I think couples in conflict often engage in two conversations. One is overt, constantly repeated and endlessly frustrating. The other is almost always unsaid – and unacknowledged. If we can get to that second conversation, we can find the peace and connection we so desperately need in our intimate relationships. Instead, we get all tangled up in the conversation that doesn’t go anywhere. Like birds flitting back and forth above us, what we see is that which transfixes us and grabs our attention. I have seen it over and over again in my office – the sad, ever-so-discouraging dance of the upper conversation that almost guarantees that both people will just….feel….bad and not feel heard by the other. This conversation is always about something. “You don’t help around the house …..I do too help. What about last week when you were tired and I vacuumed downstairs…..Oh great, thanks a lot – am I supposed to bow down because you vacuumed once?” “How come you aren’t even trying to go back to work to bring in some money?…..I have tried. You just don’t know what it’s like out there….You aren’t doing nearly enough….You have no idea what I have done.” These conversations don’t go anywhere because they aren’t’ about what’s really going on inside for each person.
The real conversation – the one that can get somewhere – is the attachment conversation. It is about our needs that are deep and tug at our hearts. These are also needs that can be satisfied once there is a safe way to express them. They can be the need to feel truly cared for – or to feel competent and valued – or to know your partner is not going anywhere. They are almost always about the need to be actually seen and still loved and accepted. This most critical and meaningful conversation can be very difficult to have without the help of a relationship professional. My bias (and observation) is that Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a wonderful platform upon which these “conversations for connection,” in Sue Johnson’s words, can occur.