Every couple I see in my practice comes in needing help with one thing in their relationship—connection. They may not know how to put it into words, or may have other concerns on top of this, but after a few sessions, it always seems to come down to this core need to feel connected to their partner. It may seem like a bold statement to say that every single couple needs help with this, but I believe it to be true because so many of our problems could be solved without outside help if we were truly connected to each other.
Now, it might be important here to define what I mean by connection—true connection—because I’m not just talking about the “Hi, how was your day?” after-work-greeting in the kitchen. The connection I’m talking about involves being emotionally attuned to one another so intimately that we can sense when something is off and we can create the space in our relationship to share and talk about it with each other. But again, this sharing and talking is not the typical problem-solving that most couples do. This sharing involves being willing to explore our deep, dark, scary emotions of fear and inadequacy and allow our partner to comfort us through each of these feelings instead of pretending they aren’t there.
This is difficult work to do in therapy because for most people, they’ve never experienced a relationship that was safe enough for their insecurities and pain to be divulged in, let alone for it to then be listened to, respected, and taken care of. Most of us have dealt with this lack of emotional safety our whole lives by either anxiously pursuing for reassurance that we matter to our partner, or by withdrawing to avoid the feeling that we aren’t good enough for our partner. In therapy, we ask you to break your patterns and take a risk with your emotions, knowing that they will be held precious by your therapist at first, and eventually by your partner as well.
The neat thing about all of this is that when we are in love, we have a natural tendency to protect ourselves with defense mechanisms because the person we love has more power than anyone in the world to hurt us, but we have another even more powerful desire to love and cherish that person, we just let fear get in the way of our execution sometimes. Therapy is a safe place to start trying to put aside the defense mechanisms and the fear and start practicing emotional vulnerability with one another, which can lead to that true connection we all so desperately need to feel.
About the Author: Erin Rackham is a licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. She earned an M.S. from BYU and is currently completing her PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is currently a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.