The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Iconic Therapist Dr. Sue Johnson — How to Improve Sex and Crack the Code of Love (#529)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Dr. Sue Johnson (@Dr_SueJohnson), a leading innovator in the fields of couple therapy and adult attachment. She is the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT), which has demonstrated its effectiveness in over 30 years of peer-reviewed clinical research. Sue has received numerous awards in recognition of her development of EFT, including the American Psychological Association’s “Family Psychologist of the Year” and the Order of Canada.

Her best-selling book Hold Me Tight — with more than one million copies sold—has taught countless couples how to enhance and repair their love relationships. The book has since been developed into a relationship enhancement program called Hold Me Tight Online. Her most recent book for clinicians, Attachment Theory in Practice, delineates the promise of attachment science for understanding and repairing relationships.

Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#529: Iconic Therapist Dr. Sue Johnson — How to Improve Sex and Crack the Code of Love


Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.

WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.

WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.

Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today is Dr. Sue Johnson. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_SueJohnson. She is a leading innovator in the fields of couples therapy and adult attachment. She’s the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy, known as EFT, which has demonstrated its effectiveness in more than 30 years of peer-reviewed clinical research. We will talk about this. 

Sue has received numerous awards in recognition of her development of EFT, including the American Psychological Association’s family psychologist of the year and the Order of Canada. Her best-selling book, Hold Me Tight, with more than one million copies sold, that’s very hard to do, has taught countless couples how to enhance and repair their love relationships. The book has since been developed into a relationship enhancement program called Hold Me Tight Online. Her most recent book for clinicians, Attachment Theory in Practice, delineates the promise of attachment science for understanding and repairing relationships. Is the founding director of the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Sue trains counselors in EFT worldwide, and provides guidance to 80 affiliated centers. She consults for the US and Canadian militaries, and is a popular presenter and speaker for the general public. You can find more on Sue and her work at That’s Dr. Johnson, welcome to the show.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Well, hey, I’m delighted to be with you, Tim. Thank you for inviting me.

Tim Ferriss: I am also thrilled to have you, and we have an abundance of questions in front of me. We may cover some of them. I don’t get too attached to trying to cover them all because we’ll run out of time, but I thought we would start with something that was mentioned in the intro and that I know will interest my audience. And that is the peer-reviewed clinical research, or research, depending on where you happen to be in the world. Could you speak to the actual science and research related to your work?

Dr. Sue Johnson: There’s now over 20 outcome studies. Outcome studies in psychotherapy are very hard to do, and there’s a lot of noise in the system. There’s lots of things going on in people’s lives, life gets in the way. So you have to work very hard to get results and follow-up is the real thing that matters. And we are the only couple intervention, as far as I know, that has the size of results we get, that impacts people the way we do, that knows why we get these results. I can tell you exactly what needs to happen in therapy to get the results. And that gets fantastic follow-up. We can work with a couple for, oh, 14 to 20 sessions. We can look at them at the end of therapy. We can see that they are happier, more secure, more securely bonded. Their sex life is better. They feel less depressed as individuals. And we follow them up three years later and the results hold, which is, just so that everyone knows, astounding. to me. 

The latest one we’re doing is we’ve got a great big one with the Heart Institute in Ottawa because the cardiologists have realized that actually if their patients have good relationships with their partners, they’re much less likely to have another heart attack. They take their meds, they go to the gym. So then they said, “Well, could you do something?” And we said, “Are you kidding? We’ll design a 16-hour program for you and we’ll research it.” So we’re doing that. But to be honest, I do the research because we learn and because it’s our way of testing what we think we know. It’s not what really turns me on in the end. What turns me on is watching these couples, learning from them, and watching them make these huge changes in their lives. I’ve been doing it for 35 years and it turns me on like — I dance Argentine tango. It turns me on like the best milonga ever and dancing with the best partner ever. Okay.

Tim Ferriss: So I have many follow-ups, of course, as questions. Just as a side note, I lived in Argentina from 2004 to 2005 and went to milonga —

Dr. Sue Johnson: Did you?

Tim Ferriss: — probably five or six times a week. Did a lot of tango. So we have that in common.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: And if we focus just for a few more minutes on the research, because this will be a way of backing into defining EFT for folks, I think. So I’ve read that EFT has something like a 73 to 86 percent success rate in studies with distressed couples.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And I would love to know what, or how success is defined in these studies. I think that would be helpful for people listening. And then later we’ll return to the durability of effect, because that’s incredible that you’re doing follow-ups three years later and seeing that persistence of effect is really incredible, but how do you define success with distressed couples?

Dr. Sue Johnson: That’s a good question. And it depends on the study, but in general, we define it with a measure of, it’s called marital adjustment. And it basically looks at the couples’ take, perception of the way their marital satisfaction. It’s a bit more than satisfaction because it has different elements to it. So we use a scale that’s been used in all kinds of research that’s got all kinds of validity, but we’ve also used all kinds of measures. The one that I think is the most interesting is that we did a big study a few years ago looking not just at whether we can help you change your marital satisfaction, your adjustment, the way you see your partner, we can help you change the security of your bond with your partner, which for me is much more significant than satisfaction or saying, “Yes, we have an adjusted marriage, we have a good marriage. I trust this person in this marriage.”

To be able to say, “We have a more secure bond and we know how to create that bond ongoingly in the future,” that still amazes me that we know that, because we’ve talked in our society forever about how romantic love is this great mystery. And it just comes and hits you in the head, you fall in, you fall out. There’s nothing much you can do about it. Well, actually that’s rot now. Okay. And personally, I think it should be all over the front of The New York Times, we’ve cracked the code of love, but The New York Times doesn’t agree with me. So I think that’s real big news for people.

So when we can show in our study, which we did, that we can take people, very distressed people who don’t trust each other, who can’t talk to each other, who aren’t intimate, and we can in 20 sessions create a bond where they can turn and be vulnerable with each other, and they can say, “I trust this person. I’m close to this person. I can be open to this person. This person’s my special one. I trust this relationship.” and they can do the things — we can see it on tape — they can do the things that securely attached people do in loving, lasting relationships. That’s very significant.

We also find things like depression goes down when people are more securely connected with each other, anxiety goes down, people deal with trauma better. We see a lot of folks with PTSD. When you’ve faced dragons, to recover from that experience, you need to find comfort in the arms of another. And that’s just the way we’re wired. And if you cannot find comfort in the arms of another, you are hard-pressed, from my point of view, no matter how many times you meditate, no matter how many tips you’ve learned, no matter how much insight you have, if you can’t find comfort in the arms of another to heal from trauma, it’s bad news. So we have a lot of different results, but they’re all on measures that are accepted by the field as valid. They’ve all been in peer-reviewed journals. And believe me, reviewers are brutal to psychologists. They’re brutal.

Tim Ferriss: Let me ask a few questions if I may jump in and then we’re going to continue, of course, on the path to defining what characterizes, or describing what characterizes EFT. What scale do you use, or scales do you use, when assessing marital satisfaction and bond? And just for those people listening who may not know what we’re talking about, there are different questionnaires and scales for different types of conditions, for instance, you might have the Ham-D for depression, you might have CAP-5, or CAPS-5 for PTSD. And I’m sure some people will be curious if there are any particular scales they could find themselves just to look at their own.

Dr. Sue Johnson: I believe I put some of those scales in my book, Love Sense, actually. We use the dyadic adjustment scale, which has been used in marital research for decades for adjustment. We use various things for things like depression, like the Beck depression scale. For attachment, we use something called the experiences in close relationship scale, which is used in adult — adult attachment research has only been going for the last 20 years. So it’s young. Attachment research was really confined to mothers and children for decades. And the belief was that once you hit 12, you were supposed to become self-sufficient. So attachment didn’t matter very much, but that’s changed. And so now we have a whole field called attachment research and the experiences in close relationship scale is the measure we use.

However, we have also used observational measures like coding couples’ interactions as they talk. And we can talk about that. We talk about something called a hold me tight conversation. We can code — the behaviors are totally different when they come into therapy and when they’re finished. And my favorite one, which I can’t resist talking about, is that we did a brain scan study with a wonderful colleague of mine from the University of Virginia called Jim Coan, neuroscientist, where we put the women, we haven’t got enough money to do both partners. So we had to choose. 

Tim Ferriss: It happens.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes, I know. So we put the women in an MRI machine at the beginning when they were distressed and insecurely attached and didn’t believe that their partners loved them, or cared for them. We put the women in the MRI machine at the beginning of therapy, and then at the end of therapy when they’ve had these hold me tight conversations, and we were a bit brutal when I think about it.

We put them in the MRI machine and we said, “When you see an X in front of your face, there’s a good chance you’re going to be shocked on your ankles and it’s going to hurt.” And it did hurt because we tried it on my research assistant and she told us very clearly that it hurt. Okay. So we turned the machine down a bit, but what was interesting is at the beginning before therapy, before EFT, we showed these women this X and their brains went into immediate alarm on the MRI, high, high alarm state, because they’re expecting the shock. And once we delivered the shock, we asked if it hurt. And they said it was painful or extremely painful. This is in a journal called PLOS One. Okay. And after sessions of therapy, after EFT, when they’d had these bonding conversations, oh, by the way, we put them in and we, since you’re interested in research, I’ll tell you a bit of detail.

Basically they saw the X when they were alone in the machine, when they held their partner’s hand when they were in the machine, and when a stranger held their hand. And before therapy in all three conditions, their brains went berserk and they said that the shock was extremely painful. After therapy, we put them in the machine again, did the same thing. They saw the X, when the stranger held their hand, or when they were alone in the machine, same thing as before, their brain went berserk and they said it was extremely painful. This time after EFT and the bonding conversations, when their partner held their hand, reached into the machine and held their hand, their brain stayed completely calm. It looked like a resting brain. It looked like they were just resting there, their brains stayed completely calm. And if you asked them if the shock hurt, they said it was uncomfortable.

