Hold Me Tight Summary and Review

by Dr. Sue Johnson

Has Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.

How is your relationship? Great at some moments, but very frustrating at others? Relationships can’t always be fantastic, but if the bad times are beginning to take over, you may want to do something to fix it. But how do you go about it? Drawing on some case studies from the author’s practice using EFT, this book summary shows you that many common issues with couples can be explained by examining how partners respond to each another emotionally in various situations. By learning to recognize these patterns, couples can change how they react in those critical moments and form stronger, longer-lasting bonds.

In this summary of Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson, you’ll learn

  • why we often argue about seemingly unimportant matters;
  • how to quit playing the poisonous blame game; and
  • what it will take to bring your sex life to new heights.

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #1: Relationship Instability

Have you ever gotten into a pointless argument with your partner, maybe over some stray hairs in the drain or dirty dishes in the sink? It’s rather common to get in disputes over trivial issues like these, but why is that? When a couple senses their relationship is getting rocky, they panic, overreact and end up having countless arguments. It makes sense because your life partner plays such an essential role in emotionally sheltering you from the world. So, when that relationship starts to feel uncertain, it’s rational to be afraid of losing that emotional connection. Furthermore, this isn’t based on irrational fear. Many people undergo genuine emotional crises following a breakup – exactly what bickering couples dread. That’s why couples fight so frequently over mundane details of housekeeping. They’re already in panic mode regarding the fragility of their relationships and when on edge like that, even the most trivial things can put someone over the top. People deal with this fear in various ways. The problem is that sometimes people’s reactions send them in opposite directions. Imagine one partner feeling disconnected from the other and choosing to hide in their work: staying late at the office could be their way of dealing with the fear of losing their relationship. By physically and emotionally retreating into their work, they’re protecting themselves from complete devastation if their relationship does end up collapsing. Meanwhile, their partner has an adverse reaction. They become clingy and demanding as a way of reassuring themselves that they are loved. This diametric opposition incites a downward spiral as both partners pull away in different directions.

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #2: Recognizing the Patterns and Healing the Relationship

Could you and your partner pass the "sour milk" test? It’s simple: when milk gets spoiled, a happy couple buys new milk, while an unhappy couple will play the blame game. Often when couples argue about trivial household matters, the fight gets out of control as each person tries to place all responsibility on the other side. It’s a natural human inclination to find fault in others. Take Pam and Jim’s therapy session with the author, where Pam told Jim she enjoyed the week they’d recently spent together and that she wanted to be able to support him more because she knew he was stressed about work. Jim sneered and turned his back on her in response. Naturally, Pam got upset, asked why he’d reacted that way, and then criticized him for being dismissive and acting superior. From that point, the situation only escalated further. Jim accused Pam of never supporting him, just lecturing him and telling him that he wasn’t good enough. He had sneered at her statement because he blamed her for their relationship problems. Just like that, a mere compliment became a back-and-forth blame attack. How can you avoid this type of explosion? By recognizing – perhaps with the help of a therapist – the patterns of how you and your partner blame one another. When the author pointed out how Pam and Jim’s argument had started, Jim said their interactions regularly occurred that way. Once you can identify these cycles of criticism, you and your partner can begin to work on changing your behavior and improving your relationship. Jim told Pam he didn’t want to continue attacking her. In turn, she said that she wanted to be more supportive. Conclusively, both agreed to stop blaming each other and felt like they had taken the first step toward a healthier, communicative relationship.
We read dozens of other great books like Hold Me Tight, and summarised their ideas in this article called Vulnerability
Check it out here!

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #3: How Emotional Vulnerability is the Only Answer

Some people have very thick skins. You can poke fun at almost anything with them and only expect a laugh in return. But if you push the wrong buttons, maybe by joking about the mole on their cheek, they’ll suddenly erupt in a violent rage. Why is this the case? Past trauma produces sensitivities that trigger strong reactions, and this is especially true in relationships. People’s sensitive spots are often linked to painful events they’ve experienced during earlier relationships or growing up. For example, the author was talking to her husband one night when she noticed his eyelids were drooping a little. She quickly got very annoyed. Her husband was only a bit tired, but his drowsiness reminded her of a prior relationship where her boyfriend would fall asleep whenever she wanted to discuss something. Falling asleep had been his way of retreating. Given how burdened these experiences can get, suddenly recalling them can feel overwhelming. But don’t worry, there’s a way to work through it. If your partner can’t understand why you’re reacting in a dramatic way to something seemingly innocuous, it’ll be hard for them to respond in a way you want and need. That’s why it’s vital to share emotional wounds with your partner, no matter how deeply they may run. Let’s say your ex slept around a lot and you only discovered it after the two of you were together for years. Then if you feel wildly jealous when you see your current partner dancing with someone at a party, don’t try and ignore those feelings. Instead, share your reaction with your partner and be vulnerable. It will improve communication in your relationship because your partner will understand you better.

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #4: Why It’s Important to Identify How Things Went Wrong

Some couples are great at nipping arguments in the bud with a line like, “Do we need to fight about this?” However, when life presents more severe obstacles, it can be challenging to act and communicate with that level of apathy. Life always is more difficult when we have to carry extra burdens such as illness, depression or the loss of a job or loved one. It makes sense that these trials also place additional strain on our relationships. Take Claire and Peter: their relationship was great until Claire got hepatitis. She started to get angry with Peter, feeling like he was failing to take care of her and choosing to focus on his work as usual. When she began asking for help around the house, he would seem annoyed. During this period, Peter was in the middle of a major project at work and felt like Claire wasn’t considering his circumstances. Due to the various difficulties in their lives, they became stuck in a cycle of blame and miscommunication. To recognize these detachments and reconnect with your partner, it’s essential to examine how and when things go south. First, you have to explore what triggers a fight. When Claire and Peter started taking a closer look at their arguments, Claire found the issue stemmed from her getting mad and complaining more. Peter admitted that, instead of listening to her, he’d gone on the defensive and attacked her. They put the pieces together to see how Claire had grown angrier, while Peter had feigned an increasing indifference. Eventually, they both realized how their respective behaviors – stonewalling in Peter’s case and berating in Claire’s– were difficult to handle. As a result, they resolved to cease taking part in these patterns going forward.

