Customer Reviews: Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
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on May 7, 2008
Hold Me Tight teaches couples how to hear their partner's deepest concerns, "are you there for me", "am I really important to you", "is our relationship secure and solid" when those concerns are expressed through criticism or content. It reminds partner's that all communications are attempts to connect, no matter how badly delivered. In this way, Susan Johnson teaches couples to read below the surface of a complaint down to the attachment need being expressed underneath. When attachment needs can be faced and processed directly, couples feel closer. Johnson offers couples in couples counseling an adjunctive support system in addition to the therapy hour. Hold Me Tight is also an excellent resource for couples working things out on their own. It provides a clear and solid guideline for repairing hurt and restoring connection. I am recommending it to the couples in my practice, and the reports coming back about how helpful and transformative Johnson's approach is have been glowing!
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on August 12, 2010
The problem with therapy and relationship books is that they are all the equivalent of medieval "medicine." There is no science, no data-driven outcomes, no predictive hypothesis testing and hence no real progress. Every practitioner has their own set of nostrums, some helpful and some absurd, just like every witch-doctor has his own set of feathers and fetish items. Step forward Sue Johnson. Although she has taken only baby-steps towards a true scientific model of attachment relationships, it's welcome progress indeed. Unlike the vast majority of her peers, she grasps that our behaviors have been fashioned by selection pressure over the millennia. She looks for why such behaviors should have adaptive value, and this enables her to side-step the mumbo-jumbo of co-dependence, inappropriate behavior, etc. and get right to the heart of what seems to be going on between couples when their relationship is in trouble.

For people who want confirmation that their partner is "too clingy" or "too cold" or whatever, this is not the book for you. Nor is it a "why you should be strong and suck it up" book. It is about our basic needs, our need for at least one other adult human being to be there for us when we need it. It is about why we're wired up to be that way, what kinds of behaviors result from this hard-wiring, how things can go wrong, and how things can be fixed. At the heart of the book is Johnson's vision of us as all needing at least one refuge, one place of safety and support in an otherwise indifferent and cold universe. Unfortunately, for most people, marriage or an equivalent domestic relationship fails to provide this refuge because we keep misunderstanding our partner's needs and impulses - and very often we misunderstand our own too.

Johnson recognizes the futility of trying to change communication patterns or patterns of surface behavior when the fundamentals remain unaddressed. She walks the reader through the stages of self-understanding and then partner-understanding. She uses simplified examples from her own case histories (sometimes rather too glib) to demonstrate behavior patterns and how they can be modified and improved so that both parties can get closer to the heart of the matter.

Eventually, we'll arrive at a soundly-based science of interpersonal behavior that uses mathematical models to (i) elucidate, and (ii) predict our behaviors, at which point we'll have the possibility of truly effective therapy and also understand the fundamental limits of therapy. After all, there are plenty of things in this world that can't be fixed no matter how hard one might try. But until that day arrives, Johnson's book is a welcome precursor and a valuable tool for anyone who cares about their relationships and hopes to find a true loving refuge in which lasting love can be recrafted every day.
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on April 21, 2013
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is currently in fashion among couples therapists, and Sue Johnson is one of its chief architects. In Hold Me Tight, which is offered as a guide (including exercises at the end of each chapter) for couples to work through EFT on their own, Dr Johnson presents "seven conversations for a lifetime of love."

When all of the clever labels designed to help promote the brand are stripped away--"the demon dialogs," "freeze and flee," "hold me tight"--the advice comes down to this: communication with your partner in which you can be vulnerable, risk showing your frailties, and make yourself emotionally available should open the door to reciprocity by your partner and communication of deep emotional intensity, an opportunity for sharing, bonding, and building trust.

Communication in which partners are closed and defensive, on the other hand, closes the possibility for genuine emotional connection and can set off destructive spirals of recrimination and defensiveness, leading in turn to feelings of alienation and separation and, in the most severe case, dissolution of the relationship.

Any of us who has ever done "work" on ourselves or on our relationships has heard this before, and we understand the fundamental wisdom of trying to get in touch with ourselves, with our feelings, and of having the courage to give our partner access to those inner-most, most intimate places, to be willing to stand before our partner emotionally naked, trusting that they will not take advantage of our vulnerability, that they will not reject us, that they will, in a healthy relationship, embrace us.

For those who have not yet gotten to this place in the program, Sue Johnson's explanation is as lucid and usable and sensible as any, though the writing is sometimes clumsy--a social-scientific researcher trying to bring her work to a popular audience perhaps. The stories, while they may all be accurate representations of therapy sessions Dr Johnson has had with clients, seem pat and contrived, each one resolves neatly as if in a television drama: "Oh, Ricky …." Here's the basic formula: In therapy, one partner complains about the behavior of the other; the indicted partner reacts badly causing the complaining partner to suddenly open up and reveal the hidden significance of their hurt. On seeing the complaining partner so vulnerable and exposed, the indicted partner has an epiphany, allows his/her heart to open completely to the complaining partner, there is a warm embrace, literal and/or metaphorical, and the relationship is on the road to recovery.

