Dr. Sue Johnson/DivineCaroline
My client asks me, “Well, what is ‘real love’ anyway? Is it two people making out? I am not sure I have ever seen it. And if you don’t even know what it looks like, then love is just stumbling around in the dark.” “No,” I tell him. “We know what it looks like. I can show it to you on a video of one of our therapy sessions. We can show you the exact moment when a relationship moves into the light. And our research says that if this happens it will stay strong in the years ahead."
We call these key moments “Hold Me Tight” conversations. And they sizzle! Not in the sensational sexy Hollywood way. They are simply mesmerizing, even to a therapist who is just watching two partners move into synchrony. When we see the deep emotional responsiveness that is love in action, it moves us. It is as if our brains lock into an ancient code in these moments, a code that is all about our deepest longings and the surest source of safety and joy we have, the sense that we matter to another.
So what happens? Pete, usually so cool and in control, takes a deep breath and opens up to May, his wife. In a slow low voice, he tells her. “Okay, so no more ‘Mr. Don’t Give a Damn.’ I am going to jump off a cliff here. Take the leap. Fact is I need you like I need to pull air into my lungs. I want your caring so bad I can hardly stand it. I need your arms around me, to feel that you are with me. It is just so hard to ask.” May leans towards Pete, totally focused on his face, totally tuned into the music in his voice. She slowly reaches out to him, keeping pace with the rhythm of his words and smiles. She meets his eyes and offers him a soft, open smile. He smiles back and takes her hand. “I am here, Pete,” she says. “I have always been here. I have longed to know that you need me. I want to hold you.” And she does.
Is this just romantic sentimentality? No. This is a drama that we recognize instantly and that moves us emotionally. But it is also a drama that the new science of love can decode.
Let’s look at three elements of this kind of connection.