In my previous blog, I discussed how a couple therapist serves as a “lifeguard” for relationships. The therapist calms the couple’s panic, listens empathetically and normalizes their experience of woundedness. As the couple and the therapist collaborate in the healing process, the tension between the partners begins to lessen and they begin to soften toward each other. They learn how to turn toward each other and create a “safe haven” relationship.
The story of Paradise presents the joining of man and woman as the pinnacle of the entire creation account. “And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were unashamed.” Today we understand “nakedness” as a metaphor for healthy intimacy, both sexual and emotional. Our posture of mutual vulnerability with each other (“… they were both naked …”) makes intimacy possible.
The goal of couple therapy is the fostering of vulnerability between partners, thus strengthening the emotional bond between them. According to Dr. Sue Johnson, co-creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy and author of Hold Me Tight and Love Sense,
. . . love drives us to bond emotionally with a precious few others who offer us safe haven from the storms of life. Love is our bulwark, designed to provide emotional protection so we can cope with the ups and downs of existence. (Hold Me Tight, page 15)
Whether or not they actually speak the words, relationship partners are always asking each other these three questions (Hold Me Tight, pages 49-50):
The Accessibility question:
- Can I reach you?
- Can I get and keep your attention regularly?
- Can I get and keep your attention without great effort?
The Responsiveness question:
- When I’m in distress and I call for you, will you come and help me, and comfort me?
- Do you “get” me, or are you at least trying to “get” me?
- Am I having an impact on you – do you rejoice with me when I’m happy and cry with me when I’m sad?
The Engagement question:
- Will you value me and stay close to me? Will you stay faithful to me?
- Will you be intentional about engaging with me? Will you take initiatives to grow our relationship?
- When our connection gets strained or broken, will you work with me to repair it?
We are risking a great deal when we ask our partner to be accessible, to be responsive, and to remain engaged with us, and when we commit to do these things for our partner as well. What if our partner keeps their emotional clothes on once we’ve taken ours off? What if they keep their defenses up when we’ve lowered ours?
This process of emotional vulnerability can feel like walking a tightrope, with both partners trying to meet in the middle while keeping their footing. The therapist serves as the couple’s safety net, and encourages them to take the risk of being vulnerable with each other, in order to experience the reward of enjoying a “safe haven” relationship, the beauty of “naked and unashamed.”
Are you and your partner ready to risk getting emotionally naked with one another?