Sue Johnson “Hold Me Tight” is a marriage counseling book by a well-known marriage counselor.. She developed a therapy called he emotionally focused therapy that has been very helpful for many couples.
Here we will review her book “Hold Me Tight,” which explains the core assumptions that she uses in her form of couples therapy.
Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight Core Principles
One of the quotes that I think he explains her philosophy best his this:
Underneath all the distress, partners are asking each other: Can I count on you? Are you there for me? Will you respond to me when I need, when I call? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you?
Sue Johnson approaches couples therapy from the lens of attachment.
To understand the attachment, imagine a small baby.
A small baby is very dependent on his mother for basically everything.
When a baby gets separated from his mother, he gets very upset. He starts to cry and fuss until his mother comes back.
The baby also has a physiological response to the separation. this response is the fight or flight response that our bodies use when we feel that we are in danger.
Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight – Fight or Flight
Sue Johnson in her book “Hold Me Tight” says that adults react in a similar way when they feel distant from their romantic partner.
People can feel this distance through conflict or just a lack of connection.
Their body goes into a fight or flight mode.
Sue Johnson explains that most people respond to this feeling in one of two main ways: fight or flight.
People who are more prone to a “fight” response will try to solve problems quickly. They will approach their partner and ask “What is going on.” They will want to “talk things out.” It will be hard for them to “let things go.”
On the other hand, people who are more prone to a”flight” response will try to avoid solving problems. They will not want to talk things out. They will feel attacked and try to withdraw and avoid criticism.
Which one of these sounds more like you? Which one of these sounds more like your spouse?
The most common pattern that people get into his fight versus flight. Once spouse will try to solve problems, the will try to avoid talking about problems.
In my marriage, I am the fight response.
I am always trying to chase my wife when I feel distant from her.
One time I literally chased her around the kitchen trying to get her to talk about problems with sex in our marriage.
If both spouses are more wired for a fight, there will be more explosive type conflicts between the two.
If both are wired for flight, they may never talk about anything and slowly feel the passion die in their marriage.
This leads to both spouses feeling even more distant and creating increased conflict or emotional separation between the two.
Sue Johnson – The Hold Me Tight Solution
In essence, emotionally focused therapy has the goal of stopping these patterns of conflict.
The goal is to try to uncover the feeling of distance between the two partners.
For example, instead of a fight person accusing his wife of not giving him enough appreciation, he would say something like”I want to feel important to you and I don’t when you forget to appreciate me taking out the trash.”
Instead of running away, a flight person might say something like “when you tell me I didn’t pick up the kids, I feel like you’re saying I am not doing a good job as a husband. I feel hurt and attacked when I want to feel important and appreciated by you. You are so important to me.”
In other words, the goal is to get to the deeper feelings of wanting to be loved, cherished and validated by your spouse.
Instead of going to the anger and fear that often fuels conflict in marriage.
In my experience, the approach of Sue Johnson is very helpful in several ways.
1. Helps identify your fighting pattern
Just recognizing the way that you tend to respond conflict conflict in your marriage is very helpful.
If you can break out of that cycle and approach things any more productive fashion, your marriage is bound to improve.
2. Helps you understand (some of) your deeper feelings
Going through and they hold me tight process does help you access some of the more vulnerable feelings that come up in marriage.
These include wanting to feel loved, accepted, supported and validated by your spouse.
3. Hold Me Tight accesses one of the main human needs
Humans definitely have a need to belong to someone else. To be best friends. To be soulmates. To be connected like nobody else.
It is one of the main things that we want in life. And, it’s one of the main things that we hope to have filled in our marriage.
However, this approach does at times fall short.
Cons of Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight
In my personal and professional experience, the “hold me tight” approach is certainly very helpful to point.
There are, however, a few significant pitfalls to this approach.
1. Your happiness is dependent on spouse’s approval
Probably the biggest issue with Sue Johnson’s hold me tight approach is that your own personal happiness depends heavily on how well your wife or husband responds to your needs.
