Finding the Raw Spots

Posted on April 20, 2012


“Vulnerability comes with love.  Choice is in how to deal with this.” Dr. Susan Johnson

When I was a child, I had as a pet an extraordinarily friendly and sociable cat.  One day when I was petting the cat, I noticed something deep in her fur.  Thinking it was a burr or something of the sort, I began working at getting it out.  What I didn’t realize was that it was a scab and when I started kneading it with my fingers, it hurt her.  The cat scratched me and scrambled away.  Fortunately, this was not characteristic of our relationship and all was soon forgiven.

The point of this story is that couples often repeat this pattern in their relationships.  It is difficult to live in close proximity and not rub each others raw spots.  Any sensitivity that one has will at some point be found in the course of the marital relationship.  In some marriages due to past hurts in the relationship, partners intentionally hit each others raw spots intentionally and in anger.  Just as often, the sore places in our hearts get rubbed accidentally by a partner who did not know the wound was there.  Emotion is faster than thought; when one gets triggered, one can react without thinking.  When a raw spot gets triggered, things can very quickly go from love and closeness to tooth and nail.

Conversation #2 in Hold Me Tight (Johnson, 2008) addresses that way in which partners find each others “raw spots.”  Johnson (2008) observed that we all have raw spots: those sensitive areas resulting from some combination of temperament and experience (e.g. past traumas, the history of the present relationship, or earlier experience in attachment relationships) that cause us pain when they are touched upon (metaphorically speaking).  Sometimes these raw spots are wounds from childhood; attachment needs that were ignored or dismissed.  A husband who grew up believing that he could never be good enough withdraws in stony silence or responds in anger when his wife offers suggestions.  A wife whose previous husband was unfaithful becomes angry and feels threatened over her husband’s business conversations with other women.  Sometimes these wounds developed during the present relationship.  A wife whose husband was not available at a critical moment of need becomes hypersensitive to any behavior that indicates that he does not really care or is not really there for her.

The objective with this conversation is to 1) recognize when a raw spot is rubbed, 2) identify your own raw spots, 3) try to find the source behind your tender spots, and 4) be able to share that with your partner (Johnson, 2008, pp. 104-117).  Just as with “the demon dialogues,” the way we bump each others raw spots is kind of dance with each partner responding to the movements of the other.

Just as these wounds were created in relationship through ignored or neglected attachment needs, healing comes through relationship by expressing our need for love, comfort, support, and assurance and finding that our partner is able to soothe that pain and quiet those alarms.  Secure attachment is being able to ask for the comfort and support we need with confidence that our partner will be there to provide it.  This is the path by which previously distressed marriages become safe havens.

Hold Me Tight: a 2 day couples intensive.  Strengthen your marriage with practical teaching, interactive discussions and couple’s exercises in a safe and supportive setting.  The focus is on deepening connection and closeness, repairing and healing relational injuries, and overcoming distance and disconnection.


Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church

17010 Pomerado Rd.

San Diego, CA 92128

Dates & Times:

Saturday, May 5th, 2012, 9:00am – 5:30pm

Saturday, May 12th, 2012, 9:00am – 5:30pm



Treina Nash, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, RCA Counseling

Scott Wood, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, LifeSpring Center

*Online registration is available at or contact Scott Wood at (858) 449-1835 for phone registration or questions.


Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).