It's Valentine's Day and I've been talking to the kids about love all week.
Here are my sappy two cents.
Fact: Love songs are corny. Follow-up fact: They are true.
I was reflecting the other day on how many amazing songs have the words "I'll be there" in the title. Let's see, there's:
"I'll Be There for You" by Bon Jovi (one of my childhood favourites)
"Reach out (I'll Be There)" by the 4 Tops
"I'll Be There" by Jackson Five (I was more familiar with Mariah Carey's version)
"I'll Be There for You" by the Rembrandts (Friends theme song. People forget that it was a chart topper on its own)
Michael Jackson has a great tune titled "Will You Be There"
I'm sure I'm missing plenty of other examples. But why does this message permeate some of the best pop music? Dr. Sue Johnson in her book "Hold Me Tight" wrote that it's because
"Our need for others to come close when we call is absolute."
She explains that bonding happens when one person reaches for another and the other responds.
Most people are familiar with attachment theory and the importance we subsequently place on strong bonds between parents and infants. We are aware that emotionally neglected babies can be kept warm, clean, and fed but will still be at high risk due to the lack of emotional connection. Mental and physical health relies heavily on healthy attachments.
But do we consider the fact that this basic human need doesn't just disappear after our childhood? Attachment is still vital to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being as we age. When our bond with our primary attachment figures (most likely our romantic partners) is threatened, we hit the panic button.
We typically react in one of two ways:
Either we get so anxious that we attempt to control our loved one, or
We freeze and avoid them altogether so as not to get hurt.
Either way, what Dr. Johnson calls an "attachment injury" leads us to react in ways that cause further disconnection. It's tricky to navigate your way through romantic relationships, but the point I'm trying to make on this, the day of St. Valentine, is that we must. For our physical, emotional , and spiritual well-being, we must invest our energy into our most meaningful relationships. No other investment will pay higher dividends than fostering and nurturing our connections.
John Gottman gives us loads of ideas that work (especially given that he is essentially the pinnacle of the marriage therapy world). One such idea is to "know each other's worlds." Can you describe your partner's day yesterday in detail? Do you know who comprises the cast of his or her life? Do you know what he or she worries about or hopes for at night?
My wife has recently gotten uber-excited about skincare. Do I care about skincare? .... I care that she cares and it behooves me to find out more about all of the different regimens and sales incentives, etc. Likewise, she came to watch me smash our Grade 5 basketball team in the annual staff vs student classic. Relationships, even the romantic variety, are friendships at their core, and true friends should know each other's worlds.
One of the most precious and miraculous experiences we can have as human beings is reaching out in need and having a loved one be there. Conversely, trauma can be rooted in a desperate reach of vulnerability that is met with neglect or abandon.
Be there for each other. When the rain starts to pour. Like you've been there before.