud, the rain. Learn to breathe freely, so that every breath reminds you that you are alive right now! Dance, finding and releasing the movement within you, reveling in the gorgeous organism that you are. Touch your body freely and frequently, reawakening your senses. Take joy in the movement of your muscles, the feel of your sheets sliding on your skin as you lie down to rest, the splash of cool water on your face, and the swish of that coolness in your mouth as you drink. Become aware of the food you take in, not only savoring the taste, but also cultivating a sensitivity to how it makes your body feel long after it is digested. What would it take to slow yourself down enough to notice how much feeling is always available for your awareness? As you rediscover your senses and your infinite, creative range of movement, play like you did as a boy, when no one had to teach you how. Play hard and play soft, inventing ways to be in exuberant contact with everyone in your life.

From Obsession to Passion

If sex is expected to be our primary source of contact, feeling, pleasure, and love, our main connection with the memory that life is exciting and mysterious and joyful, then of course we will be obsessed with sex. Luckily, the conditioning that has put us out of touch with all these things is completely reversible. Every quality we have turned away from can be reclaimed. The passion that narrowly fixates upon sex can lead the way to a wide-open life vibrant with passion. The desire to be close that has been confused with sexual desire can motivate us to create closeness everywhere. When we fill our lives with the things we previously expected only from sex, our lives are richer, and even our experience of sex is transformed.

It is possible to be completely relaxed about sex. When sexual desire is purged of desperation, urgency, loneliness, and fear, then sex can be inspired by joy and sexual relationships can be healthy and whole. When sex is a choice, one of many choices, with no rush to get to it and no cost in missing it, it’s possible to be at ease with sex and sexuality. Sex can be an exquisite celebration of intimacy and expression of love, a place for healing, a time to play with all the vigor and enthusiasm we had as children. Sex can be a place to express the passion cultivated by living a vibrant life and to delight in the ecstasy we all deserve. Sex can be separated out from all things that it is not. It can stop being the sole source of all the things that it is. We are making the long journey out the other side of the Land of Obsession. On the other side is a rich, full life beyond our conditioning, where passion takes new forms each day and we are deeply related, never alone. A new paradigm is possible for men, wide open for us to explore.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange’s San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he’s not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what’s possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.

Is an Affair Inevitable?

Is it inevitable that in a long term relationship somebody has an affair?

LOVE SENSE With Dr. Sue Johnson: Your questions answered. As an expert in the field of bonding and attachment, Dr. Johnson receives many questions requesting…

The Place of Wounds (Part1)



Our wounded self shapes our lives in big ways.

By wounded I mean bruised and hurt by circumstances (often out of our control). And going as far back as the womb and encompassing everything from genetic predisposition to abuse and hardship.

Wounds are inevitable. Though perhaps the more tragic ones are preventable.

Wounds burrow deep into our marrow and deep into our sense of self.
Every hurt leaves a scar…every hurt leaves a memory.

Every hurt molds our thoughts and attitudes and expectations. And consequently many choices we make and lifestyles we create arise from the pain of our wounds.

In an attempt to satiate this pain, or foolishly attempt to cover it up, we might choose certain jobs and careers, or a particular life-partner or friend or community. Even our choices in clothing and vehicles and homes can be the result, in some way, of the wound(s) we carry inside.

I must mention that some wounds are traumatic and lead to despondency and misfortune. We find those survivors on our streets, or filling our prisons, or separated in a hospital ward or managing life using some manner of medication.

Saying that, and not wishing to deny such deep wounding, there is hope for each of us. We can make different choices that move beyond the effects of our wounds.

If you don’t like where you are in life,
or if you want more from where you are in life,
or are in any way feeling empty, sad, angry, or confused (which most of are to some degree and at various points in our life), we will find that the only way out is through connecting to the wound and changing the thoughts, attitudes, and expectations created by it.

As a pastor I must add that when we pray for healing we do not pray for changed circumstance but pray to enter the wound that gives reason for the circumstance.

It is only in healing from the inside that circumstance externally changes. And it is only entering this scary place of hurt that there is any hope for change. Any other renewal process fails. I will say more about this in part 2 (next month).

Unfortunately wounds left unattended will continue to mold our lives…and not for the better. When wounds mold us we can become self-absorbed, seeing most everything and, quite possibly, most everyone as a means to an end. This ‘end’ being the alleviation of our pain.

Its not that we consciously act in this ‘egocentric’ manner, but our wounds are just that, wounds. And all wounds need a balm. Getting this balm can feel like the point of our lives and we seek it in the subtlest of ways. Sometimes this process is hidden even to us.

We can become entwined in a complex set of circumstances, that took years to build, only to find that, though initially satisfying, latter turns to a miserable and complicated mess. Ask anyone who has been married a few times, or has found his or her career less then expected (and needed), or the person who can’t stop crying or getting angry no matter how comforting and affirming their support system is.

