Point of View

Point of View

Brave New Couples: What can science tell us about the changing face of couplehood today?

By Ryan Howes

May/June 2015

We often imagine the English as reserved stonewallers, even more emotionally constricted than we Americans are. But Susan Johnson, the daughter of two London pubkeepers and the inventor of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT), has devoted her career to breaking that old stereotype and developing an approach that zeroes in on showing couples how to express their deepest feelings for each other. To get there, she had to break what was perhaps the biggest taboo of all.

When she decided to study love and connections in relationships, she had to buck the psychologist establishment, which dismissed love as a disreputable, totally unscientific four-letter word that no self-respecting researcher would dream of considering for serious study. When, as a graduate student, she told the head of her psychology department that she wanted to study emotion and the nature of human intimacy, he looked at her blankly and said, “We don’t do that. We do measurements, personality, and statistics.”

Today, thanks in good part to her groundbreaking work melding clinical innovation with rigorous research on the funniest valentine of subjects—love—she’s widely acknowledged as having developed one of the field’s most influential clinical road maps of that trackless jungle of primitive emotion where all couples lose their way sometimes and where some couples are lost all the time.

Johnson’s work is based on the fundamental understanding that teaching deeply conflictual…

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