Intimate love — 07 May 2006
Love is the emotional glue that holds relationships together

Individuals who feel cared about by their partners are capable of utilizing their most giving traits such as: exceptional patience, tolerance, support, deferred gratifications, and great personal sacrifice. Conversely, when people do not feel cared about they may resort to their least healthy behaviors such as: attacking, shaming, criticizing, provoking, manipulating, and being contemptuous. How could one emotion cause people to extend themselves to their highest or lowest potential?

Being loved is the glue of connection in relationship. Being emotionally attached to another individual is an innate, primary human need. Dr. John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, defined attachment as: “The innate capacity and need to form emotional connections to significant others.” He postulated that attachment (as seen in many animals and humans) is a learned behavior that involves the desire for emotional and physical proximity to the caregiver.

Adults attempt to duplicate with their mates their childhood attachment to their parents. However, the nature of adult emotional connection is different. While in childhood the caring was directed from parent to infant, in couples the bond is reciprocal. The adult connection involves emotional sharing, mutual caring, care giving and sexual exchanges. The greater complexity and importance of adult attachment only intensifies all other emotions.

Individuals who are in a committed relationship have a need for proximity and usually choose to live together and spend as much time together as is feasible. The physical proximity and contact maintains the ongoing attention needed for emotional safety and their home creates their safe haven. Adults also feel some distress at separating from each other and thus attempt to stay connected by phone or email. It is as if there is an attachment string connecting their hearts that needs to be taut at all times to replenish both mates.

Attachment is rooted in love and caring reinforces the bond. Partners, whose mates travel for work, spend extra time on the job, or are very involved with other activities often feel abandoned, rejected and uncared for. Being sufficiently together affirms the safety, security, lovability and stability of each individual and the strength of their union.

Once one feels cared for and has a strong and secure attachment to the mate, the stability of that foundation allows this individual to stretch to his or her highest capacity. People often marvel at their own and other people’s ability to extend themselves so radically in support of a mate in need. They can focus their attention solely on the needs of the stressed mate to the exclusion of everything else, including their own personal or even survival needs. We have all heard of the amazing physical ability of a mother in lifting a car to rescue her trapped child. The capacity of giving to a loved one in a mutually connected pair is often equally awe-inspiring.

When a mate does not feel cared about, the attachment weakens, the bonding glue detaches and emotional separation occurs. Behaviors that call the caring to question are for example: insensitive statements, lack of consideration, inattentiveness, preoccupation with other matters, fatigue, decreased frequency of communication or sex, reduction of appreciation and admiration. None of these examples are necessarily based in ill intent, yet they may create for your partner the impression of reduced caring.

To keep your caring evident and your attachment secure:

• Remember that your love attachment is essential and life enhancing.
• Be attentive to your partner’s spoken needs and wishes and accommodate him/her in a timely fashion.
• Restrain yourself from insensitive comments by checking whether it is a loving phrase before you utter it.
• If your partner complains about your physical or mental absence, take it as a sign of your partner’s need for connection with you. Do not get angry about your restricted autonomy, or defend your need to be away. It is a serious problem for both of you to solve together.
• Be present to your partner’s invitation to connect through eye contact, sincere curiosity, positive listening and responding to his/her words. Do not rush to interject your ideas.
• State that you are tired, not disinterested when you feel fatigue.
• Regularly initiate conversations and fun time activities.
• Keep your sexual interest regular. If you feel an increase or decrease of desire explore the individual causes before discussing it with your mate.
• Regard and treat your loving attachment to your mate as a life-sustaining gift.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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