Our deepest need in this life is to feel connection. We are wired for it. We crave it. Our health and happiness from infancy forward is dependent on intimate relationships with others. Infants with loving, attentive caregivers thrive while those without physical touch or human affection often die or suffer a lifetime of deep rooted despair and inability to bond with others. Children and teens who experience peer rejection without any close friends or family whom they trust to love them are at risk for depression and suicide. Marriages will flourish or flounder based on the level of connection felt by the couple from each other. Our ability to survive depends on whether or not we feel we can depend on the ones we love. Yet we know at the same time, relationships can be very complicated.
In the book of Genesis, Moses tells us the story of the very first couple, Adam and Eve. This couple was created before any corruption had entered the world and so they were able to live before God and with each other in the state of “naked and unashamed”. Yes, this meant that they were unclothed. However, the more important element to their nakedness is that they were able to be completely themselves without fear of judgment, rejection, embarrassment or humiliation. They could truly be “one” with their partners and with God. However, when corruption entered, they felt shame for the first time and instinctively moved to cover themselves. They hid from each other and from God under the cloak of shrubbery as God called out to them…. “Where are you?” Since that time, mankind has struggled with the same dynamic. “Where are you?” we cry out when we feel alone and separated from our partners. We long for that connection while we simultaneously want to hide from those elements in ourselves and in our relationships that hurt us.
In her work, Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, explains the three fundamental elements in our relationships that cause us to feel safe enough to be naked and unashamed when relating to our partners. Her questions are based on the 3 components of A.R.E. – Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement.
Accessibility: Accessibility asks “Are you there for me?” We want to know that when we need our partners, they are there. To listen. To care. To say, “I’m here. You matter to me.” To feel completely comfortable with our spouse, we need to know we matter more to them than anyone to else. We often hear stories of husbands who feel abandoned when children come into the picture or from wives who feel their husbands’ friends or associates come first. This can cause deep insecurities as loyalties seem divided. To feel fully connected, we need to know we are number one with our spouses.
Responsiveness: Responsiveness asks “Will you be there when I need you?” When we reach for our husband or wife, we want to know they will respond. Nothing makes us feel better than when our spouses show us through their presence that we are their priority, that they care. Relationship security is fostered when couples feel they can count on each other. Intimacy develops between partners who are able to move together through the day to day moments as well as the struggles and joys of life. The sense of knowing your husband or wife “gets” you and is there for you brings with it a pattern of trust that leads to deep satisfaction in the relationship.
Engagement: Engagement asks “Do I matter to you? Do you value me”? These very fundamental questions are crucial to a relationship where each person feels safe and secure. Couples who are engaged show their commitment by placing the priorities of time and attention on the things that matter to each other. It is so easy for our lives to become managed by our family or work schedules. However, couples who are engaged spend time together that is intentionally focused on letting each other know they are loved and appreciated. Couples who are engaged not only show each other they are valued, they are able to convey the sense of loving their spouses for who they are while showing favor to each other above all others.
Are you there for me? Will you be there when I need you? Do I matter to you? The answers to these three questions determine whether or not we are truly connected to the people we love. If the answer to all three is yes, then the risk is minimal and the rewards likely very great. If the answer to any one of them is no, then the likelihood of distress is higher. If you feel the distress of disconnect, talk to your partner about why. If you need assistance in working through issues, help may be found in your local church, couples’ group or therapist’s office. Are you ready to feel closer to your mate? Are you ready to work on building or rebuilding that trust? Today is a good day to start.