Beyond “I Love You”: 3 Ways to Elevate Your Love Relationship

IMG_3494
“We loved with a love that was more than love.” ~Edgar Allan Poe

Early in a thriving relationship, we all savor those three little words from our romantic partners: I love you. Upon the realization of love, whether it be a slow crescendo or a clanging epiphany, we long to share our hearts with our partners and have such tenderness returned. “I love you” holds intense power in moving a romantic commitment into deeper, more intimate territory.

Over time “I love you” can lose not only its exuberance but also its meaning as it takes its place on the shelf of other common experiences in life. Or conversely, “I love you” may seem too common a phrase to fully communicate the depth of one’s feeling, connection, and commitment to another.

In her pioneering work with adult attachment theory and the development of Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), Dr. Sue Johnson focuses on the necessary components of active and thriving attachment connections. Love and the communication of love is important, yes, but so to are additional behaviors that create security and maintain passion in a relationship over time. In her book “Hold me Tight” Dr. Johnson discusses the qualities of what she calls ARE relationships – that is, relationships where partners are Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged with each other.

Being accessible, responsive, and engaged are the hallmarks of secure attachment. When our partners by and large respond to us in this way, it tells us we are important and can count on them. It also keeps the spark alive, for it is within a trusting connection with another that we feel and risk intimacy and passion.

IMG_3481
“I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)” ~e.e. cummings

Much like an infant who cries for a parent to hear the cry, respond to the cry, and soothe the cry, in couples we look to our romantic partners to show us they don’t just care through words, but are truly available in action. The child whose parents didn’t hear his cry or responded with hitting, ignoring, or shoving a bottle in his face without notice that it was actually a dirty diaper that needed changing may grow up to experience relational connections as unsafe. So, too, do we learn to feel unsafe with our partners when we have the sense that they don’t really see us, aren’t really there for us, and can’t be counted on to sit with us through life’s difficult storms.

In addition to “I love you,” meaningful ways to communicate deep care and commitment include:

  • “I’m here for you”
  • “What you’re saying/feeling makes sense to me”
  • “I believe in you”
  • “You are most important to me”

All words must be followed up by actions, in this case the actions of being deeply present:

  • Making yourself available in times of need, and making quality time with your partner a priority in the never-ending competition for your energy
  • Giving your partner your undivided attention while s/he shares of her/himself
  • Listening and validating your partner before jumping straight to “fixing” it or shifting topics
  • Offering big and small gestures of support for your partner’s dreams or through his/her fears, including affection
  • Showing up with your own vulnerability

    IMG_3498
    “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” ~C.S. Lewis

If you want your partner to really know and feel what s/he means to you, “I love you” isn’t enough. If you want a relationship that anchors and inspires you each to be your best self, you will have to reach deeper inside and offer each other accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement.

Sometimes when we did not grow up with models of this type of relationship, when our current relationship is stagnant from conflict, betrayal or distance, or our inner child is still hurting from lack of attunement from when we were young, seeking the assistance of a couples therapist can be helpful. Consider finding an EFT therapist in your area who is specially trained in how to strengthen the attachment between romantic partners to create secure and lasting bonds.

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content and images owned by Amanda Carver.

Helping Couples Feel Love: Why I’m an EFT Therapist

Most agree that romantic love has a powerful way of defining our lives for better or worse. When things are going well with our partner, the rest of life often feels manageable because of the strength of that bond. But when our couple relationship is going south, the emotional toll from that lack of connection not only feels terrible, it has a way of falling like dominoes into other life domains. I have a special passion for helping individuals and couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships. This passion led me to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, and from there has led me to become an Emotionally Focused Therapist. With all the different types of therapies out there to help people through relationship difficulties, how did I arrive at Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)? Because I profoundly believe in the healing power of this treatment! Here are a few reasons why:

IMG_2030
It’s a mystery of human chemistry and I don’t understand it; some people, as far as their senses are concerned, just feel like home. ~Nick Hornby

