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Helping Partners Find Emotional Connection

The first words a couple will report to a couple therapist is that their relationship is breaking apart because they do not communicate well to one another. In fact, once an exploration of the issues and problems of what is troubling the couple relationship emerges, what often becomes evident is that the original emotional connection which attracted these two people to one another in the first place has become, over time, disconnected. The rose-coloured lens through which the partners once saw the other as, “just the lover I have been needing,” has changed . Now, the couple has entered a phase of fighting for what he or she believes to be the true and right way. The faults of the other have become glaringly present, and each unconsciously, perhaps, harbours resentment that his or her partner has not healed his/her emotional wounds and deep needs that each partner brought into the relationship.

The task of the couple therapist is to remain neutral towards each partner’s sense of having been failed in the relationship. While the therapist acknowledges that effective couple communication is important to a strong and loving relationship, he or she must assess if certain essential qualities for a safe, trusting and loving relationship exist. These qualities have to do with establishing an emotional connection between the partners. Emotional connection means the sharing of information, seeking comfort or support from your partner, acting as an ally to your partner, behaving as your partner’s best friend, conveying emotion to your partner, conveying unspoken messages and body language that your partner is respected and loved, effecting some needed change in your environment, and understanding some important meaning from your partner’s words, expressions and nonverbal cues. In other words, it is not just what you say to your partner, or what you do, it is how you communicate your attitude towards your partner as a person, both intimately tied to you and distinctly individuated from you. It is how you act out your love, and what you choose to neglect to do, that also counts in forming and maintaining an emotional connection, or not.

Without this established emotional connection, the couple will repeatedly act out a negative “dance” or pattern of cyclical interaction, no matter what the disagreement may be. Partner’s trigger each others’ unresolved emotional wounds from childhood and family of origin which results in each partner becoming overly emotionally reactive, defensive, and not calm enough to resolve their problem. If this happens frequently enough in the relationship, the couple will accumulate a number of unresolved, festering issues which cause hurt, anger, sadness, resentment, anxiety, guilt, shame, and distance in the relationship. Intimacy and sex often falls by the wayside, and the couple concludes, over time, that they have fallen out of love and it might be best for them, and for the sake of the children, if they separate.

It is a tall order for the therapist to assist the couple to understand that, if they hope to reconcile and remain a couple, they need to set aside their anger and disappointment, and commit to really listen with respect and empathy to what the other has been experiencing. The couple therapist will guide the couple through a process of discovery, through the use of effective couple communication skills, to openly listen and compassionately understand the emotional wounds of the other and how this impacts their couple relationship. The couple will be able to identify steps to change their negative pattern of relationship to a more loving and healthy pattern once that all-important emotional connection has been re-established. Once reconnected, the couple will recognize that there are some topics or issues they may never fully agree on and it is alright to agree to disagree. They will learn when it is prudent to take a time-out to calm down and to allow objectivity to trump reactivity. Couple therapy will engender hope that the unconditional love and respect each partner has for the other will act as a foundation for the relationship through life’s trials and tribulations. The couple dance will be less about who won out or who is in control as to how each partner’s qualities, uniqueness, and need for connection will bring to the dance something infinitely more enjoyable and enriching than dancing alone.

For more information on emotional connection in couple relationship, go to:
http://ncsu.edu/ffci/publications/2007/V12-n1-2007. . ./fa-11-wiley.php “Connecting as a Couple: Communication Skills for Healthy Relationships” A. R. Wiley, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(1): 265-273.

www.gottman.com/about-gottman-method-couples-therapy/ Dr. John Gottman and his Couples’ Institute researchers promote seven components of shared emotional connection and meaning to make a relationship healthy and work.

Written By: Rhonda Fields, MA, Canadian Certified Counsellor – Supervisor. Rhonda is a psychotherapist who specializes in couple therapy for Capital Choice Counselling Group.