As I see it, we are all on a journey towards greater wholeness and health. Some choices enhance this. Some choices don’t. We do our best with what we know and the resources available to us.

Wounds are not bad. They just are. And our wounds have their place in who we are and who we will become. Rumi tells us that wounds are “the place the light shines in.”

However, aside the good graces of God at work through our woundedness, leading us, we hope, to greater compassion and wisdom, unredeemed wounds can limit our potential. And In part 2 of this article I would like to share some ideas on how we might move beyond our wounds and to start living into choices that are more authentically ours, free of the trappings from our past.

Source: The Place of Wounds (Part1)

Thoughts on Memories, Grief and Loss


Thoughts on Memories, Grief and LossFor the first few months after my dad’s passing, it was really hard to talk about him and even harder to recall memories, vivid, detailed descriptions of my father and poignant times past. Because with the memories came the obvious grasp that my dad is gone. It was the very definition of bittersweet. Sure, there might be laughter and the subtle shape of a smile, but inevitably there’d also be tears and the realization that this is where the memories ended.

But as the months passed, remembering and recounting tidbits from my childhood, my dad’s sayings and jokes and other memories started doing the opposite: they started bringing me a sense of peace. Not an overwhelming wave of calm, but a small token of serenity. I also knew very well that talking about my dad meant honoring his memory and his presence in the world.

In her beautiful memoir Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading(stay tuned for my review!), Nina Sankovitch writes about the importance of words, stories and memories…

I was in my forties, reading in my purple chair. My father was in his eighties, and my sister was in the ocean, her ashes scattered there by all of us in swimsuits under a blue sky. And only now am I grasping the importance of looking backward. Of remembrance. My father finally wrote out his memories for a reason. I took on a year of reading books for a reason. Because words are witness to life: they record what has happened, and they make it all real. Words create the stories that become history and become unforgettable. Even fiction portrays truth: good fiction is truth. Stories about lives remembered bring us backward while allowing us to move forward.

The only balm to sorrow is memory; the only salve for the pain of losing someone to death is acknowledging the life that existed before.

At first it seems unlikely how acknowledging a lost loved one’s life by looking backwards inches you forward. But Sankovitch writes:

The truth of living is proved not by the inevitability of death but by the wonder that we lived at all. Remembering lives from the past ratifies that truth, more and more so the older we get. When I was growing up, my father told me once, “Do not look for happiness; life itself is happiness.” It took me years to understand what he meant. The value of a life lived; the sheer value of living. As I struggled with the sadness of my sister’s death, I came to see that I was facing the wrong way and looking at the end of my sister’s life and not at the duration of it. I was not giving remembrance its due. It was time to turn myself around, to look backward. By looking backward, I would be able to move forward…

Are you familiar with Dickens’s The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain? The protagonist is haunted by various painful memories. A ghost, who is essentially his double, appears and offers to remove all his memories, “leaving a blank slate,” Sankovitch explains. But it isn’t the glorious, pain-free existence the man imagined. After he agrees to be rid of the memories, “all the man’s capacity for tenderness, empathy, understanding and caring” also vanishes.

“Our haunted man realizes too late that by giving up memories, he has become a hollow and miserable man, and a spreader of misery to all whom he touches.”

The story does conclude with an epiphany and a happy ending: The man realizes that this isn’t a life, and he’s allowed to break the contract and get his memories back. (And since it’s Christmas, he also spreads holiday cheer to others.)

This story reminds me of something researcher Brené Brown writes about in her powerful book The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are: Just like the man in Dickens’s story is relegated to an emotionless existence after his memories are purged, the same happens when we try to choose which feelings we’d rather feel.

Brown’s research, which is the basis for her book, showed that “there’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing.” Instead, you get the same blank slate as Dickens imagined. As Brown writes, “There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light.” She observed this first-hand: “When I was ‘taking the edge off’ of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of the good feelings, like joy…When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy.”

Not only do we lose joy and other positive emotions, but we gain indifference. Which is a very scary thing. As Elie Wiesel has eloquently said:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.

To me, what’s worse than the bittersweet reality of the memories and the realization that the memories have ended with my father’s passing is the blank, unfeeling, unempathetic, uncaring slate. It’s the equivalent of ignoring my father’s life and the richness he brought to everyone else’s. To disregard the memories is to not only shelve the sadness of his passing but the happiness, vibrancy and joy of his precious life. It’s to snub my father of the sacrifices he’s made and the impact he’s had. And that’s not a life worth living.


