Dr. Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist and creator of emotionally focused therapy (EFT) for couples, has found three key factors that relationships must have in order to be truly healthy. She notes that when couples are arguing with each other, and it is one of those blood-boiling kinds of arguments, it's not really about the dishes, the garbage, or even the money, as so many couples think it is. When relationships are not secure and partners are feeling disconnected from each other, any kind of content makes fair grounds for a fight.
That content, however, is not what the fight is about. What they are really arguing over is the key question of "are you there for me?"
Partners are asking each other "Are you there for me?"
Johnson offers partners a road map to secure relationships through EFT to help them answer the question "are you there for me" affirmatively. She notes the three factors that must be present in order to answer "yes" to that key question and makes it easy to remember with the acronym A.R.E. The key factors in healthy relationships are: accessibility, responsiveness, and emotional engagement. If you wish to improve your relationship, start to focus on increasing these A.R.E. qualities together.
The first key ingredient in healthy relationships is accessibility. People need to feel as if their partner is accessible to them, and their partner should be accessible. In order to increase accessibility in your relationship, pay attention to your partner and be sensitive to whether it seems that they are trying to reach you.
It can often be difficult to extend an olive branch in times of disconnect, so your partner might try to reach you after a fight but in a soft sort of way. Try to be open to that. It is also important to be available to just listen. So many times people just want to be heard by their partners, and they are longing for empathy, but they receive an unwanted solution.
You can increase your accessibility by just listening and validating how your partner feels. It always feels good to be validated.
The second key ingredient in healthy relationships is responsiveness. This one may seem obvious, but, I'll say it anyway. When your partner comes to you, respond. If you are actually unavailable because you are doing something else, let them know and reassure them that their concerns are important to you. Find a later time that you can come together to discuss the issue and actually honor that commitment. When partners start to ice each other out and do not respond to each other, they open their relationship up to all kinds of problematic possibilities. Instead, stay connected by responding.
The third key ingredient in healthy relationships is emotional engagement. Emotions have not always been well understood, but more research is leading to an increased understanding of them. Johnson argues that love is really an emotional bond more than anything else, and research in neuroscience, psychology, and biology seems to be backing up this claim, as she demonstrates in her book Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships.
It is, therefore, crucial for partners to be emotionally engaged with each other. It is not only important to care about your partner's emotional experience and be curious about it, but you should also let them know. The more emotionally engaged partners are with each other, the stronger their bond.
Next time you get into one of those blood-boiling fights with your partner, stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you are really fighting about. Chances are, you are both struggling to see if you are there for each other and how much you really matter to each other. Increase your accessibility, responsiveness and emotional engagement with each other, and fights will start to be easier to overcome, as they will really just be about the dishes, the garbage, and of course the money.