After 30 years of doing couples therapy, I know that both Alexia and James are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Submerged below is the massive real issue: both partners feel emotionally disconnected.
“If Alexia would just not get so emotional and listen to my argument about our finances and the kids, we would get somewhere,” James tells me.
“Well, if James would talk more and not just shout at me and blame me, we wouldn’t fight. I think we are just growing apart here.”
James and Alexia are watching their back, feeling criticized, shut out, and alone. Underneath all the loud arguments and long silences, partners are asking each other key questions in the drama of love: Are you there for me? Do I and my feelings matter to you?”
We know from all the hundreds of studies on love that have emerged during the past decade that emotional responsiveness is what makes or breaks love relationships. Happy couples quarrel, but they also know how to tune into each other and restore emotional connection.
Our loved one is our shelter in life. When this person is unavailable and unresponsive or attacking us, we are assailed in a tsunami of emotions–anger, sadness, hurt, and above all fear. This fear is wired in. Being able to rely on a loved one, is our innate survival code.
That being said, what’s a simple way to foster that wired need for connection? I am going to suggest a way. It’s fostered by a question. In a way, it seems so obvious. How could we not ask this question throughout our marriages? The question is this:
From time to time ask your partner, “What do you need from me to feel loved?”
This takes the guesswork out of marriage. It conveys to your partner that you are thinking of her/him and that you want to truly be loving and supportive. It’s also an opportunity to ask for what you need, too.
John Gottman calls this the positive need.
Having needs doesn’t make you needy, and you’re not burdening your partner when you express your needs. You are giving them a chance to know you, tune into you, and be there for you.
Homework (obvious): Ask your partner what she/he needs from you to feel loved..