The goal in her type of therapy is to try to create quote hold me tight moments” where you bare your soul to your spouse and they come to hold you, embrace you and validate you.
But, what happens with your spouse does not respond in the way that you expected? What if they cannot give you the appreciationIn the way that you are wanting or expecting? What if you are vulnerable and your spouse does not respond?
Into Johnson’s own words, this is one of the saddest things that she sees in therapy.
2. Other-validated vs self-validated intimacy
Hold me tight by Sue Johnson, as well as most other couples therapies, makes the goal of marriage counseling and couples therapy a validation of feelings between spouses.
However, sometimes that validation does not happen. And, It’s not always the best thing spread to happen.
You see, when you feel that you must have your spouse’s validation and approval of what you think and feel,you tend to be very hesitant to share that.
Or, you demand that your spouse validate you before you even share anything. And if they don’t validate you in the way you were hoping, you feel upset and”wronged.”
I know because I did this very much early on in my marriage. And I have seen other other couples fall into the same trap.
If you require that your spouse validate your deeper feelings and emotions, either before or after you share, David Scharch, the author of Passionate Marriage and other great books, calls this “other-the validated intimacy.”
Wanting validation in this way causes many problems, but can come up very dramatically in sex.
Often sex fades and can die in marriage because one or both spouses cannot bring the topic up for fear of rejection.
So what is the solution?
David Scharch calls it self-validated intimacy.
The idea is being confident in what you want and need in the relationship.
Validating to yourself that those wants and needs are legitimate.
If your spouse validates them as well, that’s great.
But if she doesn’t, that’s okay too. You still know for yourself that those wants and needs are legitimate.
3. Hold Me Tight makes your spouse responsible for your anxiety and self worth
Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight” method also looks to a spouse to manage the other spouse’s anxiety in a way.
It is sort of saying “I can’t handle it when you don’t do what I want, so I need you to soothe me.”
While it is very true that our wife or husband can be a great support and soothing mechanism, it does not lead to the strongest type of relationship.
If we have no way to soothe our own anxiety, and are always trying to get that soothing from our spouse, they will eventually get tired of that and want to leave.
This can come out in a constant need for appreciation, sex, gifts or other ways to calm us down and show us that we have value.
I was definitely guilty of this for a long time and and my marriage and have seen the same pattern in many couples.
When we try to get how our sense of value and our ability to calm down from our spouse, eventually they burn out.
Balancing the main human needs
In relationships, humans have two major needs.
One of those is to belong to another person. To have a deep, powerful and passionate connection.
The other major need is to belong to ourselves. To know that we are independent and have our own minds, opinions, values and beliefs.
In my opinion, it is much easier to go on to another person when we truly belong to ourselves.
This means having a deep sense of who we are, and ability to manage our own thoughts and emotions, a sense of our own sexuality, and a clear purpose for our life.
When we truly own these things, we can share them with our spouse and create an amazing, incredible marriage.
Some people say that you have to do all of this work before you get married.
That you need to have this clear sense of self, management of your thoughts and emotions, the ability to manage your own anxiety, etc.
That just isn’t true.
When we get married, most of us are not at that point. Marriage is the opportunity to grow into that kind of person.
Marriage conflict and problems are simply part of that growing up process.
When we learn the skills and tools that we need to become strong spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and sexually, we become the best possible version of ourselves.
And, we get to share the best version with our spouse.
Marriage is the wonderful place that we get to do that.
I love helping men work through this process. To become the best possible version of themselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and sexually.
As they do this, their marriage transforms into something amazing.
A staple of marriage counseling is The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
The main idea is that we all express and accept love in different ways.
We’ll follow the story of Mary and Jack.
This article is written for husbands, but wives can learn the principles here as well.
Jack and Mary are having some trouble. Jack says that his wife “just doesn’t care” about him. Mary says that Jack “doesn’t listen.”
