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  • Writer's pictureHollie

A.R.E. you there for me?

Finn and Ash are a couple. One day, Finn comes home to find Ash stress cleaning in tears and pauses. A thought appears that says “Are they upset with me? Did I do something wrong?” and then another that says “I don’t know what to say”. Finn doesn’t want to make it worse, and quickly makes an excuse to rush out to the shops. Ash, on the other hand, knows that Finn noticed they were upset, and hasn’t checked in or acknowledged the situation. It was only something that happened at work, but Ash begins to think that Finn doesn’t care, and says to herself that Finn doesn’t -want- to know what’s wrong - that he’s happy to ignore her and go about his day. Ash doesn’t feel that Finn is emotionally responsive or there for her, and they continue to drift further apart.   

Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT), has spent 30 years studying relationships. In her research, she found that couples ask “Are you there for me?” in many ways. When the answer to that question is consistently shown to be ‘yes’, the relationship thrives. When it is perceived as a ‘no’, both partners can end up feeling isolated, frustrated, and lonely - just like Finn and Ash. Some amount of trust has been lost. However, trust in a relationship is not a logical or intellectual decision, but an emotional appraisal of the connection shared.

Emotional responsiveness is what makes that answer a ‘yes’. When couples know that their partner will be emotionally responsive to how they are feeling in a way that is helpful, supportive, and empathetic, it fosters connection and closeness. Dr Sue phrases it as ‘A.R.E. you there for me?’ because what that question really asks is “Are you Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged with me when I need you?”. The best thing about this acronym from EFT is that it focuses on creating a framework for secure emotional connection where partners feel safe and valued, especially when repairing a relational rupture. The more you A.R.E there for your partner, the more you will be rewarded in all areas of your relationship. Emotional intimacy also often translates to physical intimacy, in case you’re looking for that, too. 😉 So, let’s see what it’s all about. 

Having a partner that is Accessible means that they are available when you need them, and not just physically or logistically. With the age of smartphones and social media, we are connected all the time, but ironically these are often the things that disconnect us from each other. Being accessible means that you’re willing to put down your phone, and listen to your partner speak about whatever is stressing or exciting them (even if you aren’t -really- interested in a 20 minute deep dive on neuroscience research about the effect of menopause on the brain - thanks darling) . You’re willing to put down your project and give your attention to their concerns.  It also means you’re present, and willing to hold space for them in that moment. 

If you are Responsive, then it means that you are able to rely on your partner to interact with you on an emotional level in both good situations and bad. They are there to encourage you and celebrate your wins, and they are also there when things don’t turn out as well as you’d like. They show care, comfort, and concern. Partners who are responsive are able to tune into each other’s needs, which neurologically, helps reassure and calm our nervous system. It gives us the message that we aren’t alone in the world, and that we matter. (If you want to know why this is so important, go read about the ‘Still-Face Experiment’ from 1978). Even as newborns, our need for emotional connection and attunement is paramount. Without it, we are bound to retreat. 

The last part of the question calls for Engagement. Not only do partners need to be accessible and responsive to one another, but they need to be engaged in their conversations and interactions. It happens when your partner validates your emotions, expresses empathy, and is curious about your experience and perspective (rather than defensive). It’s when they express their appreciation for you, or their attraction, and when their words and behaviours show respect and admiration. It’s in that kind of relationship where we can feel valued, and truly loved. It’s that kind of relationship that lasts. 

When partner’s demonstrate that they A.R.E. there for each other consistently, it fosters an environment of trust. They no longer feel isolated in their struggles, and their emotional bond grows stronger. Trust is not a considered calculation, nor is it automatic. It’s cultivated through a series of emotionally attuned interactions, proving that you can rely on one another, and that you are not alone.


P.S. If you'd like to learn more about EFT and Sue's approach, her book 'Hold Me Tight: Your Guide to the Most Successful Approach to Building Loving Relationships' is available on Amazon. I enjoy using EFT and Attachment Theory with couples in my practice!

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