If you have a monster walking at you, if you can’t cling to each other, you are finished.
-Sue Johnson, author of Hold me Tight
Though raised by 2 counselors and now married to a marriage and family therapist, you would think the last thing I would volunteer for would be a 2-day conference on therapy. But last weekend I hung out with a room full of therapists as Heather and I attended a conference sponsored by the Washington and Oregon Associations of Marriage and Family Therapy on Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), the most well researched and effective form of couples therapy that exists (86% of couples report being happier after therapy, the effects are long lasting and transfer across a variety of issues). Susan Johnson, one of the creators of EFT, led a 2-day conference on the basis for EFT, the research that supports it, and the hope that lies for couples as they learn the skills to build safe, thriving adult attachment relationships through connecting and “seeing” one another emotionally. Through my studies in Divinity, I’ve only taken one course on pastoral counseling, and lets just say it didn’t leave me feeling prepared for the care that lay ahead. In this day in age, when pastors sit with people every single day and need to be helpers and counselors to a myriad of pains that come people’s way, I was feeling woefully unprepared. So when Heather invited me to join her to Vancouver for the conference I jumped at the chance. The power of Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) is hard to overly state. If you are feeling far from your spouse, read this book. Hold Me Tight is the secret to understanding healthy adult attachment, which social psychologists believe is revolutionizing the therapy world.
Folks, we need help. Marriage can be hard. But we need to cling to each other. Get to the bottom of our emotions, meet the needs of one another, and cling. The core question of EFT is simply “are you there for me?” Are you really there for me? We ask God this all the time. But sometimes we stop asking this of our spouses. And we assume the worse. And we start to drift apart.
For Heather and I, we did struggle in marriage after our 2nd child was born and our marriage was in its critical 7th year. We had a host of challenges facing us: house remodel going on, 2 kids in diapers, financial stress, etc etc. But the core? We stopped believing the other was simply there for us. We stopped holding each other, literally and metaphorically. The breaking point came after gathering with dear friends whom we’d been in community with since our first years of marriage. We had gathered in a well-loved mountain cabin and though we had a fun weekend with the others, behind closed doors we were seething at each other. We had been struggling for 6 months and it was starting to have a very scary and permanent feel to it. Unlike the others, we didn’t have to leave for home until the next day so our friends left and we stayed behind. And that night, by the fireplace while our kids slept upstairs, we finally talked, for hours, and reconnected. We stepped out from behind our defenses and risked telling each other why we hurt, created the safety to truly say “I am sorry”, and admitted we needed and cared for each other so much. We shared our hurt. We listened to the others perspective. We were present and aware. We cried and we held each other. And months of distance melted away in a few hours. It was beautiful.
So in our 10th year of marriage when our full-term child died, there wasn’t even a hint of marital dissatisfaction. We had already learned that if we didn’t support each other and hold tight, we would be lost. Literally the very first thing Heather said to me in the ultrasound room after learning our 4-days overdue son Fisher had died was, “I promise to be good to you.” I didn’t even understand the wisdom at the time. But it was spot on. Through the fog of those long hours and days and months that ensued, we weren’t lost in the fog of blame or anger. We were hurt, and we were angry, but not at each other, and we were able to see and accept those hard feelings in the other. Though we were suffering, we didn’t have to question each other. And that gave us the courage and strength to not have to question God either. At the times when we needed it most, we were able to CLING and CLUTCH to the truth of our love and our heavenly Father. Don’t get me wrong…it hurt like hell. But we survived and we actually thrived because of our marriage and our deep faith.
The promise of the gospel is real. It says that when we are hurting, God will be near to us. Truly, God is with us. Scripture tells us this here and here. And the promise of marriage is that though at times things get hard, and the paths get dark, there is a person to share life with that will always be there to strengthen, support, and share life with. This is an amazingly hopeful truth. Looking for resources? Read Hold Me Tight, or connect with an EFT therapist here, or message me separately if you are looking for a good name of someone who does couple work in the area. May you cling and clutch!