And so I’m not a neuroscientist. So I saw these brain scans and there was some blue lighting up after therapy. And I said to my colleague, “Jim, what does the blue mean? I can’t see any red for alarm anymore, but what does blue mean?” And he said, “It means they’re not dead, Sue.” I said, “Oh, okay.” So he said, “That’s just a resting brain. Okay.” I said, “Oh, okay, Jolly good.” So that spoke to me amazingly, because psychology is often dismissed as a soft science. And indeed we deal with many intangibles, but for me, that was incredibly neat because you could see it and you could see that we’re talking about biology here, but we’re talking about the biology of a social being, a being whose brain is wired for connection with other people, and who needs this connection with other people to thrive and survive.

Love is an ancient, wired-in survival code. We have all these silly misinformation in our society, silly what we call love stories, they’re still out there. Psychology puts out a lot of misinformation about love is some strange mixture of sex and sentiment. No. Romantic love is about bonding and it’s an ancient, wired-in survival code, and you could sure see it in these MRIs, these women’s brains when they had this secure connection with their partner, these women’s brains were completely different than in the beginning when they felt no safe connection with their partner. So it was very, very interesting.

Tim Ferriss: I would love to dig into what sounds like the glue involved in some of the bond enhancement as demonstrated in the follow-up FMRI, and that is the hold me tight conversation. Maybe this is a way also of coming in sideways to basically demonstrate what EFT is, or at least a component of it. Could you walk us through what a hold me tight conversation is?

Dr. Sue Johnson: A hold me tight conversation, very briefly, is a bonding conversation. The tricky part is that, as adults, some of us have never seen this conversation. So it’s a dance that is foreign to us. We’ve never had it with our own parents. We’ve never had it with siblings. We’ve never had it with previous lovers. And we get married, or we get committed to a partner, and it’s reasonable that we don’t know how to go there because many of us, it’s just not a drama that we’ve ever seen enacted. 

A hold me tight conversation is where one person is able to open up and reach for the other person and share vulnerabilities; talk about their needs and fears in a way that pulls the other person close. It helps the other person reach back and respond.

Tim Ferriss: Could you give any examples of phrasing, or questions —

Dr. Sue Johnson: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: — or guidelines you provide?

Dr. Sue Johnson: Of course.

Tim Ferriss: I know I would love to know, and I suspect others would too.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Well, when you don’t trust, you don’t feel safe, and you’ve never seen a hold me tight conversation, the way it usually goes just naturally as human beings, I catch myself doing this with my husband, if I’m upset about something, like he’s been going to bed very early, and that means that we don’t have our snuggle time, we don’t have our little chat time, okay, and it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. It doesn’t seem to bother him this isn’t happening. So this will go on for a couple of weeks. And even though I’m doing this work, there’s a certain point where I start to get self-protective and I start to blame him in my head. And I say, “He’s always too busy. He’s got his lists. He’s got lists, and he’s a man and he’s got lists. And all he cares about is his list of tasks. And he’s just into problem-solving. And he doesn’t think about me at all.”

And this dialogue would go in my head. So I turn to him and I say, “You’re going to bed very early these days.” Listen to my voice. It’s the emotional music. He says, “No, I’m not,” because he hears the threat in my tone, I say, “Yes, you are. And you’ve been going to bed for weeks. And I guess it doesn’t matter to you that we’re not having those close moments.” And listen to me, I’m on the attack and we are acutely sensitive as human beings to signs of rejection, or abandonment by the people we love, acutely sensitive. That’s how we’re wired. So he hears that he’s blown it. He hears it that I’m rejecting him. I’m telling him he’s done something wrong. So he says, “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” I say, “Oh, let me guess, you have to go to bed because you’re so tired.” Right. So we’re off. Right? Okay.

That is the typical demand-withdraw, demand-defend dialogue that you’ll see in a distressed couple. And it’s totally predictable. You can also have it with your kids. I can remember a glorious argument I had in Starbucks with my adolescent son that was just a perfect example of the way distressed couples talk to each other. So I’m blaming and pointing fingers and he’s rolling his eyeballs and basically telling me what a dreadful mother I am. So you can have it with anyone, but with partners it’s very predictable, and it has everyone feeling completely threatened and unsafe and unable to dance together. If you shift that into a hold me tight conversation, the way it would go is that I would be more able to tune into my own needs, more aware of my own needs, accepting of my own needs. And I would realize, oh, I’m really missing those conversations with John. We’ve been married for 32 years. We’re both very strong people, so it’s been quite an adventure.

So, I think, oh, I’m missing those relationships with John and maybe he doesn’t miss them. And oh, that makes me feel really somehow anxious and uncomfortable if he doesn’t miss them, because the big question in love relationships is, are you there for me? Do I matter to you? Can I count on you? Maybe those conversations don’t matter to him, but they really matter to me. So I am aware, on a different level, of me and I’m specifying, that scares me a bit that maybe these conversations don’t matter to him. I can tune into my own emotions. And then I take the risk and reach for him and say to him, “I’m open.” I say to him, “You know what? We haven’t been having our usual talks late at night and somehow, it doesn’t look like you miss them. And somehow that makes me feel really uncomfortable. It almost feels like I’m not sure that that closeness matters to you.”

And so I could get angry about it, but actually what’s happening is it scares me a bit because I need those conversations. Now I’ve talked about my fears and my needs. I can only do that if I have some model that it’s okay to do that, that doesn’t mean I’m a wimp, or mentally ill, or weak, or pathetic. From my point of view, it’s strength to do that. And that’s what we teach: I need strength to do that. And that’s what securely attached people can do. They can reach from a position of vulnerability. So I say that to him, and that pulls him; he says, “Oh, you’re right. Yeah. Yeah. I do want those conversations. I’ve just been so exhausted and I’ve been doing this and I haven’t wanted to tell you how stressed out I am.”

So then it becomes reciprocal. I say, “Oh, I didn’t know that you were so stressed out about this decision we’ve made and that it’s taking up all your energy and you’re worried about it.” So then we start to have an open, responsive, engaged conversation where we can share vulnerabilities, comfort each other, and you’re literally better at tuning in to each other. And I think that’s because when I feel safe, I can tune into you. When I think about the people I can dance with in tango really well, it’s the people I feel emotionally safe with. And I know that there’s no mistakes, because mistakes don’t matter, we’re just playing. Then I relax. I’m in my body. I tune into their cues and we move together naturally. So, that’s what happens. And it’s a hold me tight conversation. 

And it cascades. Each time you have this conversation, your nervous system goes, “Ah, this is comfort. This is home. This is safety. This is what I need.” And you see your partner as a resource. You see your partner as somebody who can provide this safety, comfort, caring, reassurance, social support, if you want to use a psychological formal term for it. You see your partner as this person and your partner connects, and you know how to do this dance. This dance is innately rewarding. It creates joy in people.

You don’t have to persuade people to keep doing it, like going to the gym, or meditation, or their communication skills. People will do this. Once they know how to do it, they’ll keep doing it. And that’s why I think we get good follow-up results, because once you start having these conversations and it’s very moving sometimes to see people’s response, like people will start to cry and say things like, when they discover these hold me tight conversations, people will say, I’m thinking of one man who said, “I never knew that you could talk to somebody like this. I never knew that you could ask for these things and that she wants me to be vulnerable to her. I never knew that. I never saw that growing up. I didn’t know people did that.”

And then he wept and he turned to the therapist and said, “I’ve been alone all my life, haven’t I?” And that — what attachment science tells us is that emotional isolation is toxic for human beings. We found out that in the pandemic, but we still don’t get it. I wish we would get it on a different level. It’s toxic for human beings. It’s not who we are. And when people start to have these hold me tight conversations, all kinds of amazing things happen. They don’t just understand how relationships can be and how you can shape relationships, don’t have to just have them happen to you, you can shape love, they understand something very deep about themselves. Couples grow each other. In safe relationships, couples grow each other. I watch severely traumatized people learn to trust another human being by having these hold me tight conversations with their partner, and it changes everything. Because they have a secure place in life for the first time. They feel seen, they feel accepted, they feel held.

And once you feel seen, accepted, and held, there’s a natural human growth process that happens. Attachment science is all about development of the personality. There’s a natural growth process. So we tune into that natural process in the hold me tight conversation. And those conversations predict over study, after study, after study, after study, those conversations predict success in EFT, they predict more secure bonding, they predict better sex, more sexual satisfaction in couples, they predict any measure of good, positive functioning you can imagine. Those bonding conversations predict all the good results we get in EFT and they predict results at follow up.

Tim Ferriss: So I would love to ask more about the hold me tight conversations, and I’ll share a bit of the context from which I’m asking this. So I — we don’t necessarily have to get into details; we could. So I had quite a bit of a severe early childhood trauma, like two to four. And have not only felt largely alone my entire life, but have created isolation. It’s been a constant for me. So what you’re saying about these conversations helping to create the feeling of bondedness and counterweight perhaps someone’s historical tendency to isolate, or feel isolated, is really appealing. I would love to hear if you’re open to sharing perhaps another hypothetical hold me tight conversation or other phrases or questions that are helpful for people who want to get a better understanding of what this might look like in real life.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Where we start with couples, many of whom have experienced being alone most of their lives, traumatized or not, where we start is we help couples see the dance they’re caught in, love is a dance. We help couples see the dance they’re caught in. We help couples see the negative patterns. The most popular one of all is “I become aware of the disconnection between the two of us, I get worried about it, it makes me anxious, and I don’t feel safe enough to turn and really share my vulnerability. So I demand, I blame, I tell you. Where are you? What I’m really saying is where are you? Where are you? I can’t find you and that alarms me.” But what I say is things like, “You don’t talk to me enough,” or, “You never tell me how you feel,” or if you’re a man, you’ll say, “You never tell me you want to make love; you don’t ever show me you want me. What’s wrong with you?” So we turn to our partner and we say, “What’s wrong with you?”