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #5: Relationship Trauma Must Be Confronted and Healed

As couples learn how to rebuild intimacy, old traumas sometimes resurface, getting in the way. So, if one partner repeatedly denies the other’s offering of love, it’s likely a traumatic event is playing a part. Here’s a crash course on relationship trauma. Relationships can inflict trauma that’s tough to move past, and some of these events may go far deeper than just hurt or disappointment. These types of traumatic events occur when the human connection at the core of a partnership is violated at a moment when one person needs the other most. This violation is precisely what happened between the couple, Helen and Conrad. When Helen told Conrad that she had breast cancer, he couldn’t deal with all of the emotions at the moment. Instead, he said she shouldn’t get upset because her cancer could probably be cured, and then withdrew into his office. Later, when Conrad tried to offer support and love to Helen during the following years, she would always retreat. She recalled how vulnerable she felt the day she first told him, and after the way that Conrad hurt her, she couldn’t trust him. Luckily, these traumas can be resolved, but it requires confronting your partner and also feeling that they can acknowledge the pain involved. Conrad and Helen began by discussing the traumatic event to unpack what had happened. Because of this, Conrad could open up to Helen and tell her that when he went into his office, leaving her alone, he cried for an hour. He had felt helpless and scared but also didn’t want her to know that. To heal this damage, Helen took the first step by clearly articulating her pain. Conrad acknowledged the trauma, remaining emotionally present throughout their conversation.

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #6: Strong Emotional Bonds are the Core to a Good Sex Life

It appears to be a general unspoken consensus that it’s common for relationships to start with a fiery burst of romance before gradually cooling down into more of a friendly partnership. Everyone wants to know how to continue stoking those flames of passion. However, strategies for doing so can be misguided. Couples tend to think relationship problems stem, at least partially, from bad sex, but the reality is that unsatisfactory sex is usually a result of emotional challenges. Consider the work of sexologists Barry and Emily McCarthy who researched sexual behavior in the Washington D.C. area for the past 20 years. They found that happy couples only attribute about 15 to 20 percent of their overall happiness to sex. Unhappy couples placed around 50 to 70 percent of the blame for their relationship problems on lousy sex. When the going gets tough, couples tend to point the finger at their sex lives. What’s happening is that these dissatisfied couples are misdiagnosing their problems. The blame they’re placing on sex should be channeled toward investigating their troubled relationship. Emotional bonding is key to good sex; when couples feel emotionally connected, they are more likely to share their vulnerabilities, naturally improving the quality of their sex lives. Lovers who feel confident in their emotional attachments can tune into each other’s feelings and experiences. This capability helps them notice when their partner is feeling excited, tense or relaxed, which proves very useful in pleasuring one another sexually. What’s even more critical is that partners who are comfortable with each other will share their vulnerabilities, including insecurities about their bodies. Because they feel safe together, they’re able to freely voice the fear of rejection that’s fueled by these “imperfections,” knowing they can rely on their partner to give them the reassurance they need to feel like they’re great, just the way they are.

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #7: Why We Need Emotional Connections

With countless wars, stagnant economies and the ever-advancing threat of climate change, the world can be a frightening place. These events are shared by people all over the globe, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they inflict trauma on many of those they affect. The word trauma derives from the Greek word for “wound.” It’s the result of events so emotionally violent that they alter a person’s outlook on the world. Some typical examples of trauma are instances of childhood abuse or rape, but a severe illness in the family or a workplace incident can also be traumatic. Firefighters, police officers and soldiers are routinely traumatized from their experiences in their careers. Trauma isn’t as rare as people might believe it to be. Recent studies have suggested that as many as 8 to 12 percents of people in the United States and the United Kingdom have post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This is a mental health condition caused by trauma resulting in flashbacks, avoidant behavior, violent outbursts and constantly feeling on edge. That doesn’t even include all of the people who’ve undergone trauma and don’t have full-on PTSD. The world is essentially traumatized. Fortunately, effective healing can be facilitated through emotional bonding. That is why having a partner or loved ones to bond with following trauma is crucial to a healthy recovery. Look at psychologist Chris Fraley: in 2003, he found that the people who survived the 9/11 attacks were better off 18 months later if they felt emotionally in touch with someone nearby. The survivors who had secure relationships even seemed to be doing better than before the disaster, almost as if the difficulty had facilitated personal growth. Isolated survivors, on the other hand, were struggling with crippling depression and flashbacks.

Hold Me Tight Key Idea #8: Final summary

The fundamental message in this book: Relationships are essential for emotional security, but they often end up in at a dead end or in confusion. Building a constructive dialogue of loving communication with your partner can help you to learn how to make yourself vulnerable and have a relationship that can withstand the suffering in the world. Actionable advice: Cuddle your partner more to strengthen your relationship. Some people express love for their partner by mowing the lawn or baking a cake, but neither of these services will mean that much if they don’t cuddle. Physical connection and emotional bonding are essential for a healthy relationship and cuddling is an excellent way of accomplishing both. So go and get to cuddling!  
Suggested further reading: Find more great ideas like those contained in this summary in this article we wrote on Vulnerability