From The Straits Times    |
ways to build a strong emotional connection with friends and family

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How well do you know your partner and close family members? Sure, you might be familiar with their personalities and temperaments, and you probably know all their likes and dislikes, but how well do you really know them? Can you truly say that you share a strong emotional connection with them? 

Relationship experts have long harped on about the importance of emotional closeness. Without it, they say it’s difficult to experience relationship security and satisfaction. We all have different definitions of what it means to feel close to someone, but real emotional intimacy occurs when you trust others to the point where you can communicate with them openly and aren’t afraid to share your innermost self with them. Compared to sexual or physical intimacy, which is superficial, emotional intimacy runs a lot deeper and can occur between lovers, between parents and their children, between close family members, and even between friends. 

Hard-wired to connect

In our most treasured relationships, we seek to feel accepted, supported, comforted, admired and understood. When these needs and desires are fulfilled, and when we can give our loved ones the same, there is emotional connectedness and the relationship thrives. 

Human beings are biologically programmed to desire emotional connectedness with our romantic partners, family members and friends. According to science, we owe this yearning to a small structure in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is part of what scientists call the emotional brain. This structure triggers our emotions and tells us how to react. Many believe the amygdala to be evolution’s way of ensuring that human beings would stay together. After all, we depend on one another for our long-term survival – we live in families, love as couples, flourish in friendships, and work in groups. 

Hard-wired to connect

How we lost that closeness

Sadly, making and keeping an emotional connection with our loved ones is harder than ever these days. The main reason: We don’t know how to communicate our emotional needs to them. Our hearts and minds are so cluttered with all kinds of emotional “junk” that we struggle to identify and make sense of our true feelings.

There is also a fear that, if we come across as emotionally vulnerable to others, we may be mocked, taken advantage of, hurt, let down or rejected. We’re not always sure if what we’re feeling is valid or worthy enough of others’ attention. We associate letting our guard down with danger, risk, pain and discomfort. As a result, many of us suppress what we feel, afraid to confront what’s in our hearts. 

(Read also “Are You Unhappy In Your Relationship? Dealing With These Four Common Problems Can Save It“)

The modern lifestyle is also to blame for the emotional drift between people. Many of us are too busy to sit down and have meaningful conversations with our nearest and dearest. We don’t say “I love you” and “I care about you” often enough. When we do spend time with the people we care about, we’re seldom really “there”, distracted by other things like our worries, our mental To-do list, and the constant pinging of our phones. How can we expect to make a true and lasting emotional connection with anyone this way? 

Emotional distance leads to relationship problems

Emotional intimacy is the glue that holds relationships together. Without it, it is difficult to establish a genuine connection with others. Many relationship experts believe that a lack of emotional connectedness is the top reason why so many of us feel depressed, lost, and lonely – even when we are not physically alone. It is also the reason behind many broken marriages and a major cause of tension between family members.

When strong emotional bonds don’t exist, it becomes easy to shut down emotionally, to neglect the needs of others in the relationship, to withhold affection, to ignore the problems that threaten your relationship, and to dismiss your own feelings about the relationship as unimportant or insignificant. 

How to build strong connections

How to build strong connections

Connecting with others comes naturally to some people, but even if you don’t think of yourself as emotionally open or receptive, or have difficulty letting your guard down and trusting others, it doesn’t mean that you will never be able to form close connections.

Here are several easy ways to create and maintain emotional closeness in your romantic relationships, family relationships and friendships. It all boils down to being aware of your feelings and communicating with others from an honest place.

1. Validate your emotions

Living authentically means acknowledging your emotions. If a conversation with a friend has left you upset or angry, validate the emotion instead of dismissing it. If you’re hurt or offended by a colleague’s callous remark, allow the emotion in instead of pretending that it doesn’t bother you. If you sometimes feel lonely in your marriage or anxious about your future with your spouse, tell yourself that it’s normal to experience these emotions. If you’re happy to have received a gift from your parents, celebrate those feelings of pleasure instead of taking them for granted. Whether they are good or bad, all feelings matter.

(Read also “Why Toxic Positivity Is Unhealthy And Alternative Statements To Make“)

2. If you feel it, say it

We’re so afraid of being seen as vulnerable that we hold back from expressing our true feelings. But vulnerability is not a weakness. Besides, how will others know what’s in your heart if you don’t disclose your feelings to them? As long as you communicate sincerely – avoiding the use of accusatory or inflammatory language – you shouldn’t worry about the other person judging you or going on the defensive. Your emotions are legitimate and deserve a voice. 

3. Acknowledge others’ feelings

If you want your loved ones to listen to you, it’s important that you listen to them, too. If your partner tells you that he feels you’ve been neglecting him, don’t take it personally. Instead, pay attention to his words, facial expressions and body language. Give him the opportunity to share his emotions without interruption. When both sides can share themselves openly, without fear of judgement, attack or rejection, you’ll be able to get an honest conversation going, which will help strengthen your emotional bond. 

4. Give emotional support

If your partner or loved one approaches you for emotional support, don’t hesitate to give it. Opening your heart to others and showing them that it’s okay to let their guard down can deepen a connection that is already there. Besides, exchanging thoughts and feelings is important if we are to have a greater understanding of one another’s needs.

5. Work on your connections

Close relationships don’t happen spontaneously – they need work. Look at your relationships with your significant other, family members and friends – are they as solid as they could be? Are there problems that are causing certain people to drift further from you? While everyone involved must make the effort to keep these connections strong, it’s important not to put too much pressure on those whom you feel aren’t giving as much as you. Demanding too much intimacy too soon can push people away, and remember, everyone has their own perception of what it means to be emotionally connected.