Jim complained that his wife didn’t want to have sex with him unless she felt emotionally connected to him. He had no idea what she was talking about.
Women and men both want to feel deeply attuned with their partner whether it begins from talking or begins with sex. While most frequently I hear women express the need for emotional connection before they want to have sex, one man whose wife wanted more sex than he did, expressed something similar by saying, “We’re always bickering; I don’t feel very sexual unless there is peace in our home.” But usually men talk about how sex is the start of feeling connected making it safe to open up emotionally.
Then, what is emotional connection and how can you get it? Emotional connection means feeling like, “You get me and you’re on my side!” It is paying attention, empathy, loyalty, and vulnerability. Here are 5 important ways that you can help your partner feel your emotional support and connection:
1. Be present.
In the midst of a world busier than any of us could have imagined, knowing our partner’s needs, world and dreams is the first step in becoming emotionally connected. Regularly, for short time periods, we have to tune out the noise of our world and tune into what is really going on with our spouse. Every day we have to take time to invest our attention in our marriage instead of taking it for granted.
Don’t think you already know everything there is to know about your spouse. You don’t. You couldn’t. We’re all too complicated. Ask some interesting questions and listen to the answers with undivided attention.
Start today with light and small inquiries and ask progressively deeper and broader questions. Listen and reflect but don’t judge or get defensive. Here are some suggestions to help:
2. Be responsive.
Marital research by John and Julie Gottman1 shows that happily married couples predictably turn towards their partner 86% of the time when he/she makes a bid for their attention.
For instance, when your partner asks you a question, even if you are at your computer, turning towards means looking up and answering. When your partner makes a sexual bid with a “hey baby!” and raised eyebrows or a flirtatious innuendo, turning towards means a smile, a laugh, a positive acknowledgement of their desire for you.
Even if you can’t fully respond at the exact moment your partner texts you – you might text back, “Catch ya in 30, going into a meeting.”
Or you text, “Sorry, running errands all am; just saw yr mssg!”
Completing the circle of communication shows respect for the importance of your relationship.
3. Be empathic.
Murmur. Hug. Care. Feel your partner’s struggle from the inside of their world. Recognize how human it is to wrestle with something – the same thing - for great lengths of time.
Don’t express frustration or boredom at hearing about a repetitive problem. We need someone to recognize our angst in the midst of OUR struggle, not solve it or give advice. Ask open-ended questions to elicit more of the story rather than leading questions that might indicate your biased suggestions.
Open-ended: “What did you feel when he said that?”
Closed-ended: “Well, did you tell him your opinion and how dumb his idea was?”
4. Be loyal.
Be on their team! Reassure your partner that you are appreciative of all they do and of all they are.
Never use your spouse’s confidences as a time to drive home a point about their similar failure with you. Find a way to understand their perception even if you think they are doing the wrong thing. Keep investigating your partner’s point of view rather than siding with the other person in their story.
I’m not saying that we should never offer an opinion about a harmful direction that our partner is headed. But if you do think your partner is in trouble, wait to offer a different opinion when they are less emotional, wait until you are asked what you think, wait and then be very kind in giving your thoughts.
5. Be vulnerable yourself.
In order for an emotional connection to click, each person has to “expose their emotions” says researcher and social scientist, Brene Brown. Over the course of a marriage, it is not enough to be the listener, you have to be the talker and revealer as well. Sharing about your pride and ambition is important. You too must admit to your difficulties and human failings.