Sue has started complaining and questioning Joe all the time. His response is, “I don’t know what you want from me. I have told you everything. I honestly don’t get it.” Joe leaves the house thinking he can never be good enough nor can he ever measure up to her expectations.
These two people really do want to connect. Her way of connecting is for her husband to prove that he still loves her. She wants him to prove that she can still trust him and that he is committed to her.
Joe wants Sue’s approval. He wants to share the good and the bad without being attacked. He needs her to love him whether he messes up or not. He feels smothered and does not believe there is anything he can do to make her trust him.
“This is a vicious cycle that many adults find themselves dealing with in their marriage relationship,” said Janet Bales, licensed professional counselor. “Neither one of them recognizes the often hidden issues like power, recognition, acceptance, integrity, control and caring/commitment that come into play when seeking emotional intimacy. These hidden issues are creating huge problems for them in understanding one another and making a connection.
“In my counseling practice I see people who look to their spouse for exclusive emotional connectedness and sense of belonging that once was contributed to by parents, grandparents, neighborhoods, friends and others in their world in addition to their spouse. This puts enormous pressure on the spouse to meet all these emotional needs.”
The majority of people responding to a 2006 National Science Foundation Survey stated that the number of confidants in their inner circle was shrinking. Additionally, a growing number stated that they had no one in whom they could confide.
“When I started counseling in 1984, experts projected that by the ‘90s people would be cocooning in their homes,” Bales said. “Now we are dealing with individualized entertainment like computers, iPods, etc. within the cocoon. Instead of families sitting together to watch a movie or television show, everybody is doing their own thing somewhere by themselves. There is an emptiness created by the absence of neighborhood gatherings, church socials, family meals and other events that promote opportunities for emotional connection between human beings.”
In her book, Released from Shame, Dr. Sandra Wilson states that many experts believe we are dealing with emotionally starved adults who originate from homes with emotionally anemic parents.
“Research consistently shows that we are hard-wired for emotional intimacy,” Bales said. “Studies indicate that the quality of connection to loved ones and emotional deprivation from early childhood attachments can be the determining factor of the health or lack thereof in future relationships.”
If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel like there is no emotional intimacy, there is hope. Bales suggests a number of ways couples can build or rebuild emotional connectedness in their marriage:
- Put down the electronics – While most consider them a blessing, they can actually be a curse when it comes to emotional intimacy in your marriage.
- Put away your cell phone, iPod and computers. All this individualized entertainment is a hindrance to connecting.
- Attend marriage enrichment classes that will help you turn your relationship around.
- Read a book like Hold Me Tight, Safe Haven or Fighting for Your Marriage.
- Seek help from a marriage-friendly counselor.
- Don’t give up. Emotional connection takes time and a willingness from both people to take some risks and responsibility for their part in reconnecting.
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As a Certified Family Life Educator Julie writes and speaks on issues related to strengthening marriages and families.