Are We In This Together?

There are many things that can bring a couple to see me for therapy: excessive fighting, lack of intimacy, or a strong feeling of separateness from ones partner. Regardless of the reason why they come in, there is almost always one common underlying theme that they all share, ‘I don’t feel like we’re in this together.’

Science has begun to show that our need for others, better known as attachment, is a primitive drive, just like eating when we’re hungry and drinking when we’re thirsty. This attachment creates strong emotional bonds between humans and these bonds have been essential for our survival as a species.

There are many things that help strengthen the bonds of attachment. Things like a touch, a kiss, spending quality time together and so on. As we do the actions that build these bonds, we feel closer to others. This closeness helps us feel safe and secure by letting us know that someone will be there for us if we need them. On the other hand, if someone does something that threatens the bonds of attachment, the brain sends out a warning of panic to the body. It does so because this bond, like mentioned above, is perceived by the brain as being essential to our survival. The loss of a bond, or the threat of loss, to someone close to us in essence is translated by the brain as the possibility of death, literally or figuratively.

The things that were a threat to our ancestors may not be a concern anymore. We’re not too likely to be attacked by a lion or bear in our sleep but not much time has really passed if you consider evolutionary terms. Our brains and our genes have to adapt, which is a slow process, to the changes in potential threats.

When the brain sends out the alarm that there is a threat to our closest bond, whether real or perceived, we are left wondering, ‘Are we in this together?’ We start desperately looking for signs that our loved one still cares for us, still needs us. Every little thing is analyzed for positive or negative cues to the state of the others feeling. The smallest things, things that never bothered us before are seen as offenses. Since the day you met he never commented on how you looked but now it is seen as he doesn’t want you and is going to leave you. She never complained about Thursday night card games with the boys but now she protests and accuses you of having a girlfriend.

If the feeling of ‘Are we in this together’ is so important, how do we maintain or restore this feeling of togetherness?

Listen. It is important to set your own feeling and beliefs aside and truly hear the other person. This does not mean you need to agree with them, but if a persons feels heard, they will know that they are valued and important.

Don’t be a yes man or woman. Over time it is detrimental to a relationship to be a yes man/woman. To tell or make a person feel heard and understood and then totally ignoring what the issue was about will result in a boat load of resentment. They will begin to believe that you don’t really care and you were just trying to shut them up. It is far better to disagree. This way you and the other can find a solution that is more acceptable to both of you.

Take an interest. Even if you don’t enjoy the same hobbies or interest, be excited for the other person when they are excited about a hobby or interest. This demonstrates that you are in tune with what is important to them.

Pay attention. Whether it’s you child, family or spouse, set aside special time for them. Dedicate a time when they can have your undivided attention, free of outside distraction. “My day is too busy, I don’t have time” you say. Spending less time on mind numbing distractions like TV or reading this blog will free up some of your time. There is enough time in the day if you prioritize. Get up and go show someone there special.

Talk about it. Let the other person know what concerns you have. This will ward off the buildup of resentment and anger which inevitable leads to you blowing up and having a huge fight.
What we ignore doesn’t go away, it follows us and grows bigger. These are only a few suggestions to keeping the emotional bonds strong. The small but regular time you spend each day or week will ultimately save you a whole lot of aggravation, time and heart ache. It’s the quality of you attention not quantity that makes a difference.

What do you do to show you loved ones ‘We’re in this together?’

Ken Burns

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