When It Comes to Lasting Relationships, Forget the L Word

Judy Gerstel | February 14th, 2018

My dear, my bonding partner, I’m so in connection with you.

When it comes to relationships that last, forget the L word.

Much more meaningful are the A, B and C words: Attachment, Bonding, Connection.

What you want to hear from your partner on Valentine’s Day or any other day is not necessarily “I love you.”

What you really want to hear is “I’m deeply attached to you.”

True romantic love is an attachment bond, similar to the love parents and children have for each other, says Dr. Sue Johnson in her book, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships.

“Securely attached couples have this connection and emotional flow,” explains the Ottawa couples therapist and developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

“They turn towards each other, tune in, open up, and reach for other person. They can self-disclose and respond to the other person. Sometimes one leads and the other follows, sometimes it’s the other way around.”

If love is the word of choice to express that connection, that’s fine, too.

But if it’s just lust and sexual chemistry without the context of emotional bonding, suggests Johnson, then the words “I love you” are not worth much.

She acknowledges that expressing and feeling profound attachment to someone else isn’t always easy. It can make us feel dependent and vulnerable.

Especially since we’re told that “adults are supposed to be independent and if they’re not, they’re weak and pathetic.”

That’s always been true to some extent for men. More recently, women too were encouraged, by the feminist movement, to be self-reliant and not to feel the need for a man in their lives.

Johnson has strong words about that.

“Teaching people to be ashamed of their dependency needs is toxic information,” she insists. “Where did we ever get the idea that we were somehow supposed to live without emotions and needs? She admits, “My profession has had a lot of words for that: co-dependent, enmeshed, not differentiated.”

But Johnson and some colleagues took a different path.

“We were considered bizarre because we said, ‘No! This is who human beings are! Being able to deal with these feelings and use the longing to connect with other people is a strength. And If you can’t own or speak your needs for connection, that’s a recipe for isolation.”

She continues (she’s vehement about the misinformation about dependency), “When you avoid depending on anyone else, that’s not freedom. That’s suicide! It’s dumb!’

She can cite research, she says, that shows “we perform better physically and mentally and deal with stress better when we have a few powerful emotional connections with people who will come when we need them.”

People who need people, as the song says, are the luckiest people of all.