1. People aren’t ill or broken, they’re stuck in painful patterns

Since the birth of psychotherapy, the lens with which we’ve viewed people has been intrapsychic and at times even pathologizing. Freud saw people’s motivations in terms of internal drives rather than interpersonal needs, and that concept has stuck over the course of generations. I’m not saying that mental illness isn’t very real – it is. But many aspects of behavior, especially in terms of relational behavior, are better understood from an attachment frame. We are social creatures with an innate need to form secure and lasting bonds. This need is so innate we fail to thrive without it, and many experiments in the research literature highlight the significance of our need for attachment as being as important as food or water. This begins with parent and child and continues with other important figures and our potential romantic partnering with another person. Thus, much of what happens with couples that isn’t working is based on attachment fears being activated and protests against emotional disconnection. If you look way beneath all the fighting, demanding, emotionality, and withdrawing, you find that these actions are not pathological or unfixable, they are our way of saying, Do you really see me? Are you really there for me? We aren’t broken for wanting this connection. We are hurting and afraid because we don’t have it or can’t trust it.

2. Couples communication needs authenticity, not rules

So much of traditional couples therapy and the general public’s concept of couples therapy is about communication skills. I’m all for good communication! But simply learning to speak and listen and compromise isn’t enough. Not only do many of these communication methods leave couples feeling stilted or awkward when they’re trying to discuss something as profound as matters of the heart, they also fly right out the window in more heated moments when those discussions have shifted into the realms of sex, money, family, or who forgot to start the dishwasher (warning: strong language, scene from comedy clip). In EFT, couples aren’t taught specific skills for communication. Instead they are guided to experience real vulnerability and attunement with each other in ways that feel authentic and meaningful. This type of bottom-up learning not only feels more relevant, it is profoundly lasting.

IMG_2015
What I want most, is to know what you hear in the silence between us. ~William C. Hannan

3. It works!

Dr. Sue Johnson began developing EFT in the 1980s because she realized something was missing in our understanding of couple’s pain, conflict, and healing. This was during a time when attachment was being more fully recognized as a relevant part of the human experience thanks to the pioneering work of John Bowlby. But most were still focused on the parent-child attachment and not thinking much about how attachment needs play out in adult relationships. Over 2 decades later, Dr. Johnson’s treatment approach has been proven to work by meeting the gold standard in research. Studies have shown time and again that it’s not only the attachment frame that’s important, but EFT’s way of accessing that frame that creates truly lasting change.

4. Secure attachments are transforming

When couples create secure attachments with each other, it does more than lead to deepening love and commitment. It can change each partner’s entire experience of themselves, each other, and the world. I know this because I’ve seen it in others and I’ve experienced it personally. Since being in a securely attached relationship, I’ve felt my entire self and life shift toward the more steady and the more alive – the “roots and wings” of Earth Meets Sky. When you have a partner as a secure base, you are able to go inside yourself and gently embrace all the beautiful and scary parts of who you are as well as approach the world with far greater curiosity and confidence. Old wounds diminish and any future feels possible because you know in your deepest heart that your partner will be by your side.

In short, I’m an EFT therapist because I hope to help others create and deepen this kind of transformational love. We all need it, and we all deserve it.

If your relationship is hurting from conflict, distance, or even deeper relational traumas such as infidelity, consider turning to the guidance of an EFT therapist. EFT therapists have a unique way of helping you heal in individual therapy as well. If you live in the Atlanta area, please feel free to contact me to see how I may be of assistance in helping you and/or your partner create and deepen the powerful bonds of love.

IMG_2111
Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in the world. ~Emery Allen

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content and images owned by Amanda Carver.

How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Honored to have contributed to mindbodygreen with this article about how to get the most out of therapy! How to Help Your Therapist Help You

Do you have ideas about what has helped make your therapy more meaningful or beneficial? Please share!

You’ve mustered up the courage to say, “Something’s off in my life right now.” You seek the assistance of a helping professional to get back on track, and feel relieved almost immediately. You’re starting to make productive choices.