So we help couples see how they scare the hell out of each other and create even more insecurity and stop each other from being able to be vulnerable in risk. When they start to see that it’s the pattern that’s the problem, the dance that’s the problem, and the fact they don’t know how to do a more positive dance, they start to blame the dance rather than each other. And they start to be able to say, “Hey, we’re stuck in that thing. We’re stuck in that thing we do where I shut down and shut you out and you must be getting alarmed right now.” And the other person says, “Yes, I’m starting to freak out.” And they say, “Oh, let’s not do that, let’s try and help each other feel a bit more safe.”

So we create that platform first, but then you have to start where people are. Sometimes with the hold me tight conversation with somebody who’s been very traumatized and has all the reasons in the world not to trust another human being with the softness of their heart, all the good reasons in the world, you have to start there. I’ve worked with lots of traumatized folks and you have to start with somebody saying, “Well, I understand now the patterns and how we’ve been caught in this dance. I understand that you aren’t always trying to hurt me or have me prove myself to you or prove me wrong. But I want to tell you the idea of really opening up to you and showing you who I am just feels impossible, I don’t know how to do it. It’s impossible, I don’t think I can do it.”

So you start where people are. You don’t get people to do it in spite of how they feel. You get them to trust their feelings. My experience is someone will say that. And I will say, “Could you turn and tell your partner, please?” “I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can risk letting you really see me. I’m so sure that you won’t want me or that you’ll find some way to hurt me. And then I don’t know what would happen. I don’t think I could tolerate it, I don’t think I can do it.” “Could you turn and tell her?” What I do is I hold the person and I help them speak their emotions and say their emotions clearly. And I hold them in that, I support them in that. So the guy turns and tells his wife and his wife says, and this is the amazing thing about bonding, “This is who we are.” We are empathic creatures. That empathy is blocked by all kinds of other things, but we are empathic creatures.

My experience is the partner will say, “I never knew that. I just felt that you didn’t want to share with me; I never knew it was so hard. I never knew that it was scary for you. I never understood that. I can’t believe I understand. I understand that now you’ve helped me understand how scary that is, I can’t believe that you’re even here telling me this. And I love you for taking that risk, thank you for taking that risk.” And then the door opens wider. Then usually I say, because we always have this catastrophe in our head when we’re afraid, we create catastrophes in our head to try and prepare for them.

So I say, “What is going to happen? If you really show her who you are and you show her how scared you are to really open up and show your vulnerability, what is going to happen?” And he says, “She’ll tell me what I’ve always known. She’ll tell me that I’m weak, there’s something wrong with me, and the reason that I’ve been alone all my life is because there was something wrong with me, and the reason I was so hurt when I was little was because I wasn’t a good enough kid or a special enough kid or I didn’t do it right.”

One lady broke my heart. She said, “I was so careful when I asked my mother for attention. I was so, so careful. I planned it and planned in the dark for hours. And no matter how I did it, it never worked, it never worked. She was always angry at me. So I said to myself, ‘It’s me, it must be me, there’s something wrong with me, I’m just not lovable.'” And she weeps. When she does that, her partner reaches for her naturally, her partner reaches for her and says, “This vulnerability, when you really help people move into it with safety, evokes caring and compassion, it just does.” So then the partner moves in and supports and gradually, gradually, the other person’s able to open up. It’s not something that you do once. It’s not something that you can do mechanically. You have to be involved in it.

And for some of us, if we’ve been desperately hurt when we were little and we learned that that kind of openness was desperately dangerous, it’s like jumping off a cliff. And you have to respect that, you have to respect. Emotions are in no way illogical; that’s one of the big mistakes we’ve made in psychology. They’re in no way illogical. They have their own logic. They’re a supreme information processing system that wires us to see the world in a particular way, to move in a particular way, and we haven’t taught people how to understand them, how to listen to them, and how they make sense. They always make sense.

If someone’s terrified of that kind of openness, it’s because they have very good reasons to be. And often they haven’t told their partner, they haven’t told their partner anything about it, so their partner has no idea. The partner says, “You just don’t want to be close to me. You just don’t want me.” “No, I do desperately want you, I’m just terrified to let you see me.” So in psychology, we’re very good at looking at the behavior and the problem. And sometimes I feel like we’re not so good at what we are supposed to be the experts in, which is looking underneath the behavior and the problem and seeing the emotional realities that push that problem forward and keep people stuck in that problem. I don’t know if I answered you, Tim. There’s so much to talk about here, I tried to answer you.

Tim Ferriss: I think you did. No, you did. And the examples are just heartbreaking. And I think they’re heartbreaking — I was feeling myself getting really emotional — is because they resonate, I think, with so many people. They resonate with me, I should say. But I suspect that these types of situations are really, really common. But when you’re experiencing them, I think it’s so easy to view yourself as uniquely flawed in some way. But it’s so common, it seems so common, at least. And you’d be more qualified to speak to it.

Dr. Sue Johnson: I think it is common. And I think the power of attachment science is it tells us who we are, it tells us that we are social beings wired for connection. We need safe connection with others to survive and thrive. Dependency became a dirty word somewhere through our history and we all fell in love with the image of the lone cowboy riding over the range. The Eagles song Desperado, I love that song, it’s my favorite song because it basically takes the image of the lone cowboy and basically says, “Buddy, you better find someone to love you because you’re in deep trouble.” So it takes this strong image and says, “No, you’re in trouble.”

Dependency became this dirty word, and I think what attachment science says is we are interdependent human beings wired for connection with others from the cradle to the grave. And when you present that to people, not the way I just said it, which is abstract, when you move people into that reality and you accept it and say, “Of course, this is who we are as human beings and we all get stuck here and we all need this.” People go, “Oh, you mean I’m not crazy, bad, deficient, defective, unlovable?”

No. No, you’re not, you’re just a human being who needs that connection with another human being and who is terrified of rejection and abandonment. And the reason you’re terrified of rejection and abandonment is because those are pure danger cues to your mammalian brain, danger cues. Our young are vulnerable for longer than any other species. And while our brain is developing, we know perfectly well, on a visceral level, that if we call and no one comes, we die. And that’s the truth. And that reality of our long-term vulnerability has wired our nervous system in a particular way and creates these social dramas, wired our social dramas.

What the father of attachment science, John Bowlby, who was an English psychologist really did, which is brilliant, is he linked biology and who we are and how our nervous system works to our social interaction patterns, to the way we dance with other human beings. He linked within and between. He linked those two together in an elegant, beautiful, testable way that gives us a map to love relationships, how to shape them, how to fix them, how to repair them, how to keep them, and to who we are as human beings. This map is the way human beings have survived through the centuries is through tuning in to others, reading their cues, collaborating, cooperating, moving close, supporting, that’s the way we’ve survived. And if you look at the problems facing our world right now, we’d better be learning from this science because we better be able to do that or we’re not going to survive. We’ve got to be able to come together.

Tim Ferriss: You mentioned the child crying, so I must ask you a question to scratch my own itch and satisfy my curiosity. But I may accidentally invite you into a religious war, not with me, but because I’ve seen very heated debates between — and we don’t have to spend a lot of time on this, but I would love to get your opinion on — and the backdrop of this is that I’m hoping to begin building a family in the near future. And I have two camps of friends. One camp is they are devout attachment parenting devotees. Then, on the other hand, you have sleep training, and there are many different types of sleep training. But do you have any thoughts on — so the people who are in the sleep training camp, their arguments make sense.

The arguments on both sides make a lot of sense. And in so much as what I hear is, attachment parenting the way they would position it is this constant contact and sleeping near or with the baby is most natural, it is in the baby’s best interest. If you look at evolution, that is what’s supported. The people in the sleep training camp would say, “That’s great. But if you’re not sleeping, and we’re no longer living in a village, we don’t have the type of support that we had. If I don’t get any sleep and my partner gets no sleep, we’re going to be terrible parents, and ultimately that is going to be bad for the baby.” So I don’t know what to make of this and would love to get your perspective.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Well, my perspective is that what attachment says is the emotional balance, when you’re securely attached and you feel safe in the world and you can count on others for support, you have your emotional balance. And sometimes when we take on huge, complex issues, we lose our emotional balance. I don’t think, to a create secure attachment in your kids, that you have to sleep with them. I don’t think so. You can if you want. I think you have to balance things. If you sleep with your kid in between you all the time for three or four years, what does that do to your couple relationship?

What your kid needs is a good couple relationship in the parents who can cooperate. Believe me, that’s what your kid needs. So that’s an issue I think people sometimes go over the top. They take the good sense and the science of attachment and they turn it into rigid life rules, which I think you have to make your own rules there. I think being emotionally responsive to your kids is the key and for them to know that you’re there for them is the key. It doesn’t mean you have to always show up in the same way and you have to be constantly available. For me, I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I do have a visceral reaction to sleep training. I would like to suggest that when you do sleep training, your child does not calm down and learn to rely on itself. What your child does is numb out. And what your child learns is that no matter how I cry, nobody will come. From my point of view, that’s a bloody disastrous lesson for any child to learn. So I have a huge bias against. Now, again, it depends on how it’s done and it depends on what else is happening. So let’s not get too judgmental here, but why not? Let’s get judgmental. I think it stinks.