In a concluding chapter, Johnson is honest that the moment just described is not a permanent or even a guaranteed cure: relationships require continuing work on the part of both parties. Even so, at least in Hold Me Tight, Johnson fails to acknowledge the possibility of cases in which this moment never occurs, cases in which at least one partner is so deeply guarded emotionally that his or her reaction to the other partner's vulnerability cannot be the healing embrace, but even greater defensiveness and withdrawal. Such an admission wouldn't be good for book sales. Hold Me Tight depends on optimism.

One very valuable feature of Hold Me Tight, a lesson that many of us, even those of us who have done some "work," may not have heard often enough: Sue Johnson is in league with a growing number of therapists and counselors coming from a number of different perspectives, determined to undermine forty years or so of thought that has told us that self-sufficiency is a hallmark of mental health; that our goal should be to get ourselves to a state where we do not need a relationship; that then, and only then, are we truly ready for a relationship. Anything short of a relationship built on mutual self-sufficiency is mere co-dependency. Johnson and others argue that we are hard-wired for connection, and they rely on some findings of contemporary neuro-science to bolster their argument. One only wonders how we would have ignored Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which features "belongingness and love" so prominently, for so long. Some of us will find it a relief, in our imperfect condition, to at last, be given license to seek a relationship without the foregone judgment that because we want it, we are unhealthy, and because we are unhealthy, any relationship we enter must therefore be unhealthy.

Parts I and II of Hold Me Tight give the reader the "seven conversations for a lifetime of love" that are the core of Johnson's book. Part III seems tacked on. It includes special cases, such as the chapter on trauma, and a concluding chapter, but the fundamental formula remains the same: one partner risks vulnerability; the other partner recognizes the real emotional content of behaviors and offers a healing embrace. The consistency of the theme raises the question Are these special cases really special after all?
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on February 8, 2010
My wife and I used to fight like cats and dogs (and she is born in the Year of the Dog). At one long drawn out stage, it seemed an unspoken understanding between us that this was the nature of our relationship and we were resigned to it - some highs and many unsettling lows. Then I read 'Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves' by Terry Warner. That's one brilliant book - it changed a lot for me, not only how I perceived my relationship with her, but also with my kids.

Hold Me Tight illuminates for me more clearly how changing myself in relation to her dramatically changed our relationship. I needed to be more Accessible, Responsive and better Engage (I'm not going to spoil it for you or the author - you do need to read the book to get a good feel of what she means by each). Reading this book on it's own is plenty good, though I strongly recommend you read Bonds That Make Us Free as well.

My wife doesn't do personal growth books (or non-fiction in general) and didn't read either. The most interesting part is how her responses towards me changed, without any direction on my part i.e. I didn't tell or explain any of the theory or mechanics to her. She was simply reacting to my new ways of interacting with her, as if we'd started dancing to a much better, in-synched set of steps. Now it seems like we're doing almost all ups or plateaus, hardly any down time. Very nice.

Cas, author of Cassius Cheong's Positively Quit Manual
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on April 9, 2008
I've read all the relationship books, even the ones by the authors whose quotes appear on this cover, and I can say with complete conviction that this is by far the best of the lot. Dr. Sue Johnson's warm, authoritative, and reassuring tone sets the stage for a whole lot of incredibly useful advice. The book gives you a new way to view your relationship and the tools to improve it, whether it needs improving or not! Her form of couples therapy is apparently one of the very few to be proven to work, and that's really the bottom line. Do yourself and your partner a big favor and buy this book! I highly recommend it.
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on June 14, 2015
I like the way Sue Johnson uses attachment theory to help couples better understand and empathize with one another. I think she does a good job of naming and externalizing relationship patterns we all can get into. But I don't think her book should be used without the help of a therapist. In her book she doesn't do justice to the impact of personal psychology and gender narratives on relationships. In her vignettes the individuals rarely seem to ask themselves what their basic values are and who they want to be as individuals and in their relationships. Instead it feels like she's using attachment theory to make hurtful behavior (mostly male behavior) intelligible. In some vignettes this behavior gets normalized. I think this is a step backwards for women who typically struggle to create and maintain boundaries in their relationships. Understanding and working on attachment issues in couples counselling increases empathy and understanding but this is only the first step in a long process of each person becoming conscious and responsible for their behavior.
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on February 10, 2010
This book was recommended to me by a friend at work (we are both men). I learned more about my past relationships than ever and know how to keep from making the same mistakes in my future relationships. This book has given me the tools I need to make a lasting bond. I can't say enough about how eye-opening this book was for me. I initially bought the CD's, but ordered the hardback so I could earmark and make notes in it.

Generally, the process is pretty simple. It does not talk about communication techniques or anger management; it talks about repairing the wounds that make communication difficult. It talks about falling in love and staying in love. It obliterates the dated belief that love is only about being accustomed to somebody else. Above all, it made me realize that I'm not as different as I thought; I'm not broken. I'm normal.

Read this book!
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on September 9, 2014
I have absolutely no connection with the author, only a desire to contribute to others. Curious as to who writes these reviews, I'm 56, male, my wife surprised me by divorcing me after a 20 year marriage, and have two children in college. I have two graduate degrees and read a far amount of self-help books.

