By Dr. Steve
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what we give, but what we share, for the gift without the giver is bare.
-James Russell Lowell
Secure connections are created by inviting your partner into your world.
have been written about what Im going to tackle in the next two chapters of this
section. I dont want to oversimplify what is truly a complex subject. However, if
you gain a heightened sensitivity for the two emotional needs Im about to discuss
with you, youll soon discover that your relationships become considerably less
conflictual, and more importantly, much more rewarding.
connection. Emotional safety. I offer these two emotional needs as targets for you and
your partner to stay focused on. When you feel things shifting in your relationship, bring
your focus back to how safe and secure you feel with your partner. If you feel like the
sand is moving beneath your feet, that somethings amiss in your relationship,
its time to clarify for yourself how safe youre feeling. Trust me, by
consistently honoring your need for a secure connection and emotional safety, most of your
other emotional needs will automatically get met along the way.
start with a secure connection. In my estimation, this is the most profound emotional need
we have. Your relationships are the cornerstone of your emotional and spiritual
well-being. Theyre the source of much of the emotional sustenance you depend upon in
your day to day life. The more stable your connections are with the people who matter
most, the more grounded and secure youll feel.
much of what we desire is derived from the nurturance we receive from other people.
Tenderness. Caring. Affection. Belonging. We all know how good it feels to be loved and
cared for. Afterall, thats why we go to all this bother in the first place. These
are but a few of the emotional needs that can only be met, in part or in whole, through
our involvement with other people.
lies the vulnerability you experience in your relationships. You know only too well how
tentative your connection to anybody can be at any point in time. Relationships are
dynamic, ever-changing. The strength of your connection with your partner shifts and
changes. You come together and drift apart. An intense feeling of closeness exists at one
point, yet somehow that closeness can transform into the precipitant for the two of you to
retreat from each other.
times you may experience you and your partner drifting apart, incapable or unwilling to
find your way back to each other. The retreat is shrouded in the ways you have of
creating, maintaining, and sustaining conflict. Yet sadly, the pain created from feeling
disconnected, from feeling too far away from your partner, can all too often go untalked
about. Does any of this have a ring of familiarity for you? Are there times when your
emotional need to feel securely connected to your partner goes unstated as you focus on
everything else but the pain of feeling disconnected?
do a reality check. Are there times that you feel like your partners attentions, or
their emotional presence has diminished or disappeared altogether? Do you recognize the
feeling of trepidation, even distrust as your partner becomes more emotionally
unavailable? Do you have words for the emotional undertow that tugs at you as you attempt
to get your partner to emotionally reenage with you? The connection that once was so
consistent, so dependable is seemingly gone, vanished into thin air.
whats at the core of much of the discord that you and your partner create as it
relates to your emotional need for a consistent connection. As your need for a stable
connection gets frustrated, the pain derived from your insatiable desire to have your
partner be close and your partners inability or unwillingness to do so bubbles
beneath the surface.
about the other side of the coin--your need to maintain a certain amount of distance and
the fear that the amount of that distance stirs in your partner. Heres the point.
Lurking beneath the surface of much of your conflict is the unexpressed pain created by
two people doing the dance of creating a connection that carries an incredible burden. The
burden? How to keep things both safe enough and fulfilling enough for two people to create
and sustain emotional intimacy in their relationship.
of all the words we have to describe that emotional disconnect. Abandonment. Withdrawal.
Retreat. Betrayal. Unavailable. Non-committal. Think of all the reasons we create to
justify that disconnect. Fear. Punishment. Ignorance. Indifference. Think of all the pain
that is stirred up when you feel disconnected from your partner. Isolation. Loneliness.
are the corrosives that eat away at our emotional and spiritual well-being. Its easy
enough to see why. The emotional underbelly of feeling disconnected is discouragement,
anger, resentment, and depression--an emotional state that takes on a life of its own,
spiraling out of control.
when were grounded by stable connections with people who honor and respect
ourselves, our emotional world takes on a whole different hue. For instance...
few weeks ago a gentleman was completing the process of leaving one of my Relationship
Bridge-Builders groups. When someone leaves the group, we take three weeks to say
good-bye. Its important to say good-bye in a way that brings honor to all the blood,
sweat, and tears that each group member has invested in building caring, nurturing
relationships with each other. This gentleman was no exception. He was truly loved by each
the time was winding down in his final session, our departing group member was asked what
it was he would be taking from his experience in the group.
he thought about the question for a moment, tears began to well up in his eyes. When he
finally spoke, his voice quivered as he softly said, Family. What I have gotten most
from my experience here is a sense of family.
never had that before. I have never known what its like to be loved by so many good
people. Learning how to get close and stay close to you guys has been the greatest gift to
paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. The person sitting next to him offered a
Kleenex. He wiped his eyes and continued. Knowing how much you care about me,
feeling free enough to be able to express it, thats meant everything to me. I carry
you guys around with me wherever I go. Your words of encouragement ring in my head
everytime I try something new. Your loving glances calm me whenever Im feeling
chuckled to himself as he saw the irony in what he was about to say. Knowing how
much you care about me has empowered me to care about me. I never realized before I joined
this group just how little I cared about myself, but being here with you week after week,
the kindest gift of all was you letting me into your world, accepting me no matter how
awful I behaved, I was able to finally accept myself, even begin to love myself.