So if that’s a religious war, I’m on the attachment side because it seems to me that the sleep training thing feeds into a myth that we have that is so dangerous. The myth is about self-sufficiency and regulating our own emotions. And the bottom line is the only self-sufficient human being is either numbed out on some drug or dead. We’re not wired for self-sufficiency. And shutting down and numbing out is a fragile strategy you can’t keep up for your whole life. It shatters under any kind of pressure. I’m saying it glibly because this is an interview. But what I just said to you, I can give you research studies to back that up. I’m not just saying it. So, no, I don’t think sleep training — 

On the other hand, I can remember, I adopted my son. He was a premature and he came home, he was the tiniest little thing, he scared the hell out of me, he was so tiny. He had something wrong with his digestive system. And for the first 18 months of his life, he would wake up every two hours at least, but maybe sometimes 90 minutes. And the only thing that would help is that one of us would go in and sing to him and talk to him and rock him for 10, 15 minutes and put him down. We got into the habit of that and we did that and we accommodated to that.

We thought about having him sleep between us, but we usually slept at that point — we adopted him very soon after we got together, which we were incredibly lucky. So we adopted him about a year after we got together. And so we slept pretty entwined. So we didn’t really think it was — and also he was so tiny at first, putting him in the middle, I felt, “God, I’m going to crush him if I turn.” So my husband’s a big man and “Oh, we’re going to crush him, this little one.” So we didn’t do that. And then it changed and it was fine. My daughter was totally different. Very shortly after she was born, she went to sleep regularly, went to sleep at the same time at night, slept through after a few months. And provided you gave her all kinds of hugs in the morning, she was this happy little clam, so it was different.

So I understand that parenting can be hard. I think for me, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For one thing, parenting is a moving target. You accommodate your child, then your child changes. “Wait a minute, I just figured it out and now you’re changing. Good Lord, you’ve become an adolescent; I don’t know what to do with this.” My son turned from this wonderful, bubbly, charming, delightful, little being into this stroppy, judgmental, moral person who was pointing out how wrong we were about everything. I thought, “Who is this person? Where did this guy come from?” So parenting is hard and if you take the social implications of attachment science, we should be supporting our parents like crazy. We should be teaching people how to have good, secure relationships. We should be teaching them about relationships, educating them. We should be having more leave for parents. We should be supporting the basic unit of our society, which is our family. We don’t seem to be that keen on that, we seem to be more keen on supporting economic security or corporations.

So I don’t think we support parents enough, and maybe that needs to change. Maybe our understanding of supporting human families needs to change. Attachment has changed parenting, it’s changed the way we see our children, it’s changed the way we see their emotional needs. We understand that to be emotionally alone traumatizes a child. We need to apply that to adults because in that sense, we never grow up. Attachment goes from the cradle to the grave. Just very basic things. I talk in one of my books somewhere about that, I think it’s Love Sense, there’s a movement called [No One] Dies Alone, where people get together in certain cities, and their commitment is to go in with somebody who’s dying and who has no human figure to be there with them, and simply be with them at their most vulnerable moments.

And for me, that speaks to the fact that maybe one day we could have something called a civilized society. A civilized society would not let anyone die alone, a civilized society would support families and support parents, help us learn how to parent. So I don’t think it’s just the couple who are stressed, I think it’s the demands of our society. You have to go back to work at a certain point, whether you’re a parent or not. There is no accommodation in most workplaces for parenting. Was it the prime minister of New Zealand who bought her baby into the Parliament? I thought, “Yay, lady. Whoa.” That is like, “Yay!” She brought her baby into the Parliament. That takes guts, I think. So good for her, but boy, I can’t even imagine that happening. Obviously, you can hear I’m English.

Tim Ferriss: I was going to say, I’ve heard “stroppy” from my friend from New Zealand, but you don’t seem to have a Kiwi accent nor do you seem to have an Ottawa or Canadian accent.

Dr. Sue Johnson: No, I’m from England. I came to Canada when I was 22, but you never lose the accent. But I cannot imagine even today a woman Prime Minister walking into the British Parliament with a baby and holding that. I would love that, I think that would be progress for Britain for me. Anyway, but never mind. Sorry, I got off track there, that was off track.

Tim Ferriss: No, this whole podcast is about freely going off track — 

Dr. Sue Johnson: Oh, okay.

Tim Ferriss: — when necessary. I would like to ask a very specific question, and it may be a dead-end, I don’t know. But I was doing a bit of reading on EFT and there was a phrase that stuck out to me which related to micro-interventions. So the wording of this is micro-interventions from Rogerian models of therapy, such as —

Dr. Sue Johnson: Evocative questions.

Tim Ferriss: Exactly.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Evocative questions focus on the process of how you’re experiencing, not the content. So I would say to you, “Tim, what happens to you when you sit and do interviews with crazy people like Dr. Sue Johnson and she tells you stories that have you move into your own softer feelings? What is that like for you, Tim?” And you might say, “Oh, I don’t know.” I say, “Well, what happens in your body, Tim? Can you tell me a moment when you felt that rush of emotion?” You say, “Oh, well, it was when you said this.” I say, “Oh, so that’s the trigger.” I’ll help you put your emotions together with evocative questions and reflections. And I’ll say, “So when you heard me say this, that was important for you, that stood out, and you started to feel a lot of feelings. Can you help me? What happened in your body?” You say, “Oh, well, I felt this tightness across my chest and I felt like I wanted to cry.”

I say, “Hmm, and then what did you say to yourself?” “I said to myself, ‘My goodness.’ That’s just how I felt when I remember feeling that way when I was three years old.” And I say, “I understand.” So I’ll reflect again, I’ll hold it for you, I’ll specify it, I’ll ask evocative questions, I’ll get you to stay with the experience. And then I’ll say, “What do you want to do when you feel that way?” And you might say, “I want to stop it, I want to get out. I don’t want to feel any more of that right now, I want to shut it down, I want to stop the feeling. I say, “Okay, so you want to run?” “Yeah.” And we’ve put your emotion together in a specific, safe way. People can deal with emotions when they make sense, when they’re acceptable, when there’s another human being there accepting them, and when they’re made specific. We can’t deal with big, vague, huge, overwhelming problems. We just want to run away from them.

So I’ll use evocative questions, I’ll use reflections, I’ll use repetition to help you stay with that feeling, I’ll use an image. If you said to me, there’s fire across — I remember one client said, “It’s like walking into a fire. When you asked me to turn and open up to him, I can tell you that I’m afraid. I can look into your face and tell you because you’re just a city therapist, you don’t matter to me much.” Actually, that’s what I said. I said, “That’s because I’m just a city therapist and I don’t matter to you much.” And she said, “Yes, that’s right.” So I said, “So I can tell you about my fear.” “But when you ask me to turn and tell him about my fear, you’re asking me to walk into a fire.”

And I knew that this lady, she was a trucker, and there was an accident in front of her truck. She’d got out of her truck and she walked into flames to pull out the trucker who was trapped underneath the truck in front of her. I realized that this is an enormously powerful image. And if I want her to move more into it, if she can handle it, if she can’t handle it, I’ll stop. But if I want her to move more into it and I think she can handle it, I’ll say, “Let’s stay with that image. It’s like fire, fire burns, fire is terrifying. You’re telling your partner ‘It’s too hard for me. I can’t do this right now. It’s too hard. It’s like walking through fire to turn and open up to you. I just can’t do it.” And she says, “Yes, that’s right.” I say, “Good, tell him that. Now create…” I’ll clarify the emotional music, help her with it, help her accept it, and then I’ll help her move this into a drama with another person.

And by the way, when we do individual therapy, we’ve just started to really teach EFIT, which is emotionally focused individual therapy. There’s a book coming out next month, September on that. When we do individual therapy, we still do this, but we use the representations inside people’s heads. So you have a cast of characters inside your head; so do I. I’m very thankful my main attachment figure when I was a child was my father. And I’m very aware that all through my adult life, especially through moments of failure, moments of joy, key moments, I can hear my father’s voice. My father’s still a reality for me right here, I carry him inside of me. And that’s what we do with our loved ones and we talk to them when we have these dramas with them. So if I’m doing individual therapy, I might use the same reflections and evocative questions. And instead, I’ll say, “You planned every interaction with your mother, you planned it for hours. You planned how to go and ask her for a hug, you planned. Right? Right. So, can you see that little girl who always got smacked and taken back to her room and left in the dark? Can you see that little girl sitting on the bed by herself? What would you want to say to her? What would you like to have been able to say to your mom?” 

And she says something like, “I tried so hard, Mom. I tried so hard, but I could never reach you. Was it really my fault? Was I really such a bad little girl? I just think you weren’t a mom. You weren’t a mom to me.”

I say, “Good. What does it feel to say that?”

She says, “Oh, it feels different. I’ve never said that before to myself. I’ve always said ‘I didn’t plan enough, I wasn’t a good enough little girl.'”

I said, “Uh-huh. So can you say that again? Can you see your mom? What does your mom look like in the chair? Close your eyes.”

She closes her eyes, says, “Yes, I see her.”

I say, “Oh, what do you see on her face?”

She says, “She tells me she’s tired. She doesn’t have time. She’s tired, and she’s working three jobs and I should just be quiet and go to bed and stop my grizzling, stop my — that’s what she’s telling me.”

“Uh-huh. And what do you want to say to her?”

I want to tell her, “Mom, that’s not fair. That’s not fair. I’m just little. And I can never reach for you, I can never reach for you. You’re not a mom. You’re not a good mom to me. I need a mom.”

And I say, “How do you feel about that?”

She says, “I feel fine. That feels good, that feels different.”

And then she emailed me after the session and says, “You know, Sue, the sessions with you are hard, so I don’t understand why I sing all the way home.” And it’s because she moves in the session. She moves out of her obsessions, addictions with not eating, addictions for planning, anxiety. She moves, and so she gets exhilarated because she starts to feel more whole as a human being.

