When Sue was a child, she vowed to never get married. In her book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, she shares: "Romantic love was, I decided, an illusion and a trap. I was better off on my own, free and unfettered. But then, of course, I fell in love and married. Love pulled me in even as I pushed away." Dr. Johnson studied relationships carefully. She decided that all strong, loving relationships had one thing in common: a close emotional bond. She says: Relationships re about "the innate need for safe emotional connection." Everyone on the planet has a basic need for connection. Sue realized early on that relationships are all about "our wired-in need to have someone to depend on, a loved one who can offer reliable emotional connection and comfort." A survey conducted in the U.S. and Canada concluded that we, as humans, overwhelmingly long for a satisfying love relationship (ahead of financial success or a successful career).
What is love? It's a safe haven from the storms of life. A meaningful emotional connection. Dr. Johnson says: "Love is our bulwark, designed to provide emotional protection so we can cope with the ups and downs of existence." Furthermore: "We have a drive to emotionally attach- to find someone to whom we can turn and say "Hold me tight" - it's wired into our genes and our bodies. It is as basic to life, health, and happiness as the drives for food, shelter, or sex. We need emotional attachments with a few irreplaceable others to be physically and mentally healthy- to survive." Loving contact is as important as physical nutrition and when we lack that loving contact we can suffer from from Dr. Johnson calls emotional starvation. Sue says love is when we miss the person when they are away from us and also knowing that we can count on this person to be there for us when we go out into the world. "A sense of secure connection between romantic partners is key in positive loving relationships and a huge source of strength for the individuals in those relationships..." Studies have found that having a strong emotional connection (i.e., a good relationship) means that each partner responds when the other is upset, distressed or feeling distant from their partner. When their partner responds, they feel more confident about themselves and their relationship. When the appropriate loving response is not supplied by the partner, the partner in need will exhibit signs of distress such as anxiety, anger, controlling and feeling insecure (which in turn, causes a greater feeling of distance). Another interesting fact Dr. Johnson shared in the Hold Me Tight, was how partners in a loving, committed relationship (who feel safely linked to their partners) tend to show more curiosity and to be more open to new information. In addition, these partners are more confident about solving problems on their own and are more likely to successfully achieve their goals. Married men and women generally live longer, too (Dr. Johnson shares: "...loneliness raises blood pressure to the point where the risk of heart attack and stroke are doubled."). Emotional isolation is a more dangerous health risk than smoking or high blood pressure! Brain imaging studies show that rejection and exclusion trigger the same circuits in the same part of the brain as physical pain (the anterior cingulate). This part of the brain actually turns on anytime we are emotionally separated from the person we are close to. In addition, Sue explains how the quality of our relationships matter- they can have a direct correlation to our health and well-being. Those individuals in relationships where a partner felt there was not a strong emotional bond suffered nearly twice as many angina episodes in five years. "Distress in a relationship adversely affects our immune and hormonal systems, and even our ability to heal." Sue goes on to explain (just as negative contact with our partner can harm our health) how loving contact with our partner can do amazing things and science proves it. When we hug, cuddle or make-out with our partner we get a dose of oxytocin in the reward center of our brains. This floods us with calming, happy chemicals (dopamine) and it literally turns off stress hormones (cortisol). "Simply holding the hand of a loving partner can affect us profoundly, literally calming jittery neurons in the brain." A loving partner can therefore act as a buffer against stress, shock and anxiety. Dr. Johnson writes: "Love is not the icing on the cake of life. It is a basic primary need, like oxygen or water."
I found the book extremely interesting and rated it 5-stars. A few of my favorite quotes shared throughout the book include:
* "Love is everything it's cracked up to be...It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, your risk is even greater." -Erica Jong
* "We live in the shelter of each other." -Celtic saying
When fighting occurs in a relationship it is really a result of emotional disconnection. "Underneath all the distress, partners are asking the other: Can I count on you, depend on you? Are you there for me? Will you respond t me when I need, when I call? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you? Do you need me, rely on me? The anger, the criticism, the demands, are really cries to their lovers, calls to stir their hearts, to draw their mates back in emotionally and reestablish a sense of safe connection."
Hold Me Tight is full of information and insight- with the science to back the claims. I felt like I was highlighting every page! Dr. Johnson spent years as a couples therapist and not only does the book site scientific studies and research, but she also shares many stories from couples whom she's worked directly with. After all of her work with couples she explains: "Indeed, there is no greater trauma than to be wounded by the very people we count on to support and protect us." The book discusses seven specific conversations that are important to have with our partners in order to maintain a strong, loving relationships (i.e., a genuine emotional connection). If you're interested in the topic of relationships, love, and human connection- this is a must read! Below I share several more favorite points Dr. Johnson shared throughout the book:
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