Maybe you’ve realized sadness or anxiety has hijacked your life, or you’re struggling with chronic conflict or lack of connection in your most important relationships. Maybe you’ve realized that despite having everything you always thought you wanted, you’re still not fulfilled. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided you are important enough to seek assistance with creating the life you want.

Some individuals seeking therapy think that their therapist will “fix” the problem that they are facing, even if they don’t realize this dynamic is at play. But therapy is work, for both parties involved. It takes reflection, a healthy balance of self-analysis and self-acceptance, and a commitment to follow-through.

If you’re in psychotherapy or counseling treatment or are considering gaining the assistance of a mental health professional or coach, the following tips will dramatically enhance the return you can gain from this powerful investment — an investment in you. I offer these tips as both a psychotherapist and someone who has benefited from being in therapy.

1. Don’t skimp on sessions — make it a practice.

People sometimes seek therapy services with a “one foot in, one foot out” mentality. This may look like frequently canceled sessions or forgetting or not doing homework. Unless you are on vacation or experiencing a true emergency, it is essential to attend sessions weekly (or at whatever interval you and your therapist have determined is best).

Building a relationship with your therapist and the regular contact that requires is the foundation for gaining the most from your therapy experience! Even on days when you’re feeling down (especially on these days!) or when the sun is shining and you’d rather spend an afternoon at the park, remind yourself that it is a commitment not just with your therapist, but with yourself.

2. Work between sessions. (It’s like “therapy homework.”)

Some therapists assign homework. This could be as simple as thinking about a certain topic or as specific as reading chapters in a book or practicing specific relational or coping strategies. Some therapies are designed to include homework on a regular basis, such as behavioral treatments like CBT or DBT. In other types of therapy, homework is more of a periodic way to enhance your growth experience.

Even if you aren’t assigned specific homework, it’s important to bring the thoughts and questions you engage with in therapy outside the office. Try exploring and practicing techniques you have worked on with your therapist in other relationships. Journal. Talk to supportive friends or family members about the questions you’ve been thinking about. Engaging in the process will help you transform a slow-paced recovery into a life-altering experience where the change you seek gains noticeable traction.

3. Get radically honest.

Therapists are trained professionals who are likely predisposed to offering compassion and support. We’ve taken this natural inclination to be helpful and learned specific ways of interacting with you that may assist with positive outcomes in your life.

Our ability to help you is severely limited if you aren’t honest with us. This includes the big things, like history of abuse or drug and alcohol intake, and the “smaller” things, too, like not having a sincere interest in a homework assignment.

I can’t tell you how many times a case has “cracked open” into meaningful change because a client finally disclosed needed information about him/herself and problems. If you’ve found yourself lying to your therapist, don’t beat yourself up! Shame about problems is normal, as is the impulse to lie. Just take the opportunity to be brave and correct this information with your therapist.

4. Practice transparency.

Somewhat different from telling the truth, being transparent means telling the truth in incredibly subtle and internal ways. It’s having the courage to speak up and say, “No, I don’t think you got that quite right,” or, “I’m struggling with thoughts that you are judging me right now.”

It’s sharing your inner world with your therapist, especially as it relates to your therapist and your treatment. It may seem like you’ll hurt your therapist’s feelings, or that the information is not that important — but trust me, the “meat” of the process of therapy comes in these more intricate interactions where you allow yourself to be a fully authentic person.

Please note that these tips are offered under the assumption that you are working with a competent and compassionate therapist. Good therapists may sometimes point out problems or unhelpful patterns as a way to encourage healing and growth, but they know how to do so without judgment.

It is imperative that you feel safe with your therapist in terms of knowing that your therapist has your best interests at heart and will keep what you share confidential. If this is not the case, please consider speaking openly with your therapist about your concerns, or seeing if a different therapist may be a better fit for you.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Shining the Light on Sneaky Emotions, Part 2: Depression as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

In my last post, I began sharing information about sneaky emotions, such as secondary emotions and psychosomatic symptoms, as a way to help you shine the light on what’s really going on in your emotional life and increase your chances of feeling better.