connected means everything to us, yet sadly, we can be inept at creating and sustaining a
meaningful connection. Im going to suggest to you one simple skill. This skill will
help you successfully negotiate the dance of coming together and drifting apart. This
skill will cement those times when youre safely connected. It will help you find
each other when youve drifted apart.
scoff at me. Youll think to yourself that there has to be more to it than what
Im about to suggest. Youll accuse me of oversimplifying, underestimating the
complexity of human interaction, overgeneralizing the influence of this one skill--but I
promise you, in all my experience, the quality of any relationship bridge is predicated
upon how well you do one thing and one thing only!
one thing? I call it checking-in. Checking-in is a simple skill that enables the bond
between you and your partner to grow and strengthen. Its a skill that will enable
you to make your connection more and more secure. By initiating the process of
checking-in, you and your partner can create, maintain, and sustain a secure connection
that will enable you to support rather than withdraw from each other.
of checking-in as the process of taking the temperature of yourself, your partner, and
your relationship. You take the temperature by sharing something about yourself--your
thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Sharing about yourself in this very specific way creates
a special bond between you and your partner--a bond that makes your connection more and
to check-in? Theres a simple skill to use when you want to check-in with your
partner. I wrote about it in another of my books, Building Better Bridges. The fancy term
for this skill is self-disclosure. In more simplistic terms, I refer to it as the act of
letting yourself be known to the world. Take it from me. I sit in groups all week long. I
watch people go through every gyration known to mankind. The point of all the twisting and
turning? To avoid. To avoid being seen. To avoid being exposed. To avoid being found out.
To avoid the intensity of a close connection.
after day I watch people construct a wall between themselves and the rest of the world. I
watch how adept they are at creating emotional and physical distance between themselves
and the people in their lives. Sadly, I bear witness to the resultant chaos they create in
their lives, the bitter pain that grows out of living in a self-protected world that keeps
them safe, yet shuts out the rest of the world.
Im never discouraged. Ive also had the privilege of watching a transformation
take place when a person gives up the struggle--the struggle of wanting to have great
relationships without taking any risks. And the biggest risk of all, the biggest risk that
has the greatest return, that risk is sharing who you are with another human being.
must tell you, my friend, theres no avoiding this one immutable law. Your most
important emotional need--feeling securely connected to your partner--is going to be
fulfilled through both your willingness and know-how to open up and let your partner in.
see were back to that willingness thing and that relationship skill
thing--checking-in and self-disclosure. Notice how were back to that choice thing:
shut people out or let them in.
look at what happens when Mandy tries to check-in with Sydney. Notice how the lack of
self-disclosure keeps a connection distant and how the presence of self-disclosure can
forge a bond of love and support.
was your day? Mandy asked.
much the same as usual, Sydney replied.
not saying much, a frustrated Mandy said.
not much to say, Sydney said.
something had to happen, Mandy said.
not really. I called a few clients. Took a few orders. Oh, yea. Now that you mention it,
they let Alvin go. You remember Alvin, dont you? Been there for at least fifteen
must have been upsetting, Mandy observed.
Gee I dont know. I didnt give it much thought, Sydney said.
by the way, did you want to rent a movie tonight? Sydney asked Mandy.
dont shut me out like that. I want to know whats going on with you. You must
have been affected somehow, someway by Alvin being fired, an exasperated Mandy
was taken aback by Mandys insistent tone. All this did was serve to make him
defensive and somewhat combative. Shut you out, what are you talking about? You
asked me how my day was. I told you. I went to work, did my thing, yada, yada, yada. Now
Im asking you, do you want to watch a video with me tonight?
Is there something else that Im not getting here? If so, please tell me.
Otherwise get off my back. What more do you want from me? How can you accuse me of
shutting you out? Sydney asked as he walked out of the room with both eyes glued to
the TV guide.
this couple remind you of Jack Webbs character, Sergeant Friday? You know what I
mean--just the facts maam. You can see why, cant you? Does this couple connect
or merely exchange information?
rank, and serial number. Thats Sydneys modus operandi. Does that build bridges
or walls between two people? Exchanging information is not an invitation to let your
partner in, its an act of keeping your partner out. You give your partner a lot of
information but very little of you. Its really quite simple. Information is just the
means used to put your partner off.
through checking-in has a very specific purpose--to build an emotional bridge between two
people. An emotional bridge can only be constructed by letting someone into your
world--not shutting them out; self-disclosures sole role in this process is to
enable you to talk with your partner, not at your partner.
think about this for a moment. What was the purpose of Sydneys conversation with
Mandy in the above scenario? Was it to share something about himself with Mandy? Was it to
invite Mandy into his world so that she could better understand him? Was it to reach out
to Mandy for support? And how does all of that make Mandy feel?