Some of the cliches we have about love are really awful misinformation. But one of the cliches that’s really true, and this is true in most religions, is that when we’re loved, we grow and expand. We grow, we find more resources inside ourselves, we find more strength inside ourselves. We’re better at problem solving. When we’re safe and secure and we feel we matter to others and that they have our back, our potential and our resources come out.

Now again, I’m having such fun talking to you I’m not sure I answered your question. Oh, yes, it was about micro-interventions and things like reflecting and — 

Tim Ferriss: And evocative questions. You gave a number of examples.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes! Okay.

Tim Ferriss: And I like to think of it as much conversation as interview, so even if the interview is just a cue to take us into different direction, that works for me. I wanted to come back to some of your evocative questions, though, because I wrote them down because they, I think, will be helpful for me. They were follow ups to the question of what someone is feeling. So when I said that, the hypothetical was asking me how I felt when you said certain things in the interview.

That was the example, which could be a real one. And then I would answer that and then you had follow ups such as “What did you say to yourself when you felt that,” or “What did you want to do when you felt that way?” But I want to go to the initial question, which is, “How did you feel or what did you feel in your body?” I have a little bit of experience as a client with something called the Hakomi Method.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes, yes.

Tim Ferriss: The question of how you feel and what you’re feeling in your body comes up a lot, and I feel for reasons known and unknown that I have a very poor, which is surprising to me, a very poor vocabulary when it comes to identifying bodily sensations. And I’m not aware of much outside of — for instance, almost every time I would be asked what I was feeling in my body, whether it was sadness, anger, you name it, it would be tightness in the throat or tightness in the chest, and that was really all that would come up for me were these two options. Maybe some tension in the forehead. I’m curious what you do when you have a client who really can’t come up with more than one or two answers to that question: “What do you feel in your body?”

Maybe that’s not a problem, but I felt kind of ridiculous because when I’ve done some couples work with my girlfriend, who’s extremely kinesthetically aware and very self-aware, she always has this rich landscape she can describe and she closes her eyes and she’s so specific, and I’m like, “You know what? It’s just the throat again, tightness in the throat.” And I feel kind of ridiculous and I don’t feel like it gives me much to work with. How would you respond to that word salad that I just threw at you?

Dr. Sue Johnson: Well, you have to put it in context. I mean, the point is, when I go in to something like that, there’s always a specific thing that’s happened. A client’s told me a story, or is feeling something in the moment, or is having a specific emotional reaction. Or, if I’m working with couples, there’s a piece of drama going on. So there’s usually a specific trigger. And the thing about attachment styles is, it gives us a map to our emotional needs, vulnerabilities, feelings. It gives us a map. What I think, it’s a relatively simple, elegant map. So if you say to me, I hear you that you have a more limited vocabulary, there’s a good reason for that. You were brought up as a man in a North American society. You weren’t taught to look inside and pay attention to your emotions and develop a vocabulary. Your girlfriend was taught to do that. It was acceptable for her, and so women have more language.

The bottom line is, though, you are a human being, so you have the same basic emotions. We talk about six basic emotions. And you have the same basic physiological responses. So if you said to me, “Sue, I don’t know how to talk about this,” that’s great. “Sue, I don’t know how to talk about this. All that happens to me is when…” and then it’s specific. “When I hear that tone in her voice…” “So what’s the trigger?”

“When I hear that tone in her voice, all I know is that I just go tight. I just go tight,” and I just stay there with you and I say, “Ah, so help me. What do you hear in her tone?”

“Well, she’s irritated with me, and she’s going to be irritated with me, and nothing I say is going to make any difference.” Right?

I say, “Oh, so you hear her tone and you say, ‘I’ve already blown it. I’ve blown it, I’ve blown it again.’ Is that right?”

He says, “Yes, that’s what I say to myself. ‘I’ve blown it; she’s irritated with — oh, my God. Now we’re going to get stuck in that thing. I’ve blown it again.'”

You say, “Uh-huh,” and you feel this tightness. He says, “Yes, mm-hmm (affirmative). You helped me with the tightness. It’s like you shut down. Because this is — is it shutting down?”

You say, “Yeah, it’s like shutting down, Sue.”

So I say, “Uh-huh. It’s like shutting down, because there’s something here that’s dangerous, isn’t it?”

Then if you’re a regular guy, you say something like, “No, it’s not dangerous. I mean, you know, I’m not really worried or anything.”

Yes you are, okay? You’re just being a regular guy. So I say, “Oh, all right. It’s not dangerous, it’s just a bit — “

This gentleman said, I loved him. He said, “It’s disconcerting.”

I said, “Oh, it’s disconcerting.”

He said, “Yes, it’s very disconcerting.”

I said, “I understand. So let’s go over this again.”

So then I go over it again. “When you do, this happens. You hear this in her voice, and then your body does, and it’s disconcerting. And there’s something here disconcerting. Could you help me? It’s like, you don’t know what to do and no matter what you do it’s not going to be right.”

He says, “Yes.”

I say, “Hmm. When I feel that way, it’s a little bit alarming, isn’t it?”

He says, “Yes, it’s alarming.”

I said, “Oh, so when you feel this tightness in your chest, it’s alarming.”

You lead people in. The point is, you lead them into their emotions. The point is, I know where I’m going, and so does every good EFT therapist. I know where I’m going because I’ve got a map. Attachment gives us a map to how we dance together with the people we love and where those dances go in terms of outcome. It gives us a map to our own vulnerabilities and emotions. It tells us how supremely sensitive we are to signals of rejection or abandonment by other people, and that this sensitivity is wired in. There’s nothing weak or strange or — we framed these vulnerabilities in very strange ways, very unaccepting ways. Some of the ways we’ve talked about love have been so misleading, but when you help people have the words, and there aren’t that many words. There aren’t that many core emotions, there aren’t that many ways to dance with a loved one. You can basically reach for them when you’re vulnerable. You can shut down and numb out and shut them out, or you can up the ante and get anxious and demand all kinds of responses from them. That’s about it.

They’re the main moves in the dance of love, and they can all be useful at times, but if you get stuck in just one, if you get stuck in one of the negative ones like blaming and pushing and demanding and upping the ante to try and get the other person to respond, or shoving down and withdrawing, that generates a dance that ends up in disconnection and more anxiety and more problems for both of you.

Tim Ferriss: What would be an example of upping the ante? I understand the phrasing as it applies to poker, but could you give us an example of that?

Dr. Sue Johnson: Oh, upping the ante is what I did with my description of my husband and me, where instead of turning and saying, “I’m missing our conversations,” I say, “I guess that you’re tired again. You’re tired an awful lot these days. I guess you’re really tired.” So listen to me. You know, I’m pushing. Foolishly, what I want is for him to turn and say, “Oh, well, have I left you alone? I’m so sorry. Yes, I do want these conversations.”

But of course I’m using a club, so I’m smacking him to get him to respond, and the trouble with that one is, the smacking pushes him further away and that’s one of the ironic things as human beings that sometimes when we love people, we’re so unable to really reach for them or know how to reach for them, the way we do try to reach, we push them further away.

Tim Ferriss: How do you work with or help someone work with anger? So you have a couple and you’re working with them, one partner says whatever they say, and then you ask the other partner how that makes them feel when they hear that, and they’re like, “It pisses me off. I’ve heard this a hundred times. God damn it, when are we going to — this should be an open and shut case,” or whatever it is, it could take a million forms. 

Dr. Sue Johnson: Well, most people start there. So I say, “‘Could you help me?’ When your partner says this, that’s hard for you to hear. That doesn’t really make sense to you and you just say, ‘Here we go again,’ and you get angry.”

They say, “Mm-hmm (affirmative).” And then I’ll stay with that. Because underneath the anger, before the anger, there’s some sort of threat. There’s some sort of a threat going on. “It pisses me off because — that’s not what I do! That’s just the way she sees it. I don’t do that. She tells me…” 

So I say, “Oh, okay, so it pisses you off because from your point of view, you’re trying really, really hard to be a good husband.”


“And from your point of view, she somehow picks on this one thing and it kind of proves that you’re not a good husband.”


“And that makes you really, really angry.”

“It does.”

“And that must be very, very difficult to hear.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Mm-hmm (affirmative). What happens to you when you hear that?”

“I don’t want to hear that I’m a failure all the time, okay?”

“Ah, so in the moment before the anger, what you hear is, you hear your wife saying you’re failing. You’re a bad partner.”

“Did I say that?”

“Uh, well, um — yes.”

Lots of therapies teach that emotions have to be controlled and contained and got past. We don’t do that. We honor emotions, we take people into them, listen to them, help them hear the key messages about survival and what they need that are in them, and then take them through them. If you look at a couple at the end of EFT, they’re much more emotionally balanced, and when they feel vulnerable or hurt, they’re better at dealing with it.

Securely attached kids, in all the research studies, there’s thousands of studies on infant-mother attachment, child-parent attachment. There’s hundreds and hundreds of studies on adult attachment now. When you look at them all, they all basically say we need this connection with other people. We need it and we have these incredible sensitivities, and there’s only so many ways of dealing with them, and there’s only so many emotions that come up. The main one that people are dealing with when they get stuck in fights or incredible distance is fear. Fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of disconnection. Fear that I don’t really matter to you, I’m really on my own in life. And that intimidates us all. We all know that that is disempowering for us. We all know on some deep, visceral level how much we need others, and the strongest among us can accept that and learn how to connect.

One of my most fascinating characters in history is Winston Churchill. I find him completely fascinating. I’ve read all these books on Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill had the most horrible childhood relationships. He had a father who was mean and blaming and rejecting and distant, and he had a totally distant mother who was too busy having affairs with the King and having wonderful parties. They sent him to boarding school and he would write these letters that just break your heart, like, “Dear Mommy, could you possibly, possibly make it to the one, this big event once a term and come,” and she wouldn’t even reply to his letter.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, that’s terrible.

