In every romantic Hollywood movie, there is that one critical scene in which we, the audience, can tell that the couple is falling in love. At these well-crafted moments the characters make some romantic gesture, a smile, a look or a dreamy gaze into each other’s eyes. We know instantly what has just happened. We can identify with the experience so well that no words are needed.
Do you remember the beginning of your relationship, when you were romantically and hopelessly “in love”? Do you remember how naturally and almost spontaneously you paid attention to your partner’s every action and word, every expression of feeling? Do you remember how alive and exuberant you felt? Over time, we may become more complacent, less attentive and maybe even more jaded in our feelings with our partner. Do you ever long for that romantic time, that falling in love feeling, when things were simpler and that loving and tender feeling came easily?
Romantic love is nature’s way of emotionally attaching us to our partner in the first place. Deeper mature, long lasting love requires us to build and sustain a secure bond. We need to be able to pay attention and tune in to our partner’s feelings as strongly over time as we did when we fell in love. How do we do this? It is not simple. But it is possible. Sue Johnson, in her book Hold Me Tight, outlines how we can deliberately create moments of emotional engagement with our partner.
In previous articles I have written about how accessible, responsive and engaged you are, how to stop destructive conversations, identify your raw spots, and how to de-escalate conflict. You must be successful at those ways of improving your relationship in order to be ready for the next step of creating and sustaining these moments of connection. Those five skills are a prerequisite to acquiring the ability to become courageous enough to ask for the love you need. You must be able to calm the waters between you and within yourself, before you can create and sustain these moments of connection. Love and fear co-exist in all intimate relationships. First you need to figure out what you are most afraid of and then what you need most from your partner.
What Are You Most Afraid Of?
The world of feelings is a foreign place for some people. It can be an unfamiliar and frightening place. Many people avoid or dismiss their feelings. It is important to learn to identify, become familiar with them and express them in order to accomplish this first step of getting ready for moments of connection.
Try this exercise with your partner.
1. With your partner, think about a recent difficult time in the past two weeks. It could be a quarrel or perhaps a discussion that you did not finish because it was difficult to resolve.
2. On a piece of paper write down what you think blocks you from being able to focus on your feelings. What is it that gets in the way of going deeper into knowing how you truly feel? Perhaps, you go into your head and start thinking rather than feeling. You may do this in order to stay in control of your emotions. Write down what blocks you from your feelings and ask your partner to do the same.
3. Can you now identify some of the words and phrases that represent your fears, your embarrassments, sadness, or hurt? Most of us have some powerful descriptive images, words, or phrases. For example like “overwhelmed” “petrified” “under siege” “sabotaged” “shattered” “devastated” “in a fog” “like little kid being scolded” . Write these down.
4. Of the two of you, identify who is the most reserved or withdrawn. This person goes first and shares their answers to steps #1, and # 2 above. The listening partner responds with what it feels like to hear these disclosures. Is it easy of difficult to hear the answers of your partner? If hard, at what point and what feelings came up for you? Examine these feelings together.
5. Repeat step #4 with the listening partner sharing their answers with the reserved one.
What Do You Most Need From Your Partner?
Now that you have the experience of declaring what you are most afraid of from the exercise above, it naturally follows for you to ask for what you need. Fear and longing are two sides the same coin. What do you long for from your partner?
Try this exercise on your own.
1. Think about what you need most from your partner to feel secure and loved. Write it down.
If you need some help here are some examples of what others have said:
- I am special to you and you really value our relationship. I need reassurance that I am number one with you and nothing is more important to you than us.
- I am wanted by you, as a partner and a lover – that making me happy is important to you.
- I am loved and accepted with my failings and imperfections. I cannot be perfect for you.
- I am needed. You want me close.
- I am safe because you care about my feelings, what hurts me and my needs.
- I can count on you to be there and not to leave me alone when I need you the most.
- I ask that you hold me and you understand how just asking for that is very hard for me.
2. Share what you need most with your partner. Because this conversation contains the most emotional and vulnerable aspect of our being, you may need to edge up to it slowly and carefully. Have the conversation when each of you is ready.
Engaging in a conversation with your partner that creates and sustains moments of connection is a positive bonding event. It promotes the connection for you and your partner to face struggles in the world as a team. The more of these deeper conversations you have, the stronger the bond between you will grow, allowing mature love to deeper and flourish.