There is a scene in Disney’s Frozen 2 that is one of the best examples of a tool that is absolutely vital in relationships especially with this added stress of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. In this scene, Princess Anna is overwhelmed with grief and completely heartbroken at the loss of her sister, Queen Elsa, and she returns to try and save the city of Arendelle when she runs into Kristoff. Now, for the sake of those who haven’t had the opportunity (or requirement) of watching Frozen 2 like a million times, I will refresh your memory a bit. Princess Anna actually essentially had abandoned Kristoff and left without telling him, leaving him to sing his 80s ballad, “Lost in the Woods.” When they are reunited, they are in the middle of a crisis and Kristoff comes to Princess Anna’s rescue. Kristoff was justified to feel hurt, angry and abandoned but instead of giving into those feelings, his next line is very telling. He simply says, “I’m here, what do you need?”
This is a powerful tool to be able to hold your valid feelings and be willing and able to listen to the hurt of someone who in fact has hurt you. This is unfortunately what happens in our relationships- we inevitably end up hurting ones we love at times intentionally or unintentionally. Relationships require that each partner be like Kristoff and be there for their partner– listening to their needs even while they are validly feeling hurt. Looking out for your partner’s needs while holding onto your own is a tool that is essential to learn and the biggest game changer in securing the vital attachment needed in relationships.
We are all vulnerable when we are alone. Our brain actually codes this kind of hurt in the same place and in the same way as physical pain. You are happier, healthier, stronger, deal with stress better and live longer when you foster your bonds with your loved ones. It is okay to need them, they are your greatest resource.
It is important to know that in order to use the Kristoff response of: “I’m here, what do you need?”, you don’t need to know how to meet that need. You just need be to able to empathize and understand that it is a need for them. You don’t have to have all the answers. Your partner just needs to know that they are not alone and that you are in this together. Studies have found that what makes the biggest difference in the happiness of couples is not that their spouse never did anything that hurt the other but that they were quick at acknowledging hurt or pain, quick to apologize and seeking to forgive.
Partners who are able to openly reach for and connect with each other are able to create a secure connection. A secure connection requires that our partners consistently feel we are accessible, responsive and engaged. They need to feel like we care and that they matter and that they are seen, safe and cared for. Dr. Jeremy Boden, a professor and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, recently put it this way: “When our partner [and children] know they matter to us and we are aware of them, they feel seen. When they feel safe to come to us with a question, some feedback and they are accepted, they feel safe. And when they know that they can come to us when they are sad, lonely or scared and they will be soothed, we are building a secure bond…” When we don’t feel a safe emotional connection with our partner we only have two ways to deal with the vulnerability of love when we can’t connect: We get mad and move in fast to break down each other’s walls or we try not to care so much and build a wall to protect ourselves. We get caught in a negative dance that leads to more emotional starvation, stalemate and more disconnection. Underneath the discord, the real issue is that partners are questioning the security of their bond: “Are you there for me? Can I count on you to respond to me–to put me first?” Kristoff’s tool makes the vital difference in being able to meet your partner’s needs and allow for you to reconnect. This does not mean that you dismiss your own needs but it means you are able to stop the emotional disconnection and work on establishing your reconnection. In fact, once you are able to establish your reconnection and bond by addressing their needs, you will find that addressing your needs often follows.
One of the true benefits of being in a relationship is that you know that if can be you and your partner against the world but many times it can be you against your partner. Kristoff’s response, “I’m here. What do you need?” shifts and changes the dynamic so that you are on the same team as your partner as it enables you to secure the bond of your relationship. It is clear that when we know that someone has our back, we are more confident and more adventurous. We achieve our goals more easily and are less derailed by disappointments. We handle stress better and we live longer. Connection with our partner is the key and by using the Kristoff response of, “I’m here. What do you need?”, you can become the hero in your own relationship and in the lives of many others.