Every 13 seconds a couple in the United States is breaking up. So why are so many couples falling apart while other couples are able to maintain love and intimacy for a lifetime?
Relationships that last and thrive, all have one thing in common: Emotional responsiveness.
This may sound simple and obvious, however it’s not I believe that everyone knew the importance of being emotionally responsive. There wouldn’t be so many couples devolving into criticism and fighting and singles unable to find a great partner.
Here is what a lack of emotional responsiveness looks like in relationships: Your partner comes home from a long day at work says quick hello to you, and your kid, and you ask your partner how their day was? They say great. They ask the same question, and as you share the events of the day, your partner looks away, and shows zero signs that what you are saying matters.
You aren’t sure if they heard what you said oh cared, or if they just too emotionally stuck back in the office.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Here is the picture of what healthy emotional responsiveness looks like in action:
Your partner’s come from a long day at work, you ask them how their day was, they say great. Your partner asks how was your day, and you say “I had to take Max out of school because he threw up, and he took a long nap, and woke up crying and screaming.
I’m so glad you are home. It was a really tough day. I didn’t get any work done.”
Your partner says “Oh sweetie! I’m so sorry to hear tha!. Let me cook dinner for us and is there anything else I can do for you?”
You are exhausted but happy to be seen and heard. Your response: “thanks honey” and melt into the warm embrace of your partner’s arms. And as you do so, some of your day’s challenges melts away with it.
In this example your partner comes home and is genuinely interested in your day and it’s tuned into where you are at. When you express vulnerability around the challenges of your day, your partner offers support and treats you as the priority not just like Max’s caregiver.
When you are really connected, your relationships improves and what’s more your sex life improves with it.
Imagine if every time you were having a fight with your partner instead you were having a really great sex. sounds pretty good?
According to doctors Sue Johnston the founder of emotionally focused therapy, emotional responsiveness contains these three crucial elements:
- Number one – accessibility, which means you are there, when I call for you. You are available when I need you.
- Number two – responsiveness which means you can celebrate the good times with me and when I’m having a hard time you can soothe me.
- Number 3 – engagement which means – I’m your priority do you value me and can I feel that in our interactions, your level of emotional responsiveness can truly make or break a relationship.
Quite honestly if people give emotional responsiveness as much weight as a hot body or a six-figure salary in choosing the partner, we’d have a lot fewer breakups.
Can you imagine if potential partners like our friend Robert here wrote this on his Bumble profile: “In 20-years when you have more gray hair tell wrinkles I still promise to hit on you and i’ll find you sexy and really listen when you tell me about your day.”
I see in my work that most people didn’t receive a high level of emotional responsiveness in childhood and when looking for partners the often have a hard time finding it.
So how did we get here?
Philosopher Decart in the 17th century but forth the belief that the mind and the body are completely separate.
As a result, Western philosophy deprioritized emotions, the mind precedes and emotional realm became less important than thoughts and reason.
It’s coming to hear the phrase: “she’s so needy” or “I don’t want to be needy and I’ll turn him off” and so we have learnt the culture of relegate emotions and needs as less important.
Our culture has taught us independence is the ultimate goal, but the truth is we need each other in order to thrive.
Attachment theory and neuroscience say we need each other and we are wired for relationships and that our ability and our partner’s ability to be responsive to each other’s needs and emotions, is fundamental in creating a healthy thriving relationship.
So if the key to a healthy and thriving relationship is emotional responsiveness, then what is blocking so many of us from being emotionally responsive?
- Number One is believing that your partner is an adult and so shouldn’t require emotional responsiveness.
- Number two is feeling overwhelmed by work or stress and so you are not available or present for your partner, instead you feel shut down or disconnected. Are you connecting more with your smartphone then your partner?
- Number three is feeling overwhelmed and invaded by one of your parents.
- Number 4 is being out of touch and disconnected from our own needs. So when your partner has needs and feelings you do prioritise them as just as you have been conditioning to do.
So what can you do about these blocks?
Here are the four powerful tools you can use to break through them.
- First decide this is the most important element in your current or future relationship and commit to being an emotionally responsive partner and commit to remove any blocks that might get into your way of doing that.
- Second if work stresses making you unavailable to be present to your partner, find the ways to de-distress and come back into your body, so that you’ll be more available and present for your partner.
- Third, the one of both of your parents was engulfing, overwhelming or invasive while you were growing up, find a coach or therapist to help you heal those wounds, so you can be more emotionally responsive to your partner.
- Fourth, start to notice throughout the day “how do I feel right now?” and what emotions and needs do you experience. The more you value and trust your feelings and needs, the more you will value and trust the feelings and needs of others.
Our own country is in a state of deep distress on environmental, political and social levels. By moving from “I” to “we” , we prioritize having the skills and emotional capacity to the care not only for our own well-being but the emotional well-being of our dearest loved ones and community.
Like Mother Teresa said: “what can you do to promote world peace? go home and love your family!”