"To be accessible means to be available for your partner, both physically and emotionally." - James Mcmillian
Are you A.R.E in Your Relationship
Sue Johnson, founder of Emotion Focused Couple Therapy, describes the need to be Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged (A.R.E) in loving relationships. Just as children become anxious or withdrawn when their parents aren't accessible, responsive, or engaged, spouses and partners find themselves in the same state of concern and feelings of disconnection emerge. As I have worked with couples in marriage counseling, I often see these as three areas that can be nurtured in the relationship.
To be accessible means to be available for your partner, both physically and emotionally. If you physically are never around then distance can grow between you and your partner. This can be through long hours at work, long distances between partners, or different interests or responsibilities pulling each in different directions. Sometimes children can even put an emotional distance between partners. If you find yourself in a time of your life where it is difficult to be physically accessible, try to find ways to counter balance the time away. If you have long hours during the week are you still able to spend time of the weekends? Are you able to call during the day or at night? Can you take a random day off together? When situations make this difficult it is important to be creative.
Emotional distance can be even more detrimental than physical distance. Are you willing to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner, or does it feel like you aren't even there even though you are in the same room? Being emotionally accessible means there needs to be a level of vulnerability and a willingness to share with your spouse what you might not share with anyone else.
When I think of situations where a spouse is not responsive, the picture that immediately comes to mind is of one spouse watching TV or playing on their phone while the other is venting about their day. It is like talking to a brick wall. Or where one spouse is deeply involved in a book, or a project, or anything that distracts from the person next to them who is crying out to be heard. Responsiveness is a must in relationships. If a partner isn't responsive then that thing that is distracting them is perceived to be more important than their partner. I have heard time and again that "___ is more important than me." Fill in the blank. We have so many things in society that can distract us from genuine relationships and interactions. To make committed and loving relationships work we must set priorities, and our spouse must know that they are at the top of that priority list.
Are you a passive observer of your marriage or an active participant? Being engaged in a relationship means to be active and involved, to go out of your way to reach out to your partner and ask about their day. To make plans for the weekend or to help plan your next trip. When you leave in the mornings to make a point of kissing goodbye and when you come home to make your partner the first person you greet. This sounds easier than it is. We get consumed with our jobs, chores, and routine of the day. We get stressed about money and children. We have so many responsibilities that pull at us that we can sometimes lose sight of our relationship and investing the time to keep it healthy. If you aren't engaged in your relationship then it is like having a pet that you never feed...the relationship will eventually starve.
When reflecting on your relationship ask yourself the questions posed above and find where you can actively work to improve. These aren't the silver bullet of healthy relationships, but without them you will likely find yourself and your partner slowly growing apart. They are the foundation of a healthy relationship.
James McMillian, MA, LPC, NCC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness