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Dr. Sue Johnson: Cracking the Code of Love

Dr. Sue Johnson is a researcher, clinical psychologist, and the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy. In this interview, we discuss how to create, protect, and nourish fulfilling sexual and emotional relationships.


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On the podcast today is Dr. Sue Johnson (Dr_SueJohnson), a clinical psychologist and the developer of EFT or Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. The EFT model is considered to be one of the most effective evidence-based therapy methods available and is currently taught to over 3000 health care professionals every year. Countless couples’ relationships have been repaired and strengthened because of Sue’s work.

Sue is also the author of several books, including Love Sense and her breakout bestseller, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, which is hands down the best relationship book I’ve ever read.

In this discussion, Sue and I walk through the life cycle of human relationships, from early infatuation to dating, marriage, and beyond while taking short detours to explore many of the hazards that are common in each stage.

Sue talks about finding, sparking and rekindling connection with our partner, why emotional responsiveness is critical to a healthy relationship, and she shares the recipe to a great sex life that all the popular online and magazine articles are missing.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Many of us have no idea. We don’t know what we’re looking for. We just don’t want to be lonely anymore and we want somebody to have fun with and we want someone to have sex with. We’re caught up in the society thing of girls are supposed to look like this and guys are supposed to look like that.

What I’ve always tried to tell my children is, you can be attracted to lots of people in a very superficial way and you’re going to experiment with relationships, you are, because you have to get to know this dance, and you’re going to make mistakes. But what you really need to do is listen to yourself and listen to when you feel safe and when dancing with someone is easy and makes you feel good, and when you can be vulnerable for a moment and that person tunes in and cares about your vulnerability. That’s the person to go with.

Of course, things go wrong and they fight, they hurt each other and that’s a relationship. If you dance with somebody, they’re going to step on your feet. They’re going to go left when you expect them to go right. It’s just the way it is. The point is, in a good relationship, you can recognize what’s happened and you can tune in and you can repair it. It’s emotional responsiveness. That’s the basis of a secure bond.

Emotional isolation is traumatizing for human beings. You’re not wired for it. It’s a danger cue for your nervous system.

Attachment tends to be hierarchical. We can love more than one person, but in terms of who you turn to when you really need, in terms of where you take your vulnerability, it’s usually hierarchical. We have our special one and most people want to be the special one for somebody else, and most people want a special one. That’s the person that you turn to.

Distressed relationships are always the same all over the world at every age. Where are you? Where are you? Do you care about me? Do I matter to you? Will you respond to me? Will you be there when I’m vulnerable? Am I safe with you? Where are you? Where are you? And when the answer is, “I’m here,” you can deal with almost anything.

Emotional responsiveness is an abstract word that captures a lot. It’s the ability or the willingness that someone has to tune into emotionally and to allow themselves to tune into your non-verbals or your words, and to allow themselves to feel what you’re feeling and who respond to that in a way that you feel that you matter.

You’re more vulnerable to the person you love than anyone in the world; That’s part of being in love. On the other hand, if it’s a good relationship, you’re safer with this person than anywhere else in the world. That’s the paradox of love.

Relationships are live things. They’re live moving organisms, and they’re like every other live thing. If you starve them of attention, and ignore them, and leave them on a shelf for years, then you turn around and try to pick them off the shelf, well, I’m sorry, but they’ve shriveled and died.

The best thing you can give your children is parents who know how to support each other and stand together and help each other. Not only that, but you give your children something more valuable by doing that. You give your children a vision of what a good relationship looks like.

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