The Power of With
We were made to be in relationship with others. As this challenging season of quarantine seems to drag on, Willa Williams shares how we can seek others and shares the power and hope that can be found in connecting with others.
So here we are... day number who knows what of quarantine, with no real end in sight. In my home, we jokingly like to say that it is March 210th! Quarantining and social distancing are dragging on. Zoom fatigue has made its appearance with no real sign of subsiding any time soon. Normal life as we know it seems to be a fading memory. We are struggling to adjust to our new normal.
Recently I was praying and pondering on the challenges that we are facing, wondering how we can make it through these tough times. What do we need in order to be able to keep going? How can we be encouraged to make it through? And, perhaps not just to survive, but to thrive in this hard time.
As I was reflecting on our season of trial, the powerful concept of “with” came into focus. “With” is a very important concept in our interpersonal relationships, and its significance has been demonstrated in research. What that means is that “with” is not just a nice idea, but it actually has a significant impact on how we are able to make it through challenging times.
Dr. Sue Johnson is a leading couples therapy researcher and the distinguished developer of Emotion Focused Therapy for Couples, a therapeutic approach for working with couples. She has studied and written on the importance of a healthy, reciprocal dependence in healthy relationships. She describes how we are made to be in relationship with others, to depend on and need each other. When we know that others will be with us, that we can depend on them to stay and have our backs, it enables us to more successfully navigate difficulties and challenges.
In one of Dr. Johnson’s training tapes, she cites a research study by Dr. Jim Coan where he examined the power of “with.” In this study, several women were given an MRI, during which they were administered an electric shock. When receiving the shock, some of the women were alone, some were with a stranger, and some were with their partner. For the women who were alone or with a stranger, they experienced the shock as very painful. For the women who were with their partners, the shock was only mildly uncomfortable. Dr. Johnson highlighted that we need a felt sense of connection with others to face and deal with threat. When we are connected with others, we perceive threat differently and we are able to soothe ourselves more easily. It takes less emotional energy to cope because we are sharing the load with another person, and it is less threatening. (Soothing the Threatened Brain article found on drsuejohnson.com.) This research study clearly demonstrates the power and importance of “with.”
As Christians, we have a way to understand this concept of “with,” and we have a very powerful, clear example. One of Jesus’s names is Emmanuel, which literally means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). God so loved people that He wanted to come and be with us, live among us (John 1:14). He did so through Jesus. He was with us, and still is with us.
The Bible also teaches us that as God’s deeply loved children, we are the body of Christ (Rom.12:5). We are connected to each other, and we need each other. We are to be with each other and help each other as God leads us through life.
We need each other to get through our current circumstances. We need to be with each other as we face Covid, quarantining, Zoom fatigue, wildfires, hurricanes, and the political climate. We need the power of “with.”
So what can we do? How can we experience more “with” in our lives?
There are two things that we can do to have more “with”: we can be available, and we can be assertive.
We can be available to be with others. We can actively and intently listen; we can encourage; we can seek out others who need someone just to be with them. We don’t have to have all the answers, or to fix their situation. We just need to be with them. If we are uncertain of what to do, it is okay to let them know that. It is all right to tell them that we are not quite sure what to do, but we want to be with them.
We also can be assertive with what we need so that others can be with us. It is healthy to speak up and kindly request what we need. We don’t want to demand what we want, but we also don’t need to hide it either. We can let others know how they can be with us; otherwise, they might never know. If we are not assertive, they might think that we don’t need anything or that we don’t want them to be with us. They might falsely assume that we are okay on our own. When we can be assertive with our needs, it allows others to come close, to come alongside us so that we can experience the power of “with.”
These are tough times that we are experiencing. We all could benefit from some help to get through to the other side. The power of “with” is just the kind of help that we need. Please seek to be available for those who might need a listening ear, a helping hand, an encouraging word. Work at being assertive in sharing what you might need, so that others can be with you. Together, we can make it through! As the MRI research shows, it is easier to cope with the “shocks” of this world when others are with us.
Willa Williams, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as the Consulting Therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, a Certified Prepare/Enrich Facilitator, and graduate of the Couples Institute, Level 1. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two adult sons and two lovely daughters-in-love. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.