Boundaries and Bridges

Hold Me Tight

by: Sue Johnson

Review by: Dr. Jacob Bryan

This is a must-read book for any couple in a long-term relationship. Ideally, this would be read by committed couples before they tie the knot to keep bad habits from settling in.

Dr. Sue Johnson outlines one of the most important toxic cycles in human relationships: the Attack-Withdrawal Cycle. Partners with poor communication skills who fail to put understanding as their #1 goal will fall prey to this destructive cycle.

In the attack-withdrawal cycle, individuals start off by attacking one another with weapons like criticism, contempt, disgust, and other types of identity attacks. This goes back-and-forth for a while until futility sets in. Then one partner naturally withdraws from the relationship, emotionally and/or physically, as a defense mechanism for avoiding attack. The second partner may instinctively attack even harder at this point to try and reel their spouse back in, but this has the effect of pushing the spouse further away. Eventually both partners withdraw and settle into a place of futility. At this point, both partners become cynical towards the other as they have become completely disconnected. They abandon each other emotionally. This cycle, left unchecked, typically leads to infidelity, divorce, and/or long-term loveless marriage.

Because of how common the attack-withdrawal cycle is in human relationships, once you understand it, you start to see it everywhere: especially business relationships and politics.

Dr. Johnson offers solutions for escaping the attack-withdrawal cycle. She also explores the important concept of emotional raw spots. How do these develop and how can we heal them over time? How can partners work towards reconciliation?

Recommended for:

  • All couples
  • Relationships in distress
  • Couples early on in their partnership as preparation for marriage

Per amazon:

The message of Hold Me Tight is simple: Forget about learning how to argue better, analyzing your early childhood, making grand romantic gestures, or experimenting with new sexual positions. Instead, get to the emotional underpinnings of your relationship by recognizing that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and protection. Dr. Johnson teaches that the way to enhance or save a relationship is to be open, attuned, and responsive to each other and to reestablish emotional connection. With this in mind, she focuses on key moments in a relationship and uses them as touch points for seven healing conversations, including:  

  • Recognizing the Demon Dialogues
  • Finding the Raw Spots
  • Revisiting a Rocky Moment
  • Forgiving Injuries
  • Keeping Your Love Alive

 These conversations give you insight into the defining moments in your relationship and guide you in reshaping these moments to create a secure and lasting bond.

When we feel safely linked to our partners, we more easily roll with the hurts they inevitably inflict, and we are less likely to be aggressively hostile when we get mad at them.

The more we can reach out to our partners, the more separate and independent we can be.