This is the second in a series of exercises which can be found in the Hold Me Tight Workbook A Couple’s Guide For a Lifetime of Love by Dr Sue Johnson.
The acronym A.R.E stands for Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement, which are crucial elements in love relationships. The strength of a relationship is found when we find ourselves asking questions like, “Do I matter to you? Can I reach you? Are you emotionally available to me? Can I rely on you to respond when I need you? Will you engage with me and give me your attention?” These A.R.E. questions often remains hidden under the surface during recurring arguments that revolve around practical concerns such as chores, personality differences, sex, children, and finances. Partners who feel secure and loved can navigate these differences and issues collaboratively, whereas those who don’t tend to channel their relationship problems and fears into constant disagreements.
QUESTIONNAIRE: How A.R.E. You?
Does your partner’s perception of how accessible, responsive, and emotionally engaged you are, fit with your view of yourself and how safe your relationship is? Read each statement and answer T (true) or F (false). You can complete the questionnaire individually, then either reflect on the answers on your own, or discuss your answers together.
From your viewpoint, is your partner available to you?
- I can get my partner’s attention easily. T F
- My partner is easy to connect with emotionally. T F
- My partner shows me that I come first with them. T F
- I am not feeling lonely or shut out in this relationship. T F
- I can share my deepest feelings with my partner. They will listen. T F
From your viewpoint, is your partner responsive to you?
- If I need connection and comfort, they will be there for me. T F
- My partner responds to signals that I need them to come close. T F
- I find I can lean on my partner when I am anxious or unsure. T F
- Even when we fight or disagree, I know that I am important to my partner and we will find a way to come together. T F
- If I need reassurance about how important I am to my partner, I can get it. T F
Are you positively emotionally engaged with one another?
- I feel comfortable being close to and trusting my partner. T F
- I can confide in my partner about almost anything. T F
- I feel confident, even when we are apart, that we’re connected to one another. T F
- I know that my partner cares about my joys, hurts, and fears. T F
- I feel safe enough to take emotional risks with my partner. T F
Welcome to a series of relationship exercises designed to strengthen your emotional bond with your partner using the Hold Me Tight Workbook A Couple’s Guide For a Lifetime of Love by Dr Sue Johnson. As Sue Johnson writes, ‘Love relationships are not bargains; they are emotional bonds based on our innate need for safe and emotional connection.’
Attachment theory underpins the vital role our loved ones play in providing us with a sense of safety and security in our lives. When emotionally distant or unresponsive, we may experience feelings of isolation and helplessness, triggering emotions like anger, sadness, hurt, and fear. Fear triggers the amygdala, the part of our brain that detects danger, and is a natural response that activates when our relationship is threatened. In this state, our actions may become reactive and impulsive, resulting in two common patterns: demanding or withdrawing.
These responses are unconscious and may give us temporary relief, but if they persist, they can create a cycle of insecurity that drives partners apart. As both partners become defensive, they start assuming the worst about each other and their relationship, leading to a lack of safety in their relationship. This delicate dance of panic and fear requires partners to move in sync, or else they risk stepping on each other’s toes.
To better understand your own steps in this dance, try this introspective journal exercise from Dr Sue Johnson. By becoming aware of your individual responses, you can start identifying and addressing the dynamics of your relationship with your partner.
Our fears are wired into our brains. Everyone has them. Can you pinpoint or identify your fears? Listen to the feelings you have, and find, at the core, any fear or anxiety that involves being rejected or abandoned by your partner. To help you get in touch with your internal experience, here are a few of the common feelings or qualities of demanders and withdrawers. Check off the ones you resonate with.
DEMANDERS OFTEN FEEL:
- Frightened of their aloneness; scared they’re not wanted
- Afraid of being abandoned
- Frightened of their feelings of hurt
- Scared of being invisible
WITHDRAWERS OFTEN FEEL:
- Frightened of rejection
- Scared of their experience of disappointing their partner-coming up short
- Afraid of failure
- Numbed or frozen with fear
- Afraid of being judged or criticized
Reflect on and write down what scares you most, and then invite your partner to do the same. Share your reflections with each other.