Last time, we discussed Anger as a Rowdy Ruse. Today, I want to talk about the opposite: how disowned anger can spin you into a cocoon of depression.

IMG_2080Depression is Anger Turned Inward

As someone who has struggled with depression and a therapist who has helped others out of this boggy swamp, I can see how the idea of depression being anger turned inward makes sense. Though there are certainly chemical imbalances in the brain or profound life losses that can generate depression, sometimes depression manifests due to the repeated experiences of disowned anger.

Anger is an extremely important emotion that communicates to us that we are being threatened, disrespected, or our boundaries are being crossed. Anger is an emotion of action – it motivates us to make changes. With awareness, those changes can be meaningful and well-executed. We use anger to keep our own vitality from being stilted by the needs or demands of others. It’s a way of drawing a line in the sand and saying it cannot be crossed: this is my territory, my food, my money, my family, my tribe. It’s an emotion of survival.

In this first world country in these modern times, most of us thankfully do not have to physically fight to keep our food or territory and to protect our families. But anger is nonetheless essential to survival and actualizing a vitally abundant life. The line in the sand now says: this is my time, my energy, my self-respect, my meaning, my dreams. And at times even still: these are my resources, this is my body.

IMG_2080Some of us are raised in ways that teach us anger is bad. This is more often the experience of women, but can also be the experience of men. In both direct and indirect ways we are taught by our families and society at large that even the experience, much less the expression, of anger is wrong. To be angry means being mean, selfish, a bitch, or out of control. On a deeper level we’re taught that it means we are unworthy of love. We internalize these messages without even fully realizing we heard them to begin with, and overtime lose our ability to connect to the experience of anger.

When we can’t connect to our survival instincts through anger, deep depression can set in. We are no longer able to effectively draw those important lines in the sand that protect our authentic self and our abundant life. Instead of making thought-out and essential changes, we become more passive and withdrawn. We can have lives filled with emotionally or financially unavailable partners or domestic abuse, demanding and demeaning employers, self-involved friends and family, and even social institutions filled with racism, homophobia, or systems of poverty that keep us feeling lost or trapped. Even when our lives are filled with generally well-meaning people, we can lose touch with the inner spark of what makes us tic due to repeated experiences of not protecting our dreams and values.

If you are struggling with depression that appears to have no cause, find a trusted mentor or mental health professional to assist you with reconnecting with your inner self such that your spark for life is reignited. You may find that anger, too, rekindles. This may be scary. But it’s worth it! You can learn how to experience anger and use it effectively without being a selfish “monster.” You can learn how to set boundaries that protect your sensitive heart and vital spirit. You can take steps to cast off the sheep’s wool, and own your inner wolf that will protect your essence and help you survive. IMG_2080

Please note that Major Depressive Disorder is a serious illness. If you are struggling with depression that has not lifted for many weeks or months, has immobilized you, or has led to suicidal thoughts or plans, please seek the immediate attention of your local mental health professional. You may also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1—800-273-8255.

Stay tuned for I’m Not Upset, It’s Just a Stomachache, the last post in this 3-part series on sneaky emotions!

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Tired of Dating Disasters? 4 Clues to a Lasting Love Life

You don’t need another human being to make your life complete. But let’s be honest, having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world. ~Emery Allen IMG_1849

I’ve spoken with many a friend and client about the frustrations of “having it all” except “the one.” Or, conversely, not caring about cultivating one’s own garden due to a sense that the flowers aren’t as beautiful without someone to share them with. I’ve personally traversed relational terrain far more complicated than I ever could have imagined, with all the tears and heartache and self-doubt that comes with it. What is this phenomenon? This desire to connect with another that can drive us to utter rage and despair?

Your basic needs are met: food, clothing, shelter. After years of dedicated schooling and job performance, your career is stable, if not successful. You have friends and family with whom to celebrate life’s joys and sorrows. Even a furry friend to snuggle up with while catching up on American Idol. But there’s this sense that life is not complete.