Dr. Sue Johnson: So Winston Churchill grew up deprived. But I don’t know how he managed it, sometimes human resilience is amazing. But what he did as an adult was he created a bond with his wife. All the evidence is, all through his life, he relied on that bond. When they got into a fight, this man, this powerful man who sort of took all these impossible stands in his life — I mean, what he would do apparently is, if they got into fights he’d go and he’d sit down outside her bedroom door and say things like, “Are you mad at your Winnie?” Somehow he knew how, he found a way to reach for her, and she responded enough that he had this secure connection.

Of course, they were British, British upper class, so they still slept in separate bedrooms, which is just kind of weird from my point of view. But, you know, they did that. Now my class consciousness is coming out here.

Tim Ferriss: Do you have any favorite books, or if you were to recommend a resource or a book or a place to start for people interested in learning more about Winston Churchill? Do you have any suggestions?

Dr. Sue Johnson: There’s a wonderful book, I think it’s called The Last Lion. It’s a biography in three volumes of Winston Churchill. But it takes it from childhood until him dying. It’s fascinating, fascinating. I love it.

In terms of books, I just read What Happened To You with Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Perry. Bruce Perry, both of them are splendid. I love Bruce Perry. He’s a child and adolescent psychiatrist, so he comes at attachment science in a slightly different way than me. His work dovetails with us totally brilliantly and he says all the same things about how emotional isolation is traumatizing and how sensitive we are and how to grow human beings. He says all the same things. That’s one recent one that I just read.

Tim Ferriss: You know, it’s funny. I just came home and literally that book is sitting on one of the dressers. So I think my girlfriend just bought that book. It seems like she and I are having complementary explorations at the moment, which is great. And the book that you named, you actually got it right. The Last Lion by William Manchester.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Thank you.

Tim Ferriss: The Last Lion box set. It is a three-volume set and has average of five stars out of five on Amazon, 260 reviews. So, seems to be well-liked.

Dr. Sue Johnson: What I love about it, I think I love Winston Churchill because from my point of view, he was a successful human being in that he was always honest to himself. He was always Winston. He took huge risks even though some of those risks made him massively unpopular. There were periods of time when he was hated in the House of Commons. His peers despised him, criticized him. He was creative, he was always honest. He was always who he was. I love that he used to go off in the Blitz. Everyone else used to go into the shelters, he used to go up on the roof and watch the Blitz as it was happening. In the first World War, all his upper class colleagues, if they were in the battle at all, they were way behind the lines in a nice hotel somewhere. Winston gave up being a member of Parliament and asked to go into the trenches. He said he wanted to see them. He wanted to see what they were like, he wanted to be there in the trenches. Mind you, he took his butler with him, which most of the men in the trenches didn’t have a butler. But nevertheless — 

Tim Ferriss: Man, I would love to hear the conversation with the butler on that decision.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes. So, probably the butler didn’t want to go into the trenches. But he was a risk taker, he had huge integrity, he was passionate. He stayed with that passion even though there were long periods of time where he was completely rejected socially. He was true to himself and he was passionate. I think he was one of the few human beings who could’ve led England through the Second World War and made it. I don’t know who else could have come forward to do that. So I find him fascinating. I find figures like him that have courage and stand for something and even when the prevailing winds are going the other way, I always find that fascinating.

Tim Ferriss: Do you still dance tango? Is that something that you still pursue?

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes, I still dance tango. And COVID has been so awful. Of course the parallel with couple relationships is obvious. When I first started to learn tango, my tango teacher would be teaching me and I’d suddenly say things like, “Stop, I’ve got to write that down,” because it would be relevant for therapy. I mean, tango is about attunement, and so is love. Tango is about standing up, moving with somebody, changing weight with somebody, tuning in to somebody, and there’s a safety check there. There’s a, “Can I find you, are you going to respond to me, are you there, can I feel you?” And then if the answer is yes — sometimes you go through the motions. The answer is no and you go through the motions, you do the steps. But if it’s a good dance, you find the other person and it’s like, “Oh, there you are. Oh, I can feel that. Ah!”

And we tune into the music at the same time and we start to play and there’s a synchrony there that happens in hold me tight conversations, happens in good sex, happens in — it’s play and synchrony, and it’s two human beings impacting each other, responding to each other, sending cues, tuning into the cues. There’s something intoxicating about it.

When I realized the parallel, I was not good at it, I want to tell you. My teacher, who was not big on empathy, said something like, “Why do you want to teach tango? You’re uncoordinated, you don’t have any balance, you’re not 22.”

I said, “Thanks very much. I’m in my late 50s, actually, so thanks very much for that comment,” at the time I learned tango.

“This is going to be very difficult for you.” And I said, “Well then shut up and start teaching me. Because I’ll just work harder at it than everyone else, that’s all.”

He said, “Why do you want to do it?” I said, “Because there’s something here. I get these little tiny moments where we’re both moving together to this beautiful music that are just joyful.”

He just looked at me and said, “All right, then. But you’re going to have to work really hard.”

There’s so many parallels. I can remember one lesson when I said to him, I got angry and I said, “You’re not sending me any cues,” it’s a bit like a couple.

Tim Ferriss: Just for people listening, this happens all the time. These arguments between tango couples. They get into these bickering fights all the time. Please continue.

Dr. Sue Johnson: This is my teacher, right? And he says, he’s trying to teach me this new move and I say, “You’re not saying anything. You’re not sending me any cues.”

He says, “The cues I am sending you are enormous.”

I said, “What are you talking about? You’re not sending me any cues. You’re just being ridiculous.”

So, bless his heart, he does what we do in EFT. He says, “Feel it.” He moves his shoulders slightly to the right about a millimeter. “Okay, can you feel that?”

I say, “No.”

He says, “Do it again. Feel it. Can you feel that?”

“No.” He does it 20 times.

And I, “Oh.”

And sometimes that’s what you have to do in couple relationships, you have to slow everything down and give people time to listen to a new thing they’re not used to hearing or can’t take in. You have to slow it down. You can’t just do all this stuff fast.

So then I go, “Oh, I got it.”

And then he says, “Right,” then he says, “Now, follow it.” And I turn. This happened all the time, the parallels in relationships, and they were the same. So I’d go to tango lessons and get completely enthralled intellectually, emotionally, physically. I adore tango. But I have to say — I probably shouldn’t say this on air.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, no, you’re allowed. Please do.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Mostly I find it’s easier to dance with women. And there aren’t many women leaders. I can’t figure out why that is, but I think it’s because women have had to learn to tune into other people in order to survive socially over the years. They’ve had to do that. So maybe it’s a little easier for them, but I find with women leaders, often — or maybe I just feel a little safer with women leaders, maybe that’s what it is. I don’t know.

But often I find it easier to dance with women. Although I’ve had some amazing male partners too. One of the big arguments in my marriage was that we started dancing tango and then my husband said he wasn’t going to do it. He didn’t like it. So I won’t tell you what Sue Johnson said to that. It was not a positive evening. It was like, “You can’t do that to me. I need a partner.”

And he basically said, “It hurts my back and I’m not going to do it,” so that was very difficult. But we got through it. He goes hiking and I don’t particularly like it when he goes hiking up mountains all by himself, it scares me. And for quite a while he didn’t particularly like it when I would go off to the milonga and as he put it, “insist on dancing very, very close to other men for hours.”

I’m dancing tango. Just the fact that it’s very, very close is just the way it is. Right? Anyway.

Tim Ferriss: One of my close friends does not dance. He does not dance, but his wife loves ballroom dance and dances a variety of different styles. I remember one Saturday, it might have been a Friday — no, it was a Saturday and he said, “Here’s my wife’s evening,” and he sent a photograph that she had sent him. She’s in this really sleek, super sexy dress, all done up, looking gorgeous, dancing with this Latin guy. They’re face to face, you know, sweating all over each other. And then he said, “Here’s my evening,” and he sent a photograph and it was a table with arts and crafts with a half a dozen kids going totally batshit crazy. He painted quite a picture for himself.

I just want to backstep into what you were saying about tango, it’s making me really want to dance again. I haven’t danced in a very, very long time. But for people who don’t know — a few things on the gender split. In Argentina, a lot of the tango began in the port town of Buenos Aires with men dancing with other men. It was actually very common, very, very common. And even now you can find — and I trained, because oftentimes in the classes when I was there, we wouldn’t have enough women. Or you wouldn’t have enough men, so women would dance with women, men would dance with men. There are two brothers, I can’t recall their names.

Dr. Sue Johnson: I know who they are. Yes.

Tim Ferriss: They’re incredible. Do you know the name? Do you remember the name?

Dr. Sue Johnson: No. No. But they’re amazing.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, they’re so incredible. If somebody goes to YouTube and just searches Argentine dancing tango brothers, or something like that, you’ll see the two of them dancing, and it’s a very aggressive, masculine, almost violent type of tango. It’s incredible to watch. You’re bringing back so many memories for me. I remember being at different milongas like Nino Bien or Sunderland and all these different milongas. What struck me so much when I went to some of my first milongas, which for people wondering, start really late and end really late in Argentina. They often don’t even really get going until midnight. It could be a Tuesday, it doesn’t matter. I went in and I noticed that many of the best female dancers danced with their eyes closed.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Oh, yes.

Tim Ferriss: The complexity of the movements were one thing. And you watch and you just can’t understand how it’s possible for someone to dance so deftly, with such subtlety, so quickly, with their eyes closed. But on top of that, as a beginner you walk in and you think to yourself, “These two must have been practicing for months and months and months and years and years together.”

Dr. Sue Johnson: That’s right.

Tim Ferriss: And then you find out it might be the first night they ever met.