Sue Johnson's book may truly be the best relationship book I've ever read, as it will forever change my understanding of relationships for the better.

This book is interesting and clear, balancing anecdotes with straightforward descriptions of her conceptual observations. According to Johnson, she gained her novel and deep insights from watching, and watching and re-watching videos of couples struggling in therapy using the best previously known tools. She listened to couples describe their relationship using "life and death" language. The existing tools, such as analysis and insights regarding childhood relationships, how to be reasonable, mirroring listening skills, and negotiation training, didn't seem to work.

Building on others' insights, Johnson came up with what she calls EFT: "Emotionally Focused Therapy." The thesis is that all people, including successful intellectuals, seek at the core of their relationship emotional attachment and safety. There are key negative and positive emotional moments that define the relationship. Seems mundane, but yet as I read the book, I found myself getting so many gems and Ah-Ha's that my copy is now underlined with post-its sticking out the side. I got tremendous insight, not only into my pain and struggles and my girlfriend's, but tools on how to repair emotional injuries and connect better.

The book is composed of seven conversations that are aimed at encouraging a special kind of emotional responsiveness described as the key to lasting love for couples. This emotional responsiveness has three main components with the acronym "ARE:"
Accessibility (Can I reach you?);
Responsiveness (Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?); &
Engagement (Do I know you will value me and stay close?)

Johnson claims great success with therapy using the EFT model and I believe it. She describes three typical patterns that couples often get stuck in: (1) Find the Bad Guy; (2) The Protest Polka; and (3) Freeze and Flee. The first and third are pretty self-descriptive. Johnson describes The Protest Polka as the most widespread and ensnaring, involves one person reaching out, albeit in a negative way, the other person withdrawing and the pattern repeating. I immediately saw that I often play the role of the protester, trying to get a reassuring connection, followed by feeling worse when my partner withdraws.

I'm now more than two-thirds through this book and am now finishing the chapter on the fifth conversation--Forgiving Injuries. Even if the remainder of this book is dribble, what I've read so far leaves me confident recommending it.

On a side note, I've been trained in Marshall Rosenberg's "Nonviolent Communications," also known as NVC, or "Compassionate Communications." Raised by two science oriented parents, I became a husband, father and attorney that was clueless regarding emotions. I believed that negative emotions were enemies and obstacles to higher living. When I stumbled across NVC around the age of 40, I suddenly learned, for the first time in my life, the very helpful role of negative emotions, and now consider them to be good friends, albeit still challenging. Negative emotions provide indicators of the needs that are wanting. NVC helped me tremendously and heartily recommend that as well.

I have the 2008 version of "Hold Me Tight; Seven Conversations . . . " by Sue Johnson
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on May 23, 2009
This, together with Gottman's book, is an attempt to deliver an objective and clear guide to resolving relationship difficulties and/or strengthening them. This book (unlike Gottman's) is rooted in attachment theory, which is probably the closest thing to a scientifically based approach to human relationships, or at least there's a biological and evolutionary framework for understanding our emotional needs in relationships. The need for this objective foundation for understanding relationships is pretty obvious when you begin to read through the literature; most of it is vague, superficial or embarrassingly facile. This book attempts to tether its approach to something concrete and verified: we need to be and to feel securely connected to our mates and this need is confirmed in all sorts of ways, both with scientific studies and in anecdotal and clinical settings.

The problem is: what exactly is a secure attachment? When Sue Johnson presents case studies, the answer is something like: partner's need to reaffirm there basic desire and need for a secure attachment. This is done by saying things like: I really need to feel connected, loved, appreciated, valued and desired by you. Relationships flourish when these connected feelings are expressed and reaffirmed. But when you get down to nuts and bolts what behavior exactly, both verbal and physical, constitutes an expression of attachment? And here I think this book fairs about as well as any other.

The fact is that the ways that people can express and feel attached to each is about as varied as all the forms of expression that are available to human beings. So, when reading through these specific cases, I find it hard to identify what exactly it is in the expressions or attitudes of her clients that might work for others (or mostly me). It again seems very vague and general, though in principle right. This leaves this reader wonder why loving another human being should be thought to be so simple as reaffirming our basic biological need for a secure attachment. It seems to me that all the incredible varieties of expressions of love show that it is not so simple. Maybe I'm a skeptic or a cynic, but this seems like another imperfect attempt in the mountain of attempts to understand how to love another human being.... And worth reading!
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on May 12, 2008
There is no end to the relationship books out there, but this one is definitely different. Dr. Johnson gives us the science behind the feeling and then helps us unravel how we get stuck in aloneness and fear. Being in a loving relationship should not feel so separate. Our fast paced,independent and competitive based society leads us into developing entitlement that heightens our sense of being hurt and abandoned. Then self-perpetuating interlocking loops of pursue and defend; demand and withdraw separate us even more from the one we long to feel safe and close to. Thank you Sue Johnson, for publishing the map that guides us through this maze of confused emotions. Thank you from all my clients, my family and myself. Each of my married children have received gifts of this book. I keep mine close at hand. My husband thanks you, too. T. Livingston. MFT
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