This Valentine's Day: Give your lover more presence


This is a guest blog by Shelly Hummel, LMFT and Carole Cullen, LMFT as part of the Work/Life February Relationships Series.  We offer our sincere thanks to Shelley and Carole for volunteering to contribute!

Jennifer and Dave have been married for 3 years. “We have a huge argument every December right around the holidays,” complains Jennifer. “We just don’t seem to make spending time together a priority and when we do we argue and feel even less connected to one another." “It’s hard for me feel close to her when she just wants to talk about what I’m not doing or she’s distracted by Facebook,” Dave sighs.  Jennifer turns her head away from him and mumbles..."of course I'm going to find something else to do like Facebook - you never want to do anything."

Dave and Jennifer both feel alone and disconnected. While times of connection and disconnection ebb and flow in any relationship, a negative long-standing pattern may emerge if it is not addressed.  Dave and Jennifer came to a recent couples workshop to find out how to change the course of their relationship for the better.

Couples are often overwhelmed with knowing what to do when they find themselves in a similar situation.  They search for answers.  They read books.  They ask friends.  They watch Dr. Phil.  They want to feel close and fulfilled in their relationship.  So, what is the secret to fulfilling, long-lasting love?

The top two world-renowned researchers on relationships (Susan Johnson and John Gottman) agree: Being emotionally present for your partner is the key to long-lasting love.   Being attuned to your partner is all about being emotionally present.  John Gottman defines attunement as the desire and ability to understand and respect your partner's inner world.   Susan Johnson, the founder of Emotionally-Focused therapy, suggests that emotional responsiveness consists of three main components that are outlined by the acronym A.R.E.

A=Accessibility.  Can your partner reach you?  Can they count on you to be available to them for emotional, physical, and sexual connection?

R=Responsiveness. Can your partner count on you to respond to them?  Being responsive is about conveying understanding, validation, and a genuine sense of caring.  It is about being sensitive to your partners’ feelings, and wanting to make them feel comfortable, valued, listened to, and understood.

E=Engagement.  Does your partner feel that they have your full presence and attention, even if it's only for short periods?  They know that even when they are not with you, they exist in your mind - they feel that they matter.

Being intentional in your relationship is one of the first steps in being more emotionally responsive.  Intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out action plans for the future.  When you have a mind-set of intention for the relationship and you follow-through on those actions,  it gives your partner a sense of feeling important and safety in the relationship.  It builds trust and connection.

Here are some ways to be more Intentional in your relationship:

Create a habit of reunion every day that includes some form of affection.

Set aside time of undistracted communication every day.

Practice an appreciation ritual every day that communicates genuine affection and appreciation to your partner.

Attend a Couples Retreat to work on building your relationship skills to mange conflict and enhance intimacy.

Give your partner and your relationship more presence this year.  Be intentional and responsive.  It will put your relationship on a trajectory that consists of the fulfillment you have been yearning for.

Written by:

Shelly Hummel, LMFT and Carole Cullen, LMFT

More information about the authors can be found at:



About Author

Lisa Allred

Work Life Program Manager

Lisa Allred comes to SAS with a long history of working with families throughout the lifespan. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest Universtity and her Masters in Social Work from UNC-CH, her career began as a child therapist focusing on parenting, anxiety and trauma. She then moved into college counseling where she emphasized student wellness and balance.

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