Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of EFT, or Emotionally Focused Therapy, a highly effective couples therapy model[efn_note]EFT is the most researched couples therapy model, meeting the high standards for psychotherapy research set by the APA and similar organizations. There are 16 rigorous studies showing consistently high positive outcomes in 8-20 sessions of EFT – with depressed and traumatized folks.  And follow-up research shows that the results are stable. For more information check out this link: http://www.iceeft.com/images/PDFs/EFTResearch.pdf[/efn_note], teaches that:

The key to long-lasting love is emotional responsiveness.

What emotional responsiveness is and how it works is outlined by the acronym A.R.E.[efn_note]The principles of A.R.E. can also be applied with equal effectiveness to familial relationships and friendships; however, in this blog I am addressing the romantic relationship only. [/efn_note]

What Is A.R.E.?

A = Accessibility

Can I reach you? In this day of cell phones, emails, texting and social media, we are seemingly all accessible at any time, at least in theory. Ironically, these methods of connection can also be the very thing that disconnects us from one other and can give our sweetheart the unintended impression that something else is more important than they are.

Not infrequently, I hear an exchange reported in my office that goes something like this:  a couple is having dinner and one partner responds to the bleep indicating he has received a text.  
“Honestly!” His wife exclaims. “Do I really matter to you?”
“It was just a text,” he protests.
“Can’t they wait until we’re done with dinner? We have so little time together. Sometimes I need it to be just about us!”

What the wife in this example is protesting (albeit, not in the most skillful way), is: Can I reach you? Are you there? Do I matter?

R = Responsiveness

Do you respond when I need you?  Responsiveness is about being able to interact with your partner on an emotional level in situations both positive and negative. Let’s say your spouse is struggling with anxiety or depression – do you know what you do that soothes them?  Or certain behaviors you have that might irritate them?  

Equally important, is knowing how to celebrate the positive in your partner’s life.

E = Engagement

Engaging here means being present, not perfect. It means looking at your partner in the eye when they are talking, listening mindfully to what they are saying.  Caring about what they are saying.  

Engagement also means being responsible to what is true for each of us—which might mean, This isn’t a good time for me right now to engage.  This is also engagement.  We sometimes have to say “No”.  The trick is to do so kindly, respectfully and then, ideally, to return to the topic that is important to your spouse at another, better time.

Remembering the topic and making a point to return to it clearly expresses your partner’s thoughts and feelings matter to you. 

Neurologically, this level of connection and ability to respond is very calming to our nervous systems. Biologically, we are primed for survival; so when we know we have someone looking out for us who is able to respond appropriately, it is deeply reassuring. It gives the message that we are not alone in the world, that we are taken care of, that we can relax and let down our guard.

This survey is taken from the book Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Johnson [efn_note]Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson (2008) pp 57-58.[/efn_note]. It has been shortened and reformatted slightly for the purposes of this blog.

Simply choose a True or False response to the following questions. 

From your viewpoint, is your partner accessible to you?

  1. I can get my partner’s attention easily. T/F
  2. I can share my deepest feelings with them. They will listen. T/F
  3. I can share my deepest feelings with them. They will listen. T/F

From your viewpoint, is your partner responsive to you?

  1. If I need connection or comfort my partner will be there for me. T/F
  2. My partner responds to my signals that I need them to give me space or come close. T/F
  3. I find I can lean on my partner when I am anxious or unsure. T/F

Are you positively emotionally engaged with each other?

  1. I feel very comfortable being close to and trusting my partner. T/F
  2. I can confide in my partner about almost anything. T/F
  3. I know that my partner cares about my joys, hurts and fears. T/F

To score:

Simply add up the number of “True” responses that you checked. Each “True” response equals one point.

If you scored 6 or above, you A.R.E well on your way to an emotionally engaged relationship if you’re not already in one!

If you scored lower than 4, don’t fret. So many of us did not grow up with the A.R.E. ingredients in our familial relationships. As a result, we didn’t learn these essential relational skills. Just know that the two of you can improve in this area.

Rest assured that learning how to apply A.R.E. in your relationship is possible and well worth it!

Start applying the philosophy of A.R.E. to all your relationships and see the difference it makes!

 Related blogs: