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.
You can get a copy of her book here.
Pros of Sue Johnson Hold Me Tight
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.