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Feb 2016 by PCI College

Book Review: The Love Secret by Dr. Sue Johnson

PCI College Lecturer Pauline Macey reviews The Love Secret - The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships by Dr Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT)

There has been an explosion of research in Attachment theory in the last three decades and in this very timely book, Sue Johnson shares with us a very accessible and readable synopsis of the implications of this research and other relevant scientific enquiry on adult love relationships. In 'The Love Secret' she shares with us a highly informed analysis and understanding of the mystery of love, our need for it (our brains are wired for connection) and its profound impact on our important relationships. This book is written not just for relationship therapists, but for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of all that is involved in forming deeper bonds with our loved ones.
Our tendency to revere lone heroes and heroines from Ulysses to Mother Theresa to James Bond (“the quintessential practitioner of sealed-off sex” p117) is radically in conflict with our deeper needs for attachment, connection and secure bonding in close intimate relationships. Sue Johnson warns us that we seem to be working against our needs for love and commitment. More importantly she offers hope and guidance in three hundred pages packed with therapeutic findings, research and wisdom. She writes with passion about what she knows and believes in – the power of love and its implications for the quality of our relationships and our survival as a species in the twenty first century.

In a society that endlessly promotes the concept of loving ourselves and where independence and individuality are exalted, our capacity to sustain commitment and secure bonds in loving relationships is under threat. Rising rates of loneliness, addiction, depression, suicide, narcissism (and a host of other mental health issues) along with increasing rates of marriage and relationship problems threaten us all. We spend increasingly more time communicating through technology and interacting with a screen, than in face to face contact. “A survey by the consumer electronics review site Retrevo.com found that 10 percent of people under the age of twenty five don’t see anything wrong with texting during sex!” (p.276). In chapter five Sue explores the important area of our bodies in intimate relationships, exploring many aspects of our damaging attitudes to sex as well as the impact of insecure attachment. Our inability to find fulfilment in safe sex, leaves us vulnerable to porn, sex addiction and pushing our bodies to increasing levels of risk. Sealed-off sex (as she describes it) “divorces sex from emotional attachment, the springboard for optimal sex, which requires mutual engagement, attunement and responsiveness”. (p.140)

Based on thirty years of clinical studies, scientific enquiry and laboratory experiments (which began with her thesis supervisor Les Greenberg) and applied therapies, she presents us with a revolutionary new approach to couple relationships. As the founder of EFT (Emotionally Focussed Therapy for Couples), her work with thousands of despairing couples over the years, has led her to conclude that her “particular contribution lies in relationship repair” (p. 6). EFT has “an astounding 70 -75 per cent success rate …. Is routinely taught to counsellors in training in at least twenty five countries around the globe” (p. 6). EFT is essentially based on Attachment theory but also integrates contributions from biology, philosophy, neuroscience, ethology and social science. Throughout, Bowlby’s work and its development since he died (1991) is frequently referred to and in particular the implications of these studies on how we handle attachment trauma, loneliness and emotional disconnection. She reminds us that at all ages “we habitually seek and maintain physical and emotional closeness with at least one particular irreplaceable other. We especially seek out this person when we feel stressed, unsure, or anxious. We are just hardwired this way.” (p.41) She is aware of how counter culture this message can be, but she reminds us that “We are a naturally empathic species” (p.24) and while this may get pushed aside, it is this caring capacity that has helped us and our ancestors survive.  Our ability to pick up each other’s cues “read the faces of others and resonate with what we see there” is vital to our ability to resonate and respond at an emotional level in relationships (p. 24) (botox and other cosmetic fillers and expensive procedures can interfere with this). We tend to reward competition and over-value left-brain processes and on the other hand underestimate our dependency on our capacity to care, connect and cooperate with each other. “Moral decisions and altruistic actions spring naturally from our emotional connection with others” (p. 24). Sue has faced the scepticism of many psychologists and theorists in the enduring and growing success of her vision, tireless work and research, and also the development of the model by her and her team at ICEEFT (International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focussed Therapy) in Canada at the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute. (It now has 2500 members in 35 countries all over the world).

Sue’s argument with a famed psychologist at a Conference in Bannf is recalled on page 32. She challenged the idea that relationships were not merely rational bargains, but emotional bonds, a fundamental concept underpinning her model. A secure bond has three basic elements: (p. 219).
Accessibility -being attentive and emotionally open
Responsiveness – accepting the other’s needs and emotional experience
Engagement – the ability to stay involved and sustain emotional presence

As a model, EFT has three distinct stages with three steps in each stage. The first stage is usually the longest and most challenging where the therapist helps the couple to map out their negative cycle and identify the different moves each gets caught up in that sets this off. This is mapped out in detail around each partner’s attitudes/beliefs, behaviours and feelings (both at conscious and unconscious levels). It helps the couple to see this negative loop as the problem instead of each other. This stage is about building enough safety and stability to slow down the reactivity that goes hand in hand with the pain of disconnection. Once couples start to see and experience their partner try to tune in, they can begin to take more risks in picking up each other’s cues and becoming more real, sharing more of their deepest fears and longings. Building a new bond in stage two cannot happen until the reactivity is slowed down. Each partner needs to tune into their bonding channel to risk being more real (and vulnerable) in making a reach to the other. The third stage allows for the consolidation of the new bond and encourages the couple to invest in new attachment rituals to redefine their relationship as a safe haven.  
Pauline Macey, MIACP, MNAPCP
HDip ADT, Msc Family Counselling, EFT Certified Therapist


(First published: Winter Reflections 2015)

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