a moment and write down some lessons that Sydney might learn about how Mandy is affected
when he shuts her out.
lets see what things look like when Sydney does more self-disclosing when Mandy
checks-in. Notice how the tone changes between them. Notice how the outcome ends in
support, and physical and emotional connection rather than physical and emotional
was your day? Mandy asked.
know, did the usual. But in the afternoon, boy, work was in an uproar, Sydney
happened? Mandy asked
let Alvin go, Sydney said.
you remember Alvin. Whew, that blew me away. If theyll do that to Alvin,
theyll do that to anybody.
sound worried, Mandy said kindly.
you know how it is out there. I can ill afford to lose my job now, yet I feel like
Im waiting for the other shoe to drop and Im afraid its going to land
right on me. Can you imagine what would happen to us if I lost my job?
Syd, I understand how worried you are, but you dont have to let your imagination run
wild. Well be all right, Mandy said, trying to reassure Sydney.
dont know. I feel like were both carrying such a big load as it is. I worry
about the burden it will put on you. And wheres someone my age going to get a job
like I have now?
how can I reassure you? Well both be all right.
just your asking helps. You know how I get when things get all bottled up. I know
youd be there for me, but hearing you say what you said, keeps my mind from
yea, I know. But thanks for letting me know where youre at. I promise you, though,
everything is going to be all right, Mandy said as they both hugged each other.
you see the difference between the second scenario and the first? Sydney was more willing
to talk about himself rather than videos and television programs. In the first scenario,
Sydney became defensive and walked away. In the second scenario, he willingly told Mandy
how he was affected by Alvin being fired. Because he let Mandy in, she was able to be
there for him rather than having to guess at what was going on with him.
you see how checking-in created a secure connection in scenario #2 whereas Sydneys
unwillingness to check-in in scenario #1 created a wall? In scenario #2, the connection
was created out of Sydneys willingness to be open by using the skill of
review for a moment. The skills are checking-in and self-disclosure. The act is letting
someone into your world by sharing who you are with them. The means to letting someone
into your world is sharing yourself. What you share about yourself with another person are
your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
as it relates to the sustaining of a secure connection between you and your partner has a
very specific focus--you, your partner, the relationship, and the here-and-now.
Theres a lot to chew on in that last sentence. Let me pick it apart so that you can
better appreciate the enormity of what Im suggesting.
hoped for outcome of checking-in is to keep you and your partner connected. The purpose of
checking-in with each other is to demonstrate an interest and concern with how each of you
are several benefits to inviting your partner into your world. I have already talked about
how important feeling understood is. Self-disclosure is the basis for which your partner
will best be able to understand you. The more open you are, the less your partner will
have to guess at what is going on with you.
better understood creates a bond between you and your partner. Each new bond thats
constructed between you and your partner makes your connection all that much more secure.
The ultimate outcome of a more secure connection is a continued feeling of acceptance,
feeling cared about, and every other goodie that we so desperately want from our
you and your partner take the time to check-in with each other, treat it as the precious
time that it is. Use it as an opportunity to focus on the state of yourselves as well as
the relationship. If youre problemsolving with your partner, spend as much time on
the underlying relationship issue as you do on the circumstances that created the problem.
when focusing on the underlying relationship issue, use the following guidelines as a way
of talking about yourself and the relationship. Youll discover instantly what a
difference the skill of checking-in will make in untangling the conflict youre
experiencing, thereby strengthening your connection with your partner.
The dos and donts for effectively checking-in
Talk with your partner rather
than at your partner.
Talk about yourself or the
relationship rather than irrelevant external circumstances.
Express what you need from your
partner rather than relive a laundry list of past wrongs.
Express the feelings
youre experiencing in the moment rather than editorialize with your opinions and
Focus on the here-and-now
rather than the distant past or the unpredictable future.
Share pieces about who you are
rather than explain your partner to your partner.
Share pieces about who you are
rather than exchange information.
Share pieces about who you are
rather than defending or justifying who you are.
is a skill thats going to take a lot of practice. It will feel unnatural to you at
first. You will feel self-conscious, in some ways, emotionally naked.
only way this will begin to feel more comfortable for you is to do it over and over again.
By undertaking the risk of checking-in with your partner, your partner has a
responsibility to you. That responsibility is to honor your efforts at creating a stronger
connection with you. You see, the cement that will hold this together for the two of you
is trust. Youll need to know that your partner is trustworthy--that no harm or
embarrassment will come to you because of your efforts.
take your time with this skill. Youll backslide, I guarantee it. Just know that when
you pull back, its okay to do so. But you need to understand that youre
pulling back to seek cover. Once it feels safe again, commit to coming back out again.
you see the paradox Im suggesting? Its a whole new way of defining what a safe
relationship is. Im suggesting a new way of creating safety for both of you.
Emotional safety is no longer buried in the foxhole in which youve lived much of
your life, but nestled in the safety that comes from two people being securely connected.
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