Each day, when Mary is making dinner, Jack comes up and gives her a kiss.
Mary gets annoyed, and Jack gets hurt.
Jack plays with and riles up the kids while Mary cleans up dinner. Mary gets upset by this, but Jack can’t figure out why. After all, Mary said that she wanted Jack to spend more time with the kids.
Mary recently saved up some money to buy Jack a nice watch that she thinks looks great on him.
Jack didn’t look too happy when he opened it, and now never wears it.
Jack and Mary are both trying hard to show love to their spouse, but it just isn’t connecting. What’s going on here?
An Introduction to Love Languages
In 7th grade I took a semester of French. It felt fun to learn new ways to say things, but also awkward. And, since I never practiced it, now I don’t remember much besides how to sing “Frere Jacques.”
Learning love languages can be similarly awkward at first. But, it is one of the most important things you can do to get the kind of deep, meaningful relationship with your wife that you want.
Learning love languages, and becoming “fluent” in your spouse’s love language, is one of the most important thing you can do to get the kind of deep, meaningful relationship with your spouse that you want.
Why is that?
Love languages are the way each of us receive love.
If you want your wife to really know that you love her and feel that love for her, you must communicate it to her not in your language, but in hers.
If your wife speaks only French, but you keep telling you that you love her in English, the message will not get through.
And you’ll both get frustrated because you’re trying to show love, but it’s not being received.
For her (and for you) to feel deeply loved, you each need to “hear” it in your own love language.
What are the love languages you ask? And how many are there? Read on!
The 5 Love Languages
Thankfully, there are not thousands or even hundreds of love languages. There are just 5.
And they are much easier to learn than Chinese.
This idea comes from Gary Chapman and his book, The 5 Love Languages. It’s a great read if you want more information on this topic. You can get the book here.
The premise is that people accept and feel loved in different ways. When we feel loved, our “love tank” is full and our relationship is great.
When we don’t feel loved, our love tank is empty, leading to stress and distress.
While most of us will accept or feel loved in each of these ways, Chapman argues that we have a “primary” love language. I’m not so sure about there being one primary, but I think we definitely respond to some more than others.
Without further ado, here are the 5 love languages (in no particular order).
This means spending time together. Date nights, taking walks together, that kind of thing.
Chapman also says that you might know if a love language is important to you by how hurt you feel if the opposite is done. So, if your wife really loves you bringing lunch to her at work or making sure you have date night, she might have quality time as a love language.
If your wife gets really hurt by you spending more time with friends than with her, quality time might be her love language.
Tip: Planning a date will make you golden in her book.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, though there are variations. My wife likes gifts. She says that “it shows me that you were thinking of me.” I think that’s a pretty common reason that people with gifts as a love language appreciate it.
If your wife really lights up at a gift, and feels badly when people forget a gift on a special occasion, gifts might be her love language.
Tip: Flowers, candy, or a little trinket that reminds you of her are great ideas. It doesn’t have to be something big, just something that shows she was on your mind.
Sex is part of this, but also hugs, kisses, holding hands, massages. And for a lot of women, the non-sexual touch is more important to show love (more on this in later articles).
If holding hands or hugs really helps your wife feel loved and she feels emotionally distant when you are physically distant, touch might be her love language.
Tip: A hug, kiss, dance in the kitchen, or light touch on the arm will show your wife you love her.
Words of Affirmation
If your wife really loves a kind word in a card, note or email, or just a sincere compliment, words might be her love language.
If criticism seems to hurt her more than it does most people, words might be her love language.
Tip: A love note, kind text, or poem would be great for your wife.
Acts of Service
If cleaning up the house or picking up dinner for your wife really melts her heart, she might have acts of service as her love language.
If your wife feels especially hurt and angry by you neglecting helping around the house or with kids, acts of service may be her love language.
Tip: Cleaning things up that are typically “her” job or getting kids ready for school will take you far.
Take some time to figure out what your love language is and your wife’s. It will be one of the best investments that you can do to create a great marriage.
