There is one element that continues to be proven again and again as being the foundation of my marriage as it evolves and grows over the years: the emotional connection that my husband and I share.
And after years of closely observating all kinds of other relationships, I continue to come to the same conclusion: there really is no real, authentic relationship without a real, authentic emotional connection with one's partner.
Two relationship partners can certainly coexist, maintain a household, have fun, save for retirement and even raise children together without being emotionally connected. But such relationships devoid of a growing emotional connection do not endure each person's own way of changing over time, life’s curve balls, and... the test of time.
Additionally, past the checked boxes of buying a house and raising children, partners who are not emotionally connected are left longing for more without always being able to put the finger on that "more."
What does it mean to be emotionally connected?
People are emotionally connected when they can share and receive - both verbally and non-verbally - at the levels of feelings, hopes, dreams, fears and vulnerabilities. It's about the content of what’s happening in our inner world beyond the facts. It takes place in the heart, not in the mind.
An authentic emotional connection does not happen instantly. It grows like a garden. It first starts small by blossoming in the dating phase when sharing progressively more sensitive topics and feelings takes place. As the relationship grows and matures, both partners ideally become little by little more comfortable, emotionally safer with one another and better able at sharing and receiving at the deeper levels of their inner experience. This more mature emotional connection hopefully continues to grow over the lifetime of the relationship.
This way of relating to one another can take many different forms and flavors because each relationship is unique. Partners who primarily operate from their emotional center will relate emotionally in a different way than partners who tend to operate from the mind or gut center. Regardless of individual personality styles, being able and willing to relate at the level of emotions is essential to feel close, loved, fulfilled and to be able to make good decisions together, deal with conflicts and hardships, and support one another throughout life.
Emotional connection with a partner starts with emotional connection to self
There is no possibility of growing emotionally together if we’re not able to connect emotionally with our own self first. Are we in touch with our feelings? Can we feel emotions as they arise, first in the physical dimension then in the mind? Can we hold these feelings with acceptance and compassion?
Just so you know, it’s very normal to struggle with these questions. If we were not raised by emotionally aware people (which is the most likely scenario), it was not mirrored to us how to experience our feelings in a natural and healthy way. We might have been unconsciously encouraged to lash out from our reactive self, repress our feelings, and/or become numb to them.
Therefore on our path to a deeper emotional connection with a partner, we might have to first reconnect with a part of our self that we have not been in touch with for a long time. It’s a sensitive part of our inner work but it's beautiful and very freeing as we start to get to know a deeper part of our self.
The first step is to be willing to become quiet for a little bit. A good starting practice is to take a moment every day to sit peacefully, focus inwardly and feel into the body, the sensations, and little by little the feelings that are under the surface, ready to arise in our counsciousness.
Being in touch with one's sensitivity and soft parts in a non-judgmental and compassionate way is a prerequisite to being able to be in that state with another human being, and to becoming able to be present with their own tender parts as well.
How to tell that you and your partner are emotionally connected?
You're emotionally connected with your partner when you can go beyond facts, logistics and intellectual banter and into the world of feelings and everything that goes with them: hopes, dreams, fears, vulnerabilities and of course fulfillment, gratitude and joy.
It's when you can – when it’s relevant – bring to the surface and into the conversation your self-criticism, your shame, your anxieties, even (gasp!) the ones that are connected to the relationship.
It's when you can receive and be present to your partner's feelings by simply listening, reflecting, validating, without needing to defend, oppose, “fix”, or run away.
It's when you and your partner feel safe enough that you can have a deeper conversation about a conflict where you both can take responsibility for your own feelings, mistakes, regrets without collapsing and needing to defend, blame or go into hiding.
When we can do this for our own self and when our partner can do this for their own self, doing this together becomes natural and even essential to feeling well in the relationship.
Note: it does not mean that we are constantly relating at that level! It means that the emotional connection serves as a trusted foundation for safety and that it's available when it's relevant or desired to share at that level.
What if being emotionally connected is not enough to maintain the relationship?
Nurturing an emotional connection with our partner is necessary… but not sufficient.
It makes the relationship real, loving, full of life, and able to grow over time. It also greatly increases the chance of being able to address and resolve conflicts and it tends to keep people committed for the long-term.
However it does not make people compatible. Compatibility - one of the Four Pillars of Happy and Healthy Relationships - is another necessary ingredient to a long-term relationship, and no amount of emotional connection can create it.
Some people get into relationships - and become progressively more emotionally connected - before having carefully assessed their long-term compatibility. Others become less compatible over time as they allow themselves – consciously or not – to grow in a different direction than their partner.
And finally, mistakes happen and no matter how emotionally connected we are and how capable we are to understand and forgive, we might still decide that we can’t continue the relationship after certain events have taken place.
Building and nurturing an emotional connection is absolutely essential if we want to have a real relationship that is loving, authentic, happy and healthy, but we also have to be realistic that some relationships don't have what it takes to last forever.
Be in touch with me if you'd like to be introduced to practices customized specifically for you to grow in your emotional center and/or to encourage your relationship to grow emotionally. I'd be honored to support you in this beautiful and meaningful process!