How Does Love Work?


When marriages fail, it is not increasing conflict that is the cause, as we are prone to believe. According to recent research, it is decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness. Indeed the lack of emotional responsiveness rather than the level of conflict is the best predictor of how solid a marriage will be five years into it. The demise of marriages begins with a growing absence of responsive intimate interactions. The conflicts come later. According to the research of John Gottman, couples who have an intimate responsive connection, are able to repair inevitable conflict. Without that love connection, conflicts will intensify, remain unresolved and emotional distancing will begin to undermine the relationship bond. How does that love connection work?
To shape this love connection, we have to be present, open and responsive, emotionally as well as physically. A secure bond is achieved through mutual accessibility and responsiveness. Most of the couples who sit in my office feel they are losing that connection. In my work with couples, I do help them understand how their actions or ways of addressing each other contribute to their troubled relationship, but my main goal is to ultimately help couples strengthen their bond.
Making love work is also accepting that, even when it's good, it is always a work in progress. Just when you get it right, one of you changes! Ursula Le Guin, the novelist, reminds us that love "does not sit there like a stone. It has to be made like bread, remade all the time, made new."
So how does love work? Dr. Sue Johnson writes in Hold Me Tight about what she has learned from her work with couples about how love works:

  • Our need for others to come close when we call--to offer us safe haven--is absolute. When that kind of bond is created, love works.
  • Emotion tells us exactly what we need, if we can listen to it and use it as a guide to express what we need from each other, not as an excuse for blaming or criticizing.
  • There is no perfect performance in love or sex. Obsession with performance is a dead end. It is emotional presence that matters.
  • In relationships, there is no simple cause and effect, no straight lines, only circles that partners create together. We pull each other into loops and spirals of connection and disconnection.
  • We all hit the panic button at times. We lose our balance and slip into anxious controlling or blaming and avoiding modes. The secret is to not stay in these positions. It's too hard for your lover to meet you there.
  • Neglect will kill love. Love needs attention. Knowing your attachment needs and responding to those of your lover can make a bond last until "death us do part." The secret is knowing how to express attachment needs and responding to each other without attacking or withdrawing.
  • Emotional balance, calm, and vibrant joy are the rewards of love. Sentimental infatuation is the booby prize.
Knowing all this, I still have to relearn these lessons every time I lose connection with my loved one. I still have to face that nanosecond of choice: to try and grab get shut down....or to breath deep and tune in to my own and my loved one's risk..... to reach..... to confide.... to hold. And that is how love works.

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Phone: (917) 656- 4363