Having secure and healthy relationships gives us meaning and enrich our lives deeply. Yet, we all know too well that relationships are not all sunshine and rainbows and can bring deep hurt and pain too. To nurture a relationship- in its various forms, is hard. However, you can take comfort that it is not all fate, but intentional effort so that we can securely attach to our partners and form a mutually intimate relationship.
Now, what does it mean to have a securely attached relationship? According to Bowlby’s attachment theory, three characteristics of attachment defines the security and quality of a relationship:
1) partner having the desire to maintain close proximity to the other partner;
2) seeking partner for comfort and safety in times of distress; and
3) having partner as a secure base from which the other partner can explore the world.
Does your relationship exhibit the above characteristics?
Dr Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally-Focused Therapy, devised a way for couples to gain more clarity in understanding the state of their relationships. She had couples asking one another: “A.R.E you there for me?”. The acronym A.R.E stands for Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged.
In this Part 1 series, we will be exploring how to nurture a secure relationship and couple communication using “A.R.E. you there for me?”.

Accessibility: Can I count on you, depend on you?

In my practice as a couple therapist, it is common to hear couples wanting to know if they can count on their partners to always be there for them, whether physically or emotionally. Yet, we are also aware of the limitations of our human abilities to be there 100%, as much as the heart wants to. This leads to feelings of disappointment, hurt and sadness, whether they are expressed or not. How do we still form a secure base to meet our psychological need to rely and depend on each other? Here are some communication tips:

1. Offer help when your partner mentions a problem that you can be of help. Be specific about your help and see through what you have promised to do.

Instead of saying: “I will help you with the household chores tomorrow”.
Say this: “You mentioned that you have problems with the laundry rack. Let me help you with drying our clothes when I am done with my dinner.”

2. Convey the message that you want to support (and do show up!).

a. “Hey, I want to support you and I will be there”.
b. “Tell me how I may be of help on your job search”.
c. “Hey, I want to let you know that I am here for you”.
d. “I want to hear about your day”.

Responsive: Will you respond to me when I need you?

Have you ever tried sharing a terrible workday with your partner (or even anyone) and his/her response is: “I think you are being overly sensitive” or “Yeah, that sucks. My day is worse!”. The above responses do not convey active listening, and this leaves your partner feeling unattended and alone.
Being responsive towards your partner simply means to attune to your partner’s emotional needs. Dr Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute for couple therapy, recommended the need to periodically take your partner’s emotional temperature, by simply asking, “How are you doing, my dear?” Practise active listening by shifting the focus on your partner and tune into your partner’s world. Your goal is to understand, and not to problem solve. You use prompters such as, “Tell me more about that.” or “Oh, what happened to you? Tell me more.”
Remember, this is about tuning in to his/her feelings and not yours at that moment. Do not dismiss or get distracted by your digital device when the other needs a listening ear. Stay present!
I highly recommend doing this once a day- it’s a dose of Vitamin A (for Attention) that goes a long way in nurturing a secure relationship.

Engaged: Do I matter to you? Do you need me?

How often do you communicate that you value your partner? I often hear comments like, “Well, he/she should know that I love him/her after all that I have done.” Demonstrating love through acts of service tells one that you mean what you say. Yet, no one is a mind reader, and it is so crucial that we verbally communicate words of love and assurance in our relationships (and for Asians, let’s not use the excuse that this is just not in our culture).
Dr Gottman has this motto: “Small Things Often” and you will be surprised by reaping positive outcomes just by doing small and thoughtful things daily for each other to stay engaged.
1. Sending a text message during the day to let your partner know that you missed him or her.
2. Share with your partner how much you appreciate him or her before bedtime.
3. Saying goodbye with a kiss that lasts at least six seconds (known as “The 6 Second Kiss” rule by Dr John Gottman) before parting for work or greet with a kiss when returning home from work.
What are your thoughts about accessibility, responsivity, and engagement in your relationship? This Part 1 series of Nurturing a Secure Relationship serves as a good start for you and your partner to have an intentional conversation about the health and security of your relationship and discuss ways that you could continue to nurture your relationship.
Start small, make it a habit and it will prove to be mighty!
If you are interested to seek support through couple therapy, do contact us at Private Space Medical.

Joanne Goh
Principal Therapist
Private Space Medical