One of the greatest of all human needs is the need to connect and be with one another. We all need that emotional connection and security that comes with a relationship with another person. Without it, we are lost.
There is plenty of research showing that being isolated leads to mental and emotional decompensation. We begin to fall apart mentally and emotionally without each other. The research also shows conversely that being close to someone we love mitigates the effects of stress . This can be a romantic partnership, a dear friend, or any loved one.
It is a beautiful thing that we have the opportunity to try to connect in a meaningful way with another person. Relationships, as tough as they are, are the perfect venue to get this most basic of needs met. This means two things, however. It means that we need to be vulnerable with another person, and it means we need to allow another person to be vulnerable with us. This may make it sound easy, but since our most primary attachment needs are bound up with our romantic relationships, it is anything but easy.
Being vulnerable and letting another person see who we really are takes a great degree of trust. It means letting them see us, with all our flaws, and trusting they will still want to love us, be our partner and be our friend. And most of us did not have the experience of having our whole self loved and accepted as a child, so any slight from a partner that mirrors the ways we felt rejected, abandoned, or engulfed by our parents will trigger those primary injuries and the resulting reaction of either a hyper-vigilant or withdrawn nervous system.
The miracle of when we do allow ourselves to be vulnerable and feel and share our deepest longings from a place of openness is that we allow for the opportunity to get the connection and emotional support that each and every one of us needs and deserves. Now of course this is the same reason why we withhold; because if we do not get the response we are hoping for in these moments it can trigger our oldest and most painful attachment wounds.
This is where being generous as a partner comes into play. As one of my teachers, Kendra Cunov says in her article, “4 Ways to be Fearlessly Generous”: “Give love in the way you want to receive love. If you really desire something, offer it.” We can be generous both as the one sharing our vulnerable longings, and the one listening. When our partner is bringing up something that hurts or is scary, even if on the surface it’s as simple as their irritation about us being chronically late or not taking out the trash, we have the opportunity to either continue old patterns of being committed to defending ourselves and being “right” or we can soften, even if we are feeling attacked, and try to hear them with an open heart. Because at that moment your partner may be speaking from an old wound, and you have the opportunity to heal both your own as well as theirs. Try to hear them beyond the words, into their heart that wants to love and be loved well.
Similarly, if you are the one sharing you can acknowledge the tender feelings underneath the anger and frustration with something as simple as “I feel really scared to say this because I don’t want you to feel attacked. But I also want to keep an open dialogue. Are you open to hearing me right now?” You can hold your own inner child by acknowledging their fear and the way they want to hide or attack, and guide them to a better way, to asking your partner if they are open to hearing your complaints.
It is a wonderful thing, isn’t it, that you can satisfy your partner’s needs and in return get yours satisfied as well. There is an old saying in the counseling field that you cannot touch with being touched. That means that every action within a relationship will impact all the people in it. When one person is giving and loving, that helps promote the other person to be the same way. (If you are wanting a specific tool on how to do this, read my blog on using Harville Hendrix’s Intentional Dialogue to bring more intimacy to difficult conversations.)
Connection, relationships, support, love, caring, all of those things are part of the human experience, and quite honestly, human need as well. It can be nerve-wracking to be in a relationship with someone, to be honest with them, but it gives you so much in return. Being open and honest, letting the connection happen and supporting the other person as they support you helps you become stronger and more fulfilled as a person in the process. Giving helps you get something wonderful in return.
If you have any questions about relationships or your role in them, please contact me for further consultation.
Karen Wolfe, LMFT
Karen Wolfe, MFT offers depth therapy with practices to deepen your connection to your Self and to others for individuals and couples in the Bay Area and via video conference across California