What “Connection” in Your Relationship Actually Means

One of the most common questions I encounter in my office end up being about relationships. Couples often tell me that they don’t feel “connected,” or that their relationship failed because they were not “connected.” When I ask them what they mean, they say that they didn’t feel like there was enough interest being shown, or that one of them valued the relationship differently than the other.

Some people just aren’t all that compatible. Daytime talk shows and endless self-help books breathlessly tout the virtues of “compromise” as if it’s the end-all and be-all. My experience has shown that too much compromise can be worse than no relationship at all. A relationship shouldn’t be a nonstop negotiation. Choices can be difficult, and each partner must make up his or her mind about whether it’s worth it.

One key to sustaining a relationship is to turn differences into strengths. This is a lot more effective than wasting time trying to change somebody. Many problems with romantic love stem from attitudes that men and women hold about themselves and each other. Much is made about the differences between men and women, but both sexes often share one glaring error: They fail to take responsibility for the emotional aspects of their thoughts, i.e., to be aware of what they feel, why they feel it, and what they objectively think of those feelings. This is called the “examined life,” predicated on awareness and self-reflection.

Some men sidestep this responsibility by ignoring that emotions exist. “Emotions? What are you talking about? I don’t feel that way! And why should I bother to talk about this?” I suspect that’s why men tend to resist therapy more than women do. Women, on the other hand, are inclined to be more aware of their emotions, but sometimes won’t submit them to reason and logic. Of course, not all men and women are this way, and the extent to which they are is often a matter of degree. That being said, women sometimes make the error of elevating emotions above reason. And men (who often ignore that emotions even exist) are driven away by this. At the same time, the men evade responsibility for their own mental health and the impact on those close to them. This, of course, drives women away. This cycle can be the reason why so many marriages flounder. Individual cases will vary, but intimacy, loyalty and good communication cannot be maintained unless each partner takes responsibility for his or her psychological self.

Couples therapist John Gottman, Ph.D. says, “Whether people are struggling to save a marriage, to cooperate in a family crisis or to build rapport with a difficult boss, they usually have one thing in common: They need to share emotional information that can help them feel connected…. Whatever conflicts the couples may have — sex, money, housework, kids — all of them long for evidence that their spouses understand and care about what they’re feeling. Sharing such information through words and behavior is essential for improving any significant relationship.”

This applies to all kinds of relationships. I have a friend who is a physician. Though she may only spend a short while with each of her patients, they always tell me that they feel like she talked to them much longer. While some medical professionals leave you feeling rushed, physicians such as my friend generate just the opposite feeling by being engaged and connected.

The old cliché, “Make every moment count” is, in fact, true. The more you engage in life, the more you’ll get out of life. Be alert, aware and present. Don’t try to do two, six or twelve things at the same time. Don’t water yourself down with the myth of “multitasking.” Instead, do fewer things better and more thoroughly. Make the one you love feel that you’re engaged and interested. It’s good for you, and it will great for him or her.


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