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Emotional Calls

The Lasting experts explain what they are and why they’re so important

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Emotional Calls are the thousands of tiny attempts to connect with each other.

After years of research, we finally know why some couples end up building healthy, thriving marriages, while others gradually drift apart and get divorced. The answer is found within the building blocks of relationships: Emotional Calls.

Emotional Calls are your attempts and your partner’s attempts to connect with one another. These show up in your marriage in a wide variety of ways. They can be attempts to get attention, affirmation, affection, empathy, or any other emotional need from the other person.

They can be straightforward, like “how do I look?” or "how was your day?” or “What do you want to do today, honey?” Or, they can be complex and nuanced, such as your partner’s need for comfort during a difficult time, a long sad sigh, or a seemingly hostile statement.

All of these are types of Emotional Calls.

Your partner sends dozens to you every day, which adds up to 5,000 to 10,000 per year and 250,000 to 500,000 in a 50-year marriage.

These form the foundation of your relationship.

Now, it’s important to think of Emotional Calls as attempts to connect rather than actual connections because your attempts can either succeed or fail.

Successful attempts are a key characteristic of couples who are able to form healthy marriages. Their attempts to connect with one another are almost always successful: nearly 9 times out of 10.

Throughout decades of research, Dr. John Gottman, the world’s foremost marriage researcher, discovered that healthy couples respond positively to 86% of one another’s Emotional Calls, while unhealthy couples, who eventually get divorced, respond positively only 33% of the time. These findings show the truly massive difference between how healthy and unhealthy couples treat emotional calls.

Dr. Brooke Feeney found similar findings in her research at Carnegie Mellon. She found that couples with a large number of successful Emotional Calls builds up “emotional capital” over time, and that emotional capital is able to withstand relationship threats—which all couples experiences at some point.

Lastly, Emotional Calls are the foundation of Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT, which was designed by Dr. Sue Johnson in the 1980’s and has become one of the most successful therapy approaches in the history of couples counseling.

From the EFT perspective, romantic love is based on attachment, where two adults become emotionally dependent on one another and are able to attune to one another’s emotional needs. During EFT therapy sessions, the therapist focuses on the couple’s Emotional Calls because, in Dr. Johnson’s words, their emotional experiences are the “primary instruments of change” in the relationship.

Why do Emotional Calls matter so much?

At the core of every emotional call, you’re really asking each other one question:

"Will you be there for me?"

In a relationship, you always have the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to this question. Consider the following:

“Will you be there to help me?”

“ give me attention?

“ take care of our family?”

“ choose me over friends?”

“ choose me over work?”

“ be sexually interested in me?

When you meet your partner’s emotional call, you’re essentially telling them: “Yes, I’ll be there for you.”

This is why Emotional Calls matter so much: across thousands of them, your brain learns whether or not your partner will “be there” for you or not.

This is the reason why some marriage succeed, while others fail.

Download Lasting for your own personalized program to help you and your partner meet each other’s Emotional Calls in your relationship.