I am the last person who will say you need a romantic partner in order to be fulfilled in this life. Many, many people are choosing to find joy and meaning by cultivating other areas of their lives than marriage or family. But there’s no denying the human pull toward partnership – the need for physical affection we never out grow, and the yearning for someone we can count on no matter what.

If you are one of these people who have it all, including a long history of dating pains and problems, let’s take a look at a few of the things that could be getting in your way.

IMG_1848Deep Sense of Unworthiness – we’ve all heard the platitude, “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love someone else.” I’m not necessarily endorsing this statement. Many women love very deeply despite feelings of unworthiness. But I do believe it is far more difficult to accept love when you don’t love yourself. We tend to color and interpret our world based on our personal narratives – if you don’t feel loveable, or have struggled with several painful rejections, you are less likely to seek or accept the type of love that would be fulfilling. Personal work in this area may be as straightforward as a renewed journey of self-love guided by your interests, wise friends, and new experiences. Or it may call for the professional attention of a psychotherapist.

Unfocused Energy – you’ve been on Match, forced yourself through awkward blind dates, and hit the bar scene with friends on a regular basis. But have you taken the time to really think about what you’re looking for? I mean, beyond the usual: sexual chemistry, honesty, and a good sense of humor. Most people want those things! So thinking in those terms does not necessarily help you separate the “men from the boys” or the “women from the girls”! And dating “boys” and “girls” zaps energy and time from being with someone with whom you more closely fit. I absolutely do not endorse the idea that anyone less than perfect is “settling!” No one’s perfect – all relationships involve disappointment, pain, and hard work to find acceptance and middle ground. But clarity in dating can be gold! Make a list of qualities you hope your future partner will possess (and how you’ll know he/she possesses them), how you hope to interact and build a life together, and which of those qualities you may need to be growing in yourself to create that beautiful future. Write whatever comes to mind at first, then separate out the deal-breakers from your preferences, and begin holding yourself accountable to who you spend time with based on this honest assessment of your romantic needs. Sound daunting? Consider the advice of friends whose relationships you respect, or seek some professional counseling or coaching. IMG_1809

Anxious Attachment Style – as children we all develop attachment styles based on those early experiences with our mothers and fathers. Whatever your attachment style, you had no control over its development. A combination of biological sensitivities, environmental “fit,” and potential trauma or loss can greatly color your attachment experience. Those with an anxious attachment may find themselves particularly wrecked by nerves and worthlessness in the dating process. You may have been accused of being “dramatic” or “needy,” or may have a constant sense of insecurity in love with deep fears of rejection if someone gets to know the “real” you. Many people with this attachment style struggle with how to effectively soothe themselves, communicate relational needs to their partners, or most painfully, frequently choose partners who are emotionally unavailable and thus further bruise those childhood wounds. If this is you, you may start with some bioliotherapy by reading the books Attached and Insecure in Love, and follow it up with the help of a counseling professional with expertise in adult attachment.

Avoidant Attachment Style – similarly to anxiously attached adults, avoidantly attached adults may have experienced a lack of attention to their emotional needs as children and now struggle to allow themselves to be vulnerable with others. If this is you, you may distance from partners or end relationships that are seemingly on a good course. You may idealize a past partner or struggle to emotionally and physically connect with the same person. You may find yourself repeating your past with patterns of attraction to those who can’t meet your needs in the present, such as those who are already in committed relationships, disinterested in commitment, or are avoidantly attached themselves. If this is the case, you may start by reading the above mentioned books, and consider psychotherapy with an expert on avoidant attachment to help you understand the historical wounds that fuel your distancing with others, and learn how to tear down those walls and accept closeness and vulnerability in relationships.

IMG_1811
If any of these concepts hit too close to home, please don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted friends or professionals to help you build the romantic life you seek and deserve. Growing old with someone you both love and trust doesn’t have to be a fantasy. It could very well be your future.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Relationship in a Rut? Tap Your Inner Child!