Letting your wife know your love language is also going to be a big help. She may be telling you all the time how much you mean to her, but you may just want her to buy you something nice once in a while.
There are even categories within these categories. For example, my wife really likes when I bring certain foods home, which would be considered a “gifts” love language. But she doesn’t care as much for flowers.
Take the time to find out what “dialect” of love language your wife speaks and you are on your way to a much more fulfilling marriage.
The Golden Rule Does (Not) Apply
Learning about Love Languages was a big paradigm shift for my husband. He had always tried to show love in the way he likes it, but he eventually realized “the Golden rule” didn’t seem to be working. He loves gifts, but I really don’t. I could appreciate the effort and thought, but then hated feeling obligated to pretend I loved whatever he bought me. Through some frank discussions I was able to help him realize that I’d much rather spend an evening in good conversation with him, rather than him wasting time at a store, spending money on something I probably didn’t want while I sat home alone. Once that clicked- Game Changer!
Stacy S, Utah
This is tricky because my husband KNOWS my love language, but still won’t speak it. He prefers speaking *his* language. I wish he *really* REALLY understood that love languages are real, and they are what fills the other person to their core. I wish he didn’t just figure “Eh, it’s all going to fill the need.”, because it isn’t true. I NEED *my* specific need met in a specific way.
Jill H, California
Have you ever tried to do something nice for your spouse, only to find out that they didn’t really care?
I like surprise parties. My two favorite birthdays of all time have both been surprise parties. So, early in our marriage, I decided to give my wife the best party: a surprise party!
I put a lot of time and effort into getting people invited, food made/brought, arranging everything for the surprise event. As we walked up to the door to the surprise, I couldn’t wait.
But, once she opened the door, her face told me that she didn’t like this kind of thing as much as I did. She was nice about everything and kind, but the end result was a lot of stress for my wife.
If we don’t think about it and make a conscious effort, we tend to show love in the way that we like to receive it. This is normal and natural, but doesn’t lead to the best connection or “full love tanks” for spouses. Usually, it just leads to frustration as you feel like you’re showing love, but it isn’t received.
It takes conscious effort to determine your wife’s love language and yours, then to speak that language in a way she recognizes and appreciates.
The following are real responses from nearly 500 wives I surveyed. See if you can figure out which “love language” each woman speaks. Some are trickier than others and some are saying more than 1 love language:
Just simply saying I love you every day.
I have shared with him how important it is to me for us to talk without distractions. He knows it’s important to turn off the TV, our down his phone, and talk with me about any subject. He’s also learned the power of chocolate to make me happy! He brings home treats for me when he knows it’s been a hard day.
I wish he would just listen. I am pretty open about what I want yet that doesn’t seem to matter because he doesn’t show love that way. Example: I don’t want flowers I want a clean house….I still get flowers because that is nice of him.
Talk to me, pay attention to me, dance with me, be intimate without expecting intercourse
Flirt with me and hug/kiss me more
Here’s the answer key:
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
Probably quality time and physical touch
#4 is probably the trickiest. If your wife gives you an answer like this, you may want to explore more with her which of the love languages resonate with her.
Also, we’ll get into this in later articles, but emotionally connecting with your wife through deep communication is one of the biggest things wives crave from their husbands.
If you feel like you don’t know how to do this, don’t worry. You’ll learn how in later articles.
Just when you thought you had it figured out…
The most attractive thing that he has done, & continues to do, is realizing that my love language changes over time & changing his expression to suit it. Love languages are fluid not concrete & it has meant more to me than I can ever express that he stays aware of me to notice when they change without me having to tell him (sometimes I don’t realize they change either!)
-Mary S, Arizona
Our love languages can and do change over time. So, if all of the sudden your gifts of flowers aren’t doing it for her, don’t automatically assume something is terribly wrong. Your wife’s love language may have just shifted.
It’s a great topic to bring up with your wife and to discuss how you both feel most loved in the present.