14 Ways to Create the Best Relationship of your Life

by Dr. Sue Johnson

After 30 years of working with couples and researching how people repaired their relationships, I suddenly realized that we had really reached a pivotal moment; all our studies, stories, and the science had come together, and we were in the midst of a revolution—a new way of truly understanding romantic love. Finally we can grasp the laws of love—and they make sense!

We have cracked the code of love and have found the pathway to the relationships we long for. You can create a fulfilling, safe-haven relationship, restoring the romantic love bond, beginning now:

1. Abandon the out-of-date idea that love is something that just happens to you.

All the new science tells us that romantic love is no longer a mystery. It makes perfect sense. You can learn its laws. You have more control over this riot of emotion than you think! What you understand, you can shape. The first step is to decide to learn about love and the new science of bonding.

2. Every day, try openly reaching out to someone and asking for their attention or affection.

Accept that you are a mammal and that love is an ancient, wired-in survival code. You are happier, healthier, stronger, deal with stress better, and live longer when you foster your bonds with your loved ones. It is OK to need them; they are your greatest resource. We are not designed for self-sufficiency. The strongest among us accept this need for connection and risk reaching for others.

3. The next time you feel uncertain or worried or anxious, try just mentioning this to your partner and taking their hand, or noticing their emotional signals and reaching for their hand.

The bonds of love offer us a safe haven where we can take shelter and regain our emotional balance. The latest study in our lab shows that just holding your loved one’s hand can calm your brain and shut down fear.

4. See if you can notice some times when you find openness hard, and you become defensive or distant or shut down.

We know that emotional openness and responsiveness are the ground on which solid, lasting bonds stand. See if you can take the initiative and share with your partner, helping him/her understand what makes it hard to be open at this time.

5. Reflect on how you and your partner usually interact.

Can each of you reach out for the other? What do you do when the other gets upset or does not respond to you? Do you push for contact or move away? Tell your partner one thing they could do to help you reach for them rather than moving against or away from them.

6. Try to talk with your partner about how you impact each other.

Both of you offer safety or danger cues that our brain takes as serious survival information; we are all vulnerable when alone. When do you arouse real joy or contentment for your partner? When do you spark distress—a sense of being rejected or alone? Our brains code this kind of hurt in the same place and in the same way as physical pain.

7. When you get in a fight, take a deep breath and try to see the fight as if you’re a fly on the ceiling.

Often underneath the discussion of problem issues, someone is asking for more emotional connection. See if you can get curious and pinpoint the dance; maybe it’s the typical boogie where one pushes for contact, but the other hears criticism and steps back. See how it leaves you both feeling alone and a little scared. Talk about that.

8. Invite your partner into more closeness once a day by playing a simple empathy game.

Each person thinks of an event in their day. Then you take turns at reading each other’s face and trying to pinpoint whether you see one of the six basic emotions: joy, surprise, sadness, anger, shame/embarrassment or some kind of fear. See if your guess is right. Learning to tune in matters!

9. Take a quiet moment, tune into the emotional channel and see if you can each share with your partner what you need most.

Keep it simple and concrete. Do you need comfort, reassurance, support, and empathy, a clear message of how important you are to him/her? If it’s too hard to share this, share how hard it is to open up and ask.

10. Be mindful of the fact that emotional injuries derail relationships.

You can inflict great pain on your partner simply because you matter so much—you are the one he/she depends on. At a close moment, ask your lover if there are injuries that are unhealed, perhaps times when you missed their cues for support and connection. Try to help them with this hurt. (It doesn’t just fade with time.) Often just telling them that you can feel how they hurt and want to help them with it works wonders.

11. Know that the best recipe for great sex is safe emotional connection and open communication.

Write down a short description of what your ideal lover might do in bed and how he or she might invite you into erotic play. Give this to your partner and see what you discover about each other. Remember, criticism literally hurts and shuts down exploration and sexuality.

12. Talk about what you learned in your family about how to deal with emotions.

Emotions are the music of the dance lovers do; it helps if the music is clear. Then you can predict each other’s intentions and know how to move together in harmony. Talk about the things you learned that make it hard to listen to or share your feelings.

13. Tell each other your main goal for the next year and see if you can find one way to support each other to reach it.

It is clear that when we know someone has our back, we are more confidant and more adventurous. We achieve our goals more easily and are less derailed by disappointments.

14. Honor your connection. Create small rituals to recognize your bond.

Maybe it’s a special kind of kiss when you leave in the morning or a special 10-minute bonding time when you first come home. This is sacred time. No business agendas, problem solving or distractions in the form of small electric screens are allowed.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the bestselling author of Hold Me Tight and Love Sense (January 2014), is a clinical psychologist and Distinguished Research Professor at Alliant International University in San Diego, CA. Creator of an effective new model of relationship repair (Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy), she has written numerous articles and trained thousands of therapists around the world. She divides her time between New York, San Diego, and Ottawa.