“…love is a continual process of seeking and losing emotional connection, and reaching out to find it again. The bond of love is a living thing. If we don’t attend to it, it naturally begins to wither.” — Dr. Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight
In our world of endless distractions and to do lists, it is easy to lose emotional connection with our loved ones (children included) and let the distance grow unchecked. When we don’t slow down and reflect on our relationships they do not get the nurturing they need to thrive.
Eye contact, hand holding, deep listening and other forms of comforting or engagement fall by the wayside when we rush from activity to activity or task to task. Our nervous systems were not meant to operate this way. We need the relief of play and reassurance. Playfulness comes about when we have time and space to lighten up. A packed schedule has us head down, gritting our teeth and moving fast. Lightheartedness is not a natural byproduct of busyness. When we joke around with others, we release tension in our bodies. When we physically goof around, we use our bodies to make others laugh and feel at ease.
Reassurance can be as simple as confirming the plan for later tonight or catching someone’s eye after they receive bad news. It says, “I’m here for you.” That phrase can be as meaningful as “I love you”. Both allow us to relax. Both fortify us.
We won’t be connected 100% of the time
I spent time with an old friend over the weekend. The last time we met, about seven years ago, we were both fairly dissatisfied in our relationships. My marriage was ending and her relationship was frustrating and stale. I eventually divorced my husband but she stayed with her man. As we talked last weekend, she told me she’d learned that every relationship involves moving away from each other emotionally and physically and then moving back toward each other again. The resilient relationships handle the fluctuations. They know they won’t be connected 100% of the time, but that’s OK. The time will come again when they will feel close with their partner.
It’s easy enough to lose emotional connection with our loved ones. We only have to let the trillions of distractions that bombard us every day, replace time and care with our special people.
Staying present and engaged
The more difficult endeavor is to remain present and engaged in our lives so we can tend to our needs, our partner’s or children’s. Reaching out again and again to reconnect seems like something we should not have to do after a few years together, but when our relationships go on autopilot they are in danger of drifting into knee-jerk reactions, feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Our person is physically present but not emotionally present.
How to move through the distancing and loneliness? Below are a few of the ways to regain connection:
- Recall moments of pure safety and connection in the past. Remembering positive relational moments reminds us that our partner probably has good intentions and gives us a connecting point with them. Run through the memories by yourself but also share them with your special people. “Remember that time you told me you would stand with me when I lost my job?”
- Notice and absolve attachment wounds as soon as they surface. (Emotional) safety first. We can’t focus on day to day problems when our brains have been hi-jacked by past injuries. When we stress out we resort to bad old habits. We let our primitive brain take charge of our behavior. If we create safety through responsiveness, we feel less alone, more able to problem solve, more able to empathize and tolerate uncertainty. Notice when you see your lover becoming anxious and quickly try to soothe them with verbal or non-verbal reassurance like telling them you are not leaving until you work through the issue together or by simply taking their hand.
- Creating and actively participating in rituals. Kiss and hold each other before going to sleep at night. Greet each other with long slow hugs each time one of you returns home. Attend spiritual services together. Celebrate special dates like anniversaries and birthdays in very personal ways. Rituals cement us to the present. They help us focus and slow down.
- Express gratitude and thankfulness regularly with your partner, friends or family. Take every opportunity to appreciate and thank someone out loud. This shifts our minds from what isn’t working to what is.
When conflict or distance show up in our relationships we feel scared and uncomfortable. The conflict and the discomfort are normal. They do not have to spell doom for a relationship. They are just part of the process. How comfortable we become with the fluctuations and how willing we are to reach out to regain closeness determine how resilient and fulfilling our relationships are.
When you feel disconnected with your partner what is your first reaction? Your second? How do you reconnect with your loved ones?