Creating a lasting, loving relationship isn’t easy. It's not uncommon for couples, especially in long-term relationships, to struggle with conflict, communication, intimacy issues, or get stuck in unhelpful patterns, placing blame on past problems that can further damage connections.
Focusing on your emotional attachments with a healthy, insightful conversation can really help in strengthening the bonds you long for. Relationship expert and author Dr. Sue Johnson calls this type of communication a “Hold Me Tight” conversation. It is one of seven discussions she encourages couples to use as a tool for improved closeness and a better long-term relationship.
Recognising Unhelpful Patterns Many relationship experts note that there are several patterns of interaction that can fuel relationship disconnect and turn a happy, secure relationship into an increasingly difficult one. One very common pattern is called the Criticise/Defend pattern. This might sound something like...
Critical Partner: “You always leave the kitchen in a mess!” or "You never help with the chores.” or “You’re so careless!”
Defensive Partner: “Well you do the same thing.” or “That's because you’re never happy with how I do things!”
Essentially, one partner criticises the other, which escalates when the other partner becomes defensive. This cycle continues on, and as things get increasingly heated, the blame, attacks, accusations and defensiveness escalate. According to relationship research conducted by the Gottman Institute, criticism and defensiveness are strong predictors of dissatisfaction for couples in relationships. When communication hits a wall of blame and criticism, couples are often confused by the loss of connection and mourn the happiness they once shared.
In a relationship, we all want security and connection, to feel supported and know that we are heard and understood and that our partner wants to help meet our needs. The “criticise/defend” pattern effectively dismantles that sense of relationship security, and no one gets the support and loving attention they were originally longing for. In these moments where insecurity takes hold and you're struggling to turn things around, these "Hold Me Tight" conversations can help you and your partner to reach for connection and effectively turn toward each other, instead of away from each other.
How “Hold Me Tight” Conversations Work A Hold Me Tight conversation, as described by Dr. Sue Johnson, is a conversation that is at the core of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT ) for couples. The idea is to interrupt the attacks we lob at each other as bids for attention and secure attachment. “It’s important to be able to deal with that emotion in a way that pulls your partner towards you,” notes Sue Johnson. And it’s vital to understand how you impact your partner. The following strategies can help us learn to see ourselves and each other with more clarity and compassion: 1. Stop – Breathe – Choose Each Other In the criticise/defend interactions, the focus is often on who is right and who is wrong. One partner is offended and the other insists that they are not the offender. It essentially becomes a "me vs you" dynamic. To grow close again, it's important to choose to step back. With a gentler tone and a respectful request, you can curb the conflict. Try asking, “Can we please stop this kind of interaction?” 2. Own Your Mutual Actions and Reactions Identify and recall your unhelpful behaviors as a team. This removes blame and highlights how you affect and influence each other’s emotions and behaviours, essentially helping you both see your relationship patterns as a whole. Fairly reflecting on your mutual actions can make it easier to trust, be open, honest and authentic, regardless of the stressors or differences in opinion. 3. Share Your Own Feelings Acknowledging how your behaviour can influence each other creates a sense of emotional safety, allowing you to go deeper. Clarifying and then stating your emotions makes you more vulnerable, and thereby more accessible to each other. Talking it through clearly, shows that you both care.
It's important to share and express your feelings, even if they are somewhat ambiguous or confusing. This exercise draws you and your partner closer, fosters understanding, and supports a willingness to move beyond stuck places in your communication and intimacy. 4. Recognize How You Can Shape Each Other’s Emotions It’s important to understand that the way you deal with your feelings can and often does, trigger your partners attachment worries or concerns. Understanding your partners emotions and the way they read your critical tone or withdrawal can help you to understand their reaction. Having a "Hold Me Tight" conversation means exploring each other’s entire emotional experience patiently and responsively. It can be incredibly helpful to slow down during tense moments and recall what has been shared. This helps to prevent reactivity. Offering your partner safety, patience and a more compassionate response results in a sense of closeness that you can both enjoy. From there, more bonding, loving conversations will likely result.
Reach Out for Support and Guidance We all long for connection, and remaining in a critical or defensive place often leaves us feeling disconnected and alone. “Hold Me Tight” conversations can keep disconnect from becoming damaging to your relationship. When you’re both willing to communicate meaningfully, you can work toward closeness together. As a result, you can strengthen your connection and learn better ways of communicating and working through your issues together. — If you’re having relationship issues and don’t know how to resolve them, couples counselling can help. Get in touch with us today to book an appointment.