Many people want love in their lives. It is a vital ingredient of being human. We were born through our mother’s body, most likely we nursed on her breasts, and we were held, touched, and attended to; we develop in connection to others. Our survival depends on relationships, and we are not designed to be without them.
When relationships stop working, a personal wound might need to be addressed. Many of us grew up in homes in which various kinds of disconnection occurred. If our caretakers were preoccupied, angry, needy, or impatient, we may have felt neglected at times. We may have lost someone we loved, or have been disregarded or abused. As children, we had to survive this pain. We may have learned to push our feelings outside of our awareness or developed ways to tolerate these disconnects. We bring these survival techniques into our future relationships, and they usually do not work.
Connection and safety are intricately bound. Our relationships trigger primal survival needs. When threatened, the primal fears of an infant emerge. Survival is at the root of our relationships, and it is difficult to play or be vulnerable when you do not feel safe.afraid of abandonment, of being overwhelmed, or of feeling trapped. Those feelings can emerge as rage, fear, longing, or grief, causing us to react negatively rather than respond reasonably. We often do not see where these feelings come from. We have no way to link them to an actual past event. All we know is that something feels awful and we struggle to be seen, heard, and understood. The emotional dance that emerges, born of deep longings for safety and connection, is not logical.
Feeling safe, asking for what we need, and being responsive are paramount to our health and happiness. Safety must exist for both intimacy and play to be present in a committed relationship. While we do not need to delve into the past to change things, it usually helps. We need to start examining and improving our current relational skills.
- Do you accept too little in a relationship? If you accept too little, it is time to decide that you deserve more and figure out what is stopping you.
- Are you too demanding? If it always has to be your way, you will need to trust that you can get enough of what you need without misusing your power.
- Can you ask for what you need? Do you believe that you have impact—that you are worth listening to and being responded to? Why not?
- What are the ways that you disconnect? Are you willing to re-engage?
- Do you feel safe and loved in your relationship—safe enough to be vulnerable and to play? What do you need to help you feel safer and more connected?
- Are you responsive to your partner? This will help your partner feel safe with you.
We are imperfect beings who love and are loved by other imperfect beings. While disagreements and differences are part of life and growth, conflict can make us react negatively to these differences. Deep down, we likely fear losing, not getting what we need, and not being loved.
Are you secure enough to recognize your emotions—while also listening to your partner express emotion—without making them feel wrong? Sustaining a connected relationship (with the right person) requires work and communication. We must feel confident enough to tolerate differences and remain responsive and loving even when we are uncomfortable.
© Copyright 2009 by Jennifer Lehr. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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