With so many quotes and quips thrown out as well-intended but awful advice it’s no wonder we get so lost, so much deeper, and so much heavier in our hearts. We start to look at every angle and explore where we must’ve gone wrong. We even ask, “What is wrong with me?” After all, he’s a good guy, comes home every night, and makes us a decent living. He really loves me! Why isn’t that enough?!

And the answer can be found in the literature. We are more and more growing into a party of two. For better or for worse, we are turning toward our partner for more than ever. Our grandparents, and even our parent’s generations had so much more in the way of communal support. They lived in close proximity to very dear friends and family. Need a cup of sugar? Granny’s bound to have one down the road. Need a hug and someone to talk to? Uncle Ben looks to be taking his lunch break right around the corner. We used to have regular access to support and social gatherings (read: Sunday dinner….EVERY SUNDAY) where we sought emotional closeness and connection. In today’s age, we just don’t have that anymore.

If we peel this back a bit more you might say, “But I take my kids to soccer and chat with the other parents!” Or you might hear message, “Okay, so you’re saying I’ve got to go out and join that book club, make more friends, or visit your parents more often?” But what I’m really calling you to do is examine how much of our emotional weight falls onto the relationship. To be honest about that heavy load we bring home every night. Don’t lighten it, don’t add to it. Just take a look.

Really evaluate how often we turn to our significant other, and share our concerns. We vent again about how unfairly our boss treated us in the weekly meeting. Or we complained that they just aren’t pitching in and helping with laundry!! What’s more is we’re also expecting our partners to still actively plan surprises and fun-filled date nights. We hope for collaboration and commitment when it comes to sitting down and getting the budget under control. We long for the kitchen to be clean when we walk in from a hard day at the office. We need to know that we can break down because it’s all piling up right before our very eyes. Love, folks, IS NOT all we need.

We need to know, ARE you there for me? ARE you able to hear me despite the millions of other things on your to-do list? ARE you able to understand my need for solitude, but then my desire to come back to you for connection? ARE you thinking of me?

Sue Johnson’s work on couples and connection highlights this huge question. She explains further in her book Hold Me Tight that partners need to know the three components to this question.

A – Are you Accessible? Can I reach you?

Accessibility means staying open and available to one another, even when it’s hard. It’s that moment where you each struggle to understand and made sense of your feelings so they aren’t so overwhelming and devastating. When the barrier to hearing one another shifts from being catastrophic to simply uncomfortable.

R – Are you Responsive? Can I rely on you to respond to me, when I’m expressing to you my feelings?

Responsiveness is tuning in and showing that their emotions have an impact on you. It means hearing their pleas to seek comfort in your presence, and listening intently when they need you. It’s offering a gentle touch to help them calm down.

E – Are you Engaged? Do I know you care for me, and want to help me through?

Emotional engagement mans the cultivating and sharing the very special kind of attention that we give only to a loved one. We linger in our gaze, we offer to hold and touch them. In other words, you’re emotionally present.

You can see, we don’t just need to love and be loved. We need much more. We’re hardwired to feel close, connected, bonded. I urge you to continue your reflections this week by answering these questions about yourself. Pushing your emotional comfort zone and exploring how you can answer YES when asking yourself, ARE you bringing your full self into your relationship?

Stacy Griffin, MEd LPC-S