Something really funny happened one weekend at a wedding we attended. A bunch of young people started singing in unison to a song the DJ was playing. “What was that?” I asked because I kind of liked it. The artist sounded a lot like Sting. They said, “It’s Gotye (Goat-Eee-Ay) . . . OMG, it’s a breakup song. They’re playing a breakup song at a wedding.” And then they all got the giggles. And now I like the song because I associate it with all the young people, sitting at a picnic table under twinkly lights, singing and giggling.
Gotye stated that the song was, “definitely drawn from various experiences I’ve had in relationships breaking up . . . ” The couple is naked and painted, yet the video is much more sad than sexual.
Wikipedia does a nice job describing what happens in the video: . . . it was directed and produced by Natasha Pincus, shows both Gotye and Kimbra naked throughout the clip, and as they sing, his skin is gradually painted into the backdrop via stop motion animation. The painting used in the video’s background is based on a 1980s artwork created by Gotye’s father, an Australian artist and skin illustrator based in Adelaide. He was hired by Pincus to work on the body paintings for Gotye and Kimbra, and also worked with Gotye to design the backdrop. According to Hack, it took more than 23 hours to paint both Gotye and Kimbra to fit with the background. Their painting symbolizes their combined relationship.
The more I watched, the more I realized this video shows exactly what happens to couples who are disengaged and struggling to regain their connection.
They can’t reach each other so they get louder and louder, protesting their lack of connection, when in reality learning to be vulnerable with their deep emotions would lead them back. When they can’t make emotional contact they each fade away.
But it’s too scary to try because vulnerability requires safety, and if you’ve never shared like that it’s terrifying.
All this leads me into a discussion of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) as a model for marriage therapy. It’s a model I’ve spent the last few years learning.
EFT’s founder, Dr. Sue Johnson, saw how vehemently romantic partners reacted towards each other—even when they said the relationship was over and did not matter any longer. Sue would tell you how her own parents fought fiercely, but even after destroying their marriage they clung to each other up to their deaths. You can read a little more here.
The idea behind EFT is that troubled couples get locked into rigid patterns of reacting to each other when they can’t connect. Even though a therapist can clearly see how they long for each other, they respond with thoughts and behaviors that get them the exact opposite of what they want. Picture magnets with “like” poles that repel.
After watching thousands of video tapes, Johnson theorized that relationships are based on a theory of attachment. Partners are continually asking questions related to nurturing, soothing, and protection, just like a baby and a parent:
Are you here for me?
Do I matter?
Will you respond to me?
People are hard-wired with a need for emotional contact and responsiveness. The lack of emotional response from our partner is traumatizing, and most people will go to great lengths in order to get a response. But sometimes couples have never learned how to bid for response in a healthy way. So they resort to silent treatments, nagging, or working late hours. Pretty soon both partners are frantically feeling the disengagement even if they aren’t showing it. (Often, the avoidant partner appears bored or uninterested, when inside he’s quaking.)
Relationships start off connected and attached. But over time all couples experience times of disconnection. What separates healthy couples from distressed ones is that healthy couples can be vulnerable with each other and bridge the distance. They say things like, “Hey, I miss you. Are we okay?” With a bid like that, a partner’s response is usually immediate: “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, I’m here for you.”
Do you struggle to let people see your fear, sadness, and frustration?