Has the spark been waning from your relationship, or have you found yourself knowing your significant other less and less? Wishing you could reconnect in a deep or vital way? Your Inner Child can help tap the energy you need to get out of a relational rut!

When we tap our Inner Child on the shoulder, we can have the best of both worlds – the fresh energy of childhood and the wisdom and sensuality of adult experience. Your Inner Child can help you re-learn the affection, creativity, spontaneity, and vulnerability necessary to maintain a powerful love connection!

IMG_0407

1) Affection – One of our primary sources of affection in adulthood is through our romantic partnerships. If you are missing affection in your current relationship, chances are your partner is missing it, too. The best way to receive is to give. This does not mean initiating sex and then feeling angry or defeated if it doesn’t go your way! Think of the affection that freely flows from your Inner Child. The part of you that easily gives hugs, holds hands, or needs to snuggle to forget about the “boogeyman” under the bed (ie: the overdue bills, unnerving lab results, etc.). As adults we never stop needing comfort and affection – give and receive freely! Nurturing affection can lead to passionate affection – and both are essential to feeling special and loved.

2) Creativity – In the beginning there are fun dates, love letters, and spontaneous sex. Later on … not so much. But that doesn’t mean you can’t revive the spark through following the example of your Inner Child! (Secret: We often show a lot of our Inner Child when we’re falling in love!) Think of the artwork you offered up and displayed proudly on the refrigerator, or the way you chased butterflies and lightning bugs in your backyard as a child. Now you can make a homemade Valentine or birthday card for your partner, surprise him/her with a spring picnic or a snowman-making contest, or watch the sunset at a local place of beauty (and arrange the baby-sitter, too, if necessary). Now you have a soul mate for a playmate – enjoy it!

3) Spontaneity – Why is it that the unplanned parts of life usually stand out in our memories the most? Because spontaneity has a way of inspiring mindfulness and bringing a spark of energy that elates our moods and calms our nerves. Spontaneity is a magical way to create an experience together that will increase connection. And no one is more spontaneous and inspiring than our Inner Child! Think of the joys of following your curiosity down a new bike path as a child, or of sinking your teeth into a candy sprinkled dessert! Sharing your spontaneity and offering yourself as an encouraging partner in your significant others’ impulsive urges will give your relationship a needed jolt. Make yourself a promise that next time you feel a twinge to stop off at a carnival or go to that often seen but never frequented hole-in-the-wall restaurant, follow it toward the chance to make a memory together! Even if it turns out to be sub-par, it’s something to bond over and laugh about for years to come.

4) Vulnerability – Over time we can begin to feel we already know everything important about our partner; or conversely, we can assume our partner will never understand an important dream or wound of ours. Maybe you’ve known each other for years or decades, but continued engagement is necessary to continue knowing someone. If you feel as if your partner doesn’t know or understand you anymore (or that you don’t know/understand him or her), reach out from a place of vulnerability. Think of the unabashed way you used to talk about the cool new thing you learned in school, the super scary spider you saw on the playground, or how you were going to be an astronaut when you grew up! Only now you’re old enough to know how to say, “This is what I think and feel … what about you?” Share a hard moment from your workday, a bad dream you can’t shake off, or fun idea for a long-weekend away. If you lead with your own vulnerabilities while also offering your partner the chance to reciprocate, intimacy and passion are sure to follow.

Of note: Sometimes our Inner Child no longer feels safe in the company of our significant others. Or sometimes our Inner Child is still quite wounded from the traumas of childhood.

If these tips are met with your partner’s apathy or opposition … or if you can’t even imagine how to tap your Inner Child or how to receive a good response for putting yourself out there in these ways, please don’t hesitate to seek a couples therapist to help break apart defenses and rebuild intimacy.

If your Inner Child is wounded due to physical or emotional traumas in childhood, please take these wounds seriously and seek care and support for yourself. There are many qualified therapists who can assist with healing the lifelong pain of childhood trauma to help you reclaim vitality in adulthood.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.