Dr. Sue Johnson: That’s right.

Tim Ferriss: It’s all cues and improv. It’s just mind-blowing. It’s so impressive.

Dr. Sue Johnson: It is mind-blowing. And it’s the synchrony. That kind of physical and emotional synchrony, moving with the music, that synchrony elicits joy in human beings. It’s the reason why birds have mating rituals. Swans move their necks in unison, they do this ritual, they move into synchrony. It happens with mothers and children, they move into synchrony. The little child opens his eyes, the mother leans forward and opens her eyes wider. A synchrony in tango, a synchrony in lovemaking between lovers, synchrony in hold me tight conversations. This is our nervous system buzzing and saying, “Yes, this is belonging. This is safety. This is joy.” And our nervous system buzzes with this. And it’s so rewarding. I’m trying to explain to my husband why I needed to keep tangoing at one point. And I said, “When I dance with…” I would use a woman as an example, “When I dance with Mary Ellen, in 12 minutes of dancing, I’ll have in four straight moments of this incredible synchrony when my brain is out sitting in a chair looking and saying, ‘How are you doing this? I don’t understand you doing this. I don’t — you don’t know any of these moves and what happened there? I don’t understand how this is going.'” Because your prefrontal cortex isn’t subtle enough, where it’s like you’re picking up on the attunement and moving with someone.

And this is what human beings can do. We can read these cues incredibly fast. We have these mirror neurons in our brains that pick up the cues from somebody and feel them in our own body and this is the basis of empathy, and it’s a beautiful thing. And so, yeah, when I first went to milonga, I stood there and said, “How do they do this? This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And it’s impossible. I don’t understand. I want to do it. I want to do it.” But it takes a long time. And in a way, it’s kind of the same discovery that our couples go through, where somebody will say to me, “I never felt this before. I never knew you could feel this way. I never knew people could have these kinds of conversations. I never knew that I could talk about my feelings like this. I never knew that I would talk about my feelings, and I would look up and see in the other person’s face that they wanted me and that they wanted this.”

And someone will say, “You don’t have to keep problem-solving or taking care of everything. You don’t have to keep solving all the problems. What I want is you. If you tell me you’re overwhelmed by this problem, that’s what I want. I want the connection with you.” And the other person goes, I’ve had people say, “What did you say?” The person has to repeat it like four times says, then they’d look at me with this blank look. And I say, “You can’t take that in. You’ve never imagined a drama with another human being where somebody might say that to you.” And they go, “No.” And then they weep because in the end, what none of us can bear is the feeling that we’re alone and that we don’t matter to another human being.

In our world, it doesn’t talk much about that. When I first heard that you wanted to talk to me, I thought, “Why does he want to talk to me? He’s into business, and he’s into teaching people how to make money, and he’s into…” and then somebody said, “No, no. He’s into success and what helps people feel successful.” And I thought, “Oh, well, that’s okay, because from my point of view, success is about being really alive, and being really alive is about being connected with others, and knowing that they are our greatest resource, and that’s where we are most alive, whether we’re dancing tango, making love, responding to our child.” It’s such fun to talk to you. You’re fun. I never know what questions you’re going to — sometimes you ask quite intricate questions. That’s really fun.

Tim Ferriss: You’re fun too. You’re fun too. And I only have a few more questions because I know we’re getting not necessarily two-time, but we’re definitely covering a lot of ground. You’ve mentioned sex a number of times, good sex, and this is important to many, if not all couples. And I’d love to pose a situation and hear how you might approach it, and that is a couple who love each other dearly. They actually do not seem to be shutting down, at least obviously. They’ve been together a long time and maybe the passion, the fire has simply died down somewhat. They’re more — I don’t want to say roommates because that has a pejorative sound to it, but they’re good parents. They love each other. They maybe still go on dates and so on. But, for whatever reason, that sexual spark is not as strong as it used to be. How would you approach that situation and that couple?

Dr. Sue Johnson: Well, what’s always interesting to me about sexuality and sexual conversations is that our world, arguably, I mean, sex is everywhere now compared to even say 20, 30 years ago. Theoretically, we’re more open and we’re more accepting about sex. We’re not so restrained and all that. So what’s fascinating to me is it seems to me that people, couples have an incredibly hard time having a conversation about their sex lives. And that’s still true, and it was true 30 years ago, and it’s still true now. And I think it’s because in sex, people are literally naked. They are vulnerable. And they don’t know how to even begin that conversation. So what we do is we create safety in the relationship. We have them look at the relationship and we walk into that conversation.

One of the big conversations about that one is there’s a lot of evidence now, I think it’s really good research, about the difference between male and female sexuality. And there’s a lot of evidence that women respond differently to physiological — to sexual cues. A woman can be physiologically aroused, for example, by a sexual cue if you look at her in an MRI study, I think this was by Gillath. Basson, a Canadian researcher, also talks about this. There’s quite a few people. I think Chisholm talks about it. So the evidence is: a woman can be physiologically turned on. And if you ask her if she’s turned on, she’ll tell you no. Whereas for the man, physiological arousal and experience just go together like that. If they have an erection, they say, “I’m aroused.”

With a woman, there’s something else that seems to happen. What seems to happen is that the woman’s physiologically aroused, and then her prefrontal cortex cues in. And her prefrontal cortex, the theory now is, from these studies, that her prefrontal cortex basically checks out the safety of the relationship. Which makes sense because women are, I mean let’s face it, if you look at the sex act, women are vulnerable. They’re naked. They’re going to open their body. They’re going to be penetrated by a stronger animal. This is a basic thing. So it’s almost like women check out the relationship and the connection and the safety before they actually let themselves feel aroused, right? And so women take longer, often, to be aroused. Somebody said to me, “What’s the best foreplay I can do with my wife?” I said, “Well, have you heard her talking here? I think what she’s telling you is the best role play you can do with your wife is to talk to her and share with her and turn up.”

Basically, I didn’t say “Turn up emotionally,” but that’s where I was going, like, “Show her who you are, stand out on the dance floor, open your arms.” And so, women have a slower pace often. Women have responsive desire. They don’t start off from lust. They start off from being open to their partner or being curious. They don’t start from the same place as men. And people haven’t known how to talk about that. And so men and women miss each other. And also, men talk about how — the classic story is that men start talking about how they want sex. But time and time again, when we’re dealing with a couple’s sexual relationship, if you really go in and you really stay there, it’s not just about orgasm. Because let’s get real. If it’s just about orgasm, men can give themselves an orgasm very efficiently, and so can women. There’s amazing vibrators out there, okay? So that’s not an issue?

So, it is not just about orgasm. Because if you listen to the man who’s always badgering his wife for sex, what it comes down to is, on an emotional level, and he has a hard time getting there, he wants to feel wanted, he wants to feel desired. And in that, men and women are the same. And when that, somehow, a couple give each other the message, “I don’t particularly desire you,” one way of dealing with it if you have other good things in the relationship is to just shut that part of your relationship down and numb it out. But you can bring it alive, but you have to be able to be A.R.E., you have to be able to take some emotional risks, you have to turn and say you love this kind of sex.

“Well, I want to tell you that for 20 years I’ve hated it. I hate it.” One lady said, “You think it’s the sexiest thing in the world to come up behind me and bite my neck. I hate it when you do that.” And he says, “What are you talking about?” And she just didn’t feel safe enough to turn and say, “I hate that, and here’s why I hate it.” People hang back. They shut down. But you know, passion is about feeling safe enough to be completely absorbed in the experience and let it take you over. Passion is about full engagement.

We talk about it like it’s all about novelty. It’s not all about novelty. Novelty can turn passion on, but the research is clear, from people like Laumann at the University of Chicago. The people who have the best sex have it most often and who feel most enthralled, find it most thrilling, are people in what you would call safe, long-term relationships because then you can let go. Passion is about erotic play. You can let go and play. And lots of couples have sort of put that part of their relationship off to the side. They haven’t known how to tune into each other. They haven’t maybe accepted their own emotional needs. They haven’t known how to talk about it.

So we simply create safety, and we open it up for them. And they start to share and talk and find it again. They have to have acceptance. Somebody has to be able to say “I was brought up a Catholic. There’s some part of me that can never quite accept my own sexuality, and some part of me just needs you to be dominant, demand it of me. And then I can get turned on.” Or she needs to be able to tell that to her partner because he always comes on to her considerate and low key. He doesn’t want to offend her in any way. Well, it doesn’t work, right? So people have to be able to examine the way they dance together and share, and then they can find each other. And it’s the same with sexual problems.

Or in Hold Me Tight, one of my favorite stories I’ve got it in the book of the man who has erectile dysfunction, and the trouble is not that he has erectile dysfunction, the trouble is he freaks out every time he has erectile dysfunction and shuts down and withdraws from his wife, and then she gets upset and feels rejected and abandoned. So the whole relationship starts to go to hell. When they can talk about it, connect with it. And I suggest that sometimes, I think we call his penis George, I can’t remember now, that I say, “Sometimes George goes for a little nap. And it’s no big deal if they can stay connected with each other, and she can help wake George up. She knows how to do that, and they laugh and they play. And there’s no problem after a while because they deal with it differently because they have this safe connection.”

But the trouble was the sexual problem was interfering with their safe connection, and everyone was playing it safe and being nice to each other and keeping everything calm. The thing is, what we’ve learned about attachment science can help us shape our emotional relationships and our sexual relationships. It gives us a map for how to do that. And it really challenges the old cliche that love and passionate love has a best before date. It really challenges that. Love has to be remade, and passion isn’t the same over 30 years, but it can still be made and remade. And there are times when people are more tuned into that than others. Anyway, we could talk about sex forever. There’s some huge topics here, Tim.

Tim Ferriss: They are. We may have to do a round two or three or four.

