Navigating the demands of adult life can be challenging. From bills to pay, to increased responsibility, adulthood can bring with it great joy as well as stress and frustration. Adult relationships comprise a central part of everyday life. Whether it be through engagement with family, friends, children, or romantic partners, relationships provide the opportunity for individuals to grow, learn new things about oneself, and gain insight into the world of the other. Despite the opportunity for growth and learning, close relationships are not without their stress. Intimate relationships carry with them ups and downs. For instance, being involved in a close relationship likely means that each person is depending on the other to meet most of their needs. Inevitably, disappointment and feelings of anger occur when one partner feels they have been let down. Needless to say, adult relationships carry with it the inevitability of experiencing the whole range of emotionality; disappointment, anger, joy, excitement, arousal, and sadness.
Why do intimate relationships, familial or otherwise, cause a person to feel so much? Discoveries of the mind over the last 100 years can help answer the question of why adult relationships are intrinsically connected to the person’s emotional world. The science of the human brain and discovery of cure from psychoanalysis (Glickauf-Hughes & Wells, 1997) reveal at a fundamental level humans are built for relationships. Meaning, humans could not exist in this world without the involvement of other humans. For example, infants are completely dependent on their caregivers to live. They would die without food, shelter, safety, even without emotional connection. Neuroscience discoveries of brain structure are consistently revealing how people are built to live and function with other people. For example, discoveries show that specific areas in the brain only respond to the emotional expressions of others. This is their sole purpose. Also, these areas of the brain are fully functional all the way back in infancy. Basically, the brain is hard wired to connect with others right from birth!
Psychoanalytic studies in infant research show in great detail how babies connect with their caregivers. There are different styles of connecting between babies and their caregivers, which are called “attachment styles.” The first style is labeled secure attachment. This means the child is able to be comforted by their caregiver when they become upset. The other style is insecure attachment, in which it is very difficult for the child to be comforted by their caregiver when they become upset (Karen, 1994).
A specific way in which babies and their caregivers are studied is through observing how the baby and caregiver interact with each other. One of many observations is when the baby points at something to get the caregiver’s attention. This is an attempt for the baby to connect with the caregiver. If the caregiver responds, then the baby will feel connected. If the caregiver does not respond, the baby will continue to feel disconnected. If disconnection is a frequent event between baby and the caregiver, the baby could develop an insecure attachment. If the caregiver is attuned most of the time the attachment will remain secure (Karen, 1994).
Since a foundation of human relationships is connection, this same behavior continues to be observed in adulthood. Adults need the same contact with their loved ones as they did when they were babies. Because of this, adults behave in ways to gain the attention of their close loved ones just as they did when they were younger. Gottman (2002) observed adult relationships having this same pattern especially in marriage relationships. He labeled it the “bid for connection.” For example, a husband will point to something that interests him hoping to get a response back from his spouse that in some way mirrors his interest. If he gets a response he was hoping for, he will feel connected. If he does not get what he was hoping for, he may feel disappointed. Gottman shares the more a couple can connect with each other in these small ways the healthier their relationship (2002). His research has confirmed that connection in adulthood relationships is important. It is how humans come to know themselves and know others. To put it differently, one only comes to know themselves through the eyes of the other.
In order to create a greater sense of connection with loved ones, one needs to learn a few relational skills and ask some important questions on how to ask for needs of connection. Here are five ways to help stay connected:
1.) Take time to put into words what you need in a relationship. This maybe very difficult for some as this may be the first time a person has put words to what they want. Ask to start a conversation about what you need to move towards getting your needs met. For example, do you need more quality time with each other? Or, do you need less time with each other?
2.) Think about the different emotions you experience in the relationship. Humans have five basic emotions: sadness, anger, happiness, fear, and shame. Close relationships can stir up any of these emotions. Additionally, the emotions a person feels in a particular relationship can be the number one source of information to guide that person in knowing how to assess if the relationship is meeting the person’s needs.
3.) It is important you are getting your needs met in a healthy way. If you are not getting your needs met by the one you love, then how are you getting those needs met? How do you distract yourself? Do you turn to alcohol or drugs? Do you choose healthy outlets to get your needs met?
4.) Getting one’s needs met also means meeting the need of the other. Ask yourself what gets stirred up as you meet the need of the other? Meeting another’s need can bring with it its own set of emotions. For example, one could feel resentful or manipulated to fulfill another's needs.
5.) Seeing a therapist can also be extremely helpful. Finding a well trained psychologist or psychoanalyst can get one on track to explore the deeper meaning of why a relationship is not going well.
These are some of the many questions a person can ask to help navigate the process of finding a greater connection with others. These questions can allow one to find the path to the journey of adult connectedness. Just as babies reach out to their caregivers for connection, adults also need to reach out for connection with the important people in their lives.
Glickauf-Hughes, C., & Wells, M. (1997). Object relations psychotherapy: An individualized and interactive approach to diagnosis and treatment. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Gottman, J. (2002). The Relationship Cure. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press
Karen, R. (1994). Becoming attached. New York, NY: Oxford University Pre