Stop arguing and enjoy real intimacy

What is the meaning of life? It is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy and connection are the most important things to humans. Without emotional connection a baby will die. When an adult is lacking emotional intimacy, they will become depressed and suicidal, even if all their other needs are being met. As far as we know, we are the only meaning-makers in the universe, and therefore emotional intimacy is the most important thing in the universe; not money, not power, not beauty, not resources, but emotional intimacy.

We’re all seeking to be seen, heard, understood, appreciated, valued, connected, loved, adored, cherished, and validated. That’s what we all want, even if we think we’re trying to get more success, more money, more security, more meaningful work, more notoriety, or more leisure time.

So when we get into arguments with people, it’s typically because we’re not getting our emotional connection needs met. The problem is that most of the time we either are not aware of what our needs are, or we are scared of being rejected if we reveal them. We have learned to be ashamed of these primal needs that we inherited from our mammalian ancestors. I have written about shame and how to rid yourself of it before. When we shamefully hide what is really going on with us, we feel emotionally isolated, and we also create conditions that lead to further and deeper emotional isolation. Many couples consist of two people who are highly dependent on each other yet fundamentally emotionally isolated from each other, and from everyone else.

It is important for you to practice being aware of how you are feeling inside your body when you are having a disagreement with someone, and to experiment with revealing what is really true for you. When you focus on revealing these things that are deeply personal, and that you can be sure are true, such as “I feel hurt,” you are much less likely to be perceived as attacking, and much more likely to bring the cascade of reciprocal attacks to an end.

When you reveal what is most true for you in the present moment, it not only stops you from attacking, and makes you more vulnerable and less threatening, it also begins to build a foundation of true emotional intimacy and connection, the very thing that everyone is seeking. The other person will also then be more likely to reveal what is really true for them, further deepening a foundation of emotional intimacy.

When you have built these kinds of strong emotional foundations in your relationships, you will find that you are able to weather extreme adversity while feeling secure and supported. You, and the people that you are connected with, will then be more capable of handling the very adversities that you once argued about.

I don’t understand what’s happening

I met a friend last night for dinner. On the way to dinner she said, “There’s something wrong. You’re not as happy as usual.” I asked when she first noticed that I was behaving differently and she told me that it was just since I collected her.

In the past I might have directed my irritation or unhappiness at her, feeling criticized, but instead I have learned to assume that people have good intentions, which is usually the case. So I considered what might be wrong, and, not knowing, I said, “I don’t understand what’s happening.” I then pondered what might be the problem and I remembered that I had been thinking about a couple of issues in my life just before I collected her.

I said, “I think it might be something to do with” these issues, and explained the situation and what I was worried about. By the time we got to the restaurant, I had expressed to her how I felt about these things, and she had validated my feelings and given me support and encouragement.

We went into the restaurant and had a great time. When we were returning home, she said, “I just realized that you returned to your normal happy, content self.” I asked her when that happened. She said that it was when we entered the restaurant, after I had shared about the thing that was bothering me. We then talked about how my conversation with her was the basis of simple Rogerian psychotherapy, and both marveled at how powerful it is for improving mood.

Even as she was playing the role of an effective therapist, in reality a good friend, I was playing the role of an effective client, in reality a friend who is willing to be vulnerable, to accept feedback, to accept help, and to risk rejection, all in the name of not perpetuating my own suffering or replicating it in other people.

As I write this, I am reminded of an similar episode a few weeks ago when she arrived complaining about perceived unfair treatment at work, something that didn’t usually bother her. After I listened to her and acknowledged and validated her feelings, she then realized that what she was really upset about was something much more personal and painful. She cried about that, something she rarely does, and then her mood lifted and she was her usual happy, playful self.

What are you really angry about?

I was cross-country skiing yesterday when a family came close to me, a mother, father, and two small kids. I heard the woman saying to the man that she was having trouble with the snow-shoes, finding it hard to walk down a slope. The man berated her for not doing it right, speaking to her very harshly.

A short while later, a woman arrived with two huskies. One of the dogs ran up and licked the snot from my nose as I tightened one of my boots. While I was doing that, the man arrived on the trail behind me while his wife and children came around a corner on an adjacent trail. One of the husky dogs ran up to one of the children and the man yelled at its owner, “Will you take control of your dogs!” The dog owner responded, “They’re gentle.” He said, “I don’t care! You people always say that! You should get your dog under control!” He kept speaking very aggressively to the dog owner, who was apologizing. Then he walked up the hill complaining to one of the kids about dog owners while his wife and the other kid trailed along behind.

I felt really sorry for him because I used to do that kind of thing a lot, and I still do sometimes. He had spoiled his day with his suffering and he had caused suffering to other people. I’m pretty sure that he was not really upset about his wife’s snow-shoeing ability, or about dogs being enthusiastic about kids. There was something else that as bothering him; he was upset about something that he was probably not admitting to himself, let alone his wife. I thought about saying to him, “This isn’t really about the dogs, is it?” But I know from experience that he would have just attacked me. Then, when we later crossed their path, I considered telling him that sometimes things like that upset me too and that I found it’s usually about somethings else, something more important to me.

A bigger shame is that until he acknowledges the deeper truth it will persist, and whatever the material circumstance is in his life that it is connected to will also be more likely to persist; he will not have the emotional resources and clarity to cause things to change to be more in alignment with his wishes.