Dr. Sue Johnson: There’s a lot of stuff to talk about.

Tim Ferriss: But let me ask a follow-up, which is sort of the opposite end of the spectrum with respect to one example you gave. So one of the examples that you began with was that of female physiological arousal often preceding psychological arousal. And I’d be curious to know, because this seems to be common, at least among many men that I know and many men who write to me in some fashion, that they’re extremely attracted to their partner for a period of time, and they see this in relationships one after the other, for six, nine months, whatever it is. And then, they — it’s not that they stop being attracted to their partner. They still can objectively and subjectively look at their partner and find them sexy and attractive, but they just do not have as much sex drive as they would like at a certain point in the relationship.

Do you have any, not necessarily advice for them, it could be advice, but thoughts on how to approach that? So not a situation where the male is demanding or hoping for more sex, although that might be the case, but in fact, a situation where the woman has more sustained sex drive than the male.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Well, that’s an interesting one. I don’t know. I mean, we condition men to think about — physiologically, their sexual need and their sexual response is very available to them compared to women. And it seems to be immediate and we condition men to accept their sexuality and to accept sort of lust and to expect a certain amount. So I don’t know, I think it depends, and I may have been prejudiced because the cases that I’ve seen in that situation have usually been that there’s another whole element going on, which is that there’s a certain point in relationships where people realize that they’re vulnerable and that this person holds their heart in their hand. And for some people, before that, the infatuation and the excitement and the novelty and all that stuff can carry them forward. And then, there’s a moment when it’s kind of like the bonding scenario kicks in, and they realize they’re vulnerable. And this other person can hurt them and that they need this person. They need certain responses from this person.

And for some folks, that is exceedingly difficult. And they can’t even really put their finger on what that’s about, and they start to shut down. And I can remember one very dramatic case of this, where this guy pursued this woman and adored her and everything was great. And then they got married and literally they got married, and she became immediately pregnant and was very ill with the pregnancy. So she kind of withdrew. So from his point of view, he took the ultimate risk, which he said he was never going to do, and got married. And the minute he did that, from his point of view, this person became unavailable. He completely shut down his sexuality. Completely. He numbed it out, except in his mind. In his mind, she was still the most attractive woman in the world.

He still had all kinds of active fantasies. I mean, he still had lust, he just shut it all down. And that was all about the emotional reality of him suddenly coming up against this reality that he needed her, he’d risked, and suddenly she wasn’t there. And of course, that was a very familiar experience for him from his childhood. And then she got angry, of course, because he shut down and the whole relationship went bad. So these emotional scenarios can be complex. You have to ask her what’s going on. I think there’s also a point in couple’s lives, especially in our present world, where they get caught up in parenting, caught up in tasks, caught up in what we’ve decided is success, which is working longer and longer hours, being on your devices all the time, caught up, and literally they don’t pay any attention to the relationship and to the emotional music and to the connection.

And then they suddenly expect it to be there in bed. Well, it’s not because it all sort of goes together. So we don’t find it that difficult to help people if they want to go through those blocks. We don’t find it that difficult to help people deal with their sex life differently, with problems, or to reawaken that passion. In fact, what we find is when people start having hold me tight conversations, we don’t even talk about sex, their sex, they tell us their sex life improves because they start to be able to play and take risks with each other and tell each other things they’d never been able to tell each other before and accept their own sexual desires or sensitivities in a new way and share them. So then, this emotional openness and responsiveness turns into physiological openness and responsiveness. It’s very hard to be open and physiologically responsive when you’re afraid and guarding yourself all the time.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Those two sound almost entirely mutually exclusive. Well, I would like to, if you’re open to a few more minutes, just to hear your description, since people will want to explore this more of Hold Me Tight Online, the relationship enhancement program. What brought you to develop that, and what can people expect if they engage with that?

Dr. Sue Johnson: What brought me to develop it was insanity, because it was — 

Tim Ferriss: That’s the story of my life!

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes. It was an insane amount of work, okay? And I got obsessed with the fact that we, from my point of view, the science and all our work, had created this enormous possibility for people to have much better relationships, much more secure families, better mental health, and somehow people weren’t getting the message. I just became so disconcerted by that, but I said, “We’ve got to do a whole — we’ve got to do an online program. This is the only way it’s going to reach people.” So my colleagues, bless their hearts, I seem to have this ability to go in and say insane ideas, and then people pick them up, and suddenly we’re working for about four years on this huge project.

The online program is — it’s got little talks, it’s got three couples going through the process. You see the three couples working, it’s got little bits of music, little exercises. It’s customized. We put a huge amount of work into it. I don’t know of any other program like it out there, especially not based on tested interventions and a clear science of what love relationships are about. We get very good feedback on it. I’m very encouraged by the fact that the military, the US military, I believe, and the Canadian military are using it now. And the government of British Columbia, where I live on the West Coast of Canada, has just bought a number of them. I think they’re going to give them to first responders whose relationships are having a hard time. The Heart Institute is talking about creating an online program because they have a live program in their hospital now in Ottawa. So I’m very encouraged by the fact that institutions are picking it up, but it’s supposed to take the Hold Me Tight book and turn it into a live, engaging, online program that you can do with your partner.

And there’s some research on the educational program based on Hold Me Tight. There’s no research yet on the online program, but we’re still working on it. For example, the three couples who agreed to be filmed through this, we just took the first three couples that came into the studio in Ottawa and did it with me, did those conversations with me in a very snowy winter. So when I look at them now, it looks a little dated, those three couples. There’s a young couple, a couple that are facing all kinds of other difficulties, and an older couple. They’re still useful, you can still see, but we started to add conversations. Like we have a black couple right now with a black facilitator talking about that and talking about issues with racism and how that impacts your relationship.

We’re trying to put new conversations in. You can see a couple go through it. You can hear me talk about it. You can learn about it. You can hear the stories about it. You can do exercises. I mean, it’s really designed to lead you into being able to have your own hold me tight conversation. And I think, well, I’m a bit crazy about all this, but we need books and we need online programs. We need to educate people about relationships.

It’s insane that we have all this science and understanding and that we are not sharing it and putting it out so that we can have more positive, loving, cooperative relationships and more secure families. From my point of view, it’s insane. So, we created the program and we’re going to keep adding to it. And hopefully, institutions will keep picking it up. And for a while, we did it and online wasn’t popular. And so it just sat there and I thought, “What do I have to do to get this stuff out there?” But it has picked up quite a lot. People are hearing about it. 

Tim Ferriss: I think this conversation will help at least with a handful of people.

Dr. Sue Johnson: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: So that’s the hope, and this has been so much fun. Dr. Sue Johnson, you are a blast to talk to. And I will, of course, add show notes with links to everything and people can find you at They can find the Hold Me Tight Online program at You’re on all the social. I’ll link to those in the show notes and people could find you on Twitter @Dr_SueJohnson. Is there anything else that you would like to say? Any closing comments? Any requests of my audience? Anything at all that you’d like to add before we close this first very enjoyable conversation? For me at least; I don’t want to speak for you.

Dr. Sue Johnson: The only thing that occurs to me is, to say on a personal level, that one of the enormous realities of my childhood was that I understood that my parents loved each other, and they fought continually. That was something that distressed me, puzzled me, alarmed me, freaked me out. And I think way back there somewhere, sitting on the stairs in the dark, listening to them fight, I somehow felt that there had to be a better way, and I think the other thing was I adored my father and in the end that the fact that marriage didn’t work destroyed him. Whereas, the Second World War didn’t destroy him, all kinds of other things didn’t destroy him, but the fact that that marriage didn’t work destroyed him. So I knew how important relationships were. 

And for me, when I started to see couples and I started to see patterns, and then I started to link it to attachment science, and I suddenly realized that there was a way that we can understand love, that we can understand and shape our most precious relationships, that is just something that I just feel like we need so desperately. It’s so important on so many levels that I just want people to know that you don’t have to fall in and out of love, and that even if you’ve never seen this kind of bonding, you can find it. We can show it to you on a video. We can tell you a story about it. You can do it. It’s wired into us that there’s incredible hope for relationships because normal people are living alone, normal people are giving up on love relationships, normal people are saying things like, “Monogamy’s impossible; doesn’t work.” This just brings up despair in me because it’s like we have the way forward and we’re not using it. So that’s why I do things like make crazy online programs that take me four years. And anyway, it’s been amazing fun to talk to you.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you. It’s been a great time and I’m so glad that you were able and grateful that you’re willing to carve out the time to have this conversation. I really think it’s going to help a lot of people. This has been incredibly helpful for me personally. I’ve taken a ton of notes. I have a lot of things to follow up on. I’m going to have some very, very, I think some very bonding and engaging conversations with my girlfriend. And this has inspired me to further seek out the tools that help us to shape the love that we need and want, instead of just waiting for some miracle to fall from the sky or a disaster to fall from the sky. And it’s very enabling to hear you speak and to get a better understanding of your work, and certainly, I can only imagine, to engage with the work that you’ve developed, so I’m very grateful to you for the time and for the work that you’re doing.

I think these tools are invaluable and never more needed certainly than right now. I think that that word “despair” that you mentioned is something that a lot of people have become intimate with in the last year, but that the last year has really just magnified, I think, an underlying despair that many people already felt.

Dr. Sue Johnson: I agree.

Tim Ferriss: And I’m so glad that we were able to take the time together. So thank you very, very much. And perhaps if you have time in the future, we’ll do a round two, but no need to rush that. But I really, really tremendously enjoyed this conversation. So thank you, again.

Dr. Sue Johnson: You’re welcome. Lovely to talk to you, lovely to talk to you. And you asked wonderful questions, so I appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, my pleasure entirely. And for everybody listening, I will have links to everything in the show notes as usual at And until next time, thank you for listening.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)