Seeds for Connection
By Lydia Mazariegos-DeLeon
After weeks of high temps, we found ourselves this week in the midst of heavy rain and thunderstorms. I must admit that I found them refreshing. Being from the Midwest, I’m used to a good drenching with almost torrential downpours. It made me think of the fall, even though we still have a couple weeks of summer left. The plants in my garden are starting to die back and I’m starting to plan for which ones will be making the transition to winter and which ones I won’t be seeing again until next year.
Tending to these plants always makes me think of relationships–our relationship to the earth and to each other. I think usually in metaphors and the garden has long been a metaphor I’ve used for relationships. Tending to your garden–weeding, fertilizing, and warding off pests–is absolutely crucial if you want to enjoy its bounty. It’s not hard to tell the difference between a garden that’s been well maintained and one that’s been neglected. The same is true for relationships.
The health of our relationships is crucial to our own sense of well-being. I’ve noticed for myself and for many of my clients, when our relationships are out of step, it can be hard to focus on anything else. We need our relationships to be healthy and strong so that we can be at our best. We are all hard-wired for connection, so when we feel disconnected, particularly with our primary partner (or parent, when we were children), it is the same as being deprived of food, shelter, and other basic needs. Love is a basic need we all have.
And, as with most things, relationships work best when we care for them proactively instead of waiting for them to fall into disrepair. John Gottman, marriage researcher, author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and How to Make Yours Last, among many other titles, talks about the importance of paying attention to our partner’s “emotional bids.” Emotional bids are the small ways in which we reach out to our partner by asking questions, making observations in an attempt to initiate a conversation, or giving a small gesture like a warm smile or pat on the back.
When our partners respond favorably to our bids, we share a moment of connection and understanding. If our partners don’t respond, we usually just try again later. If our partner responds negatively and/or a pattern of missed bids is formed, however, we are likely to stop trying and both partners end up feeling isolated, disconnected, and unhappy in the relationship.
Once we understand this concept, it’s easy to see the ways in which our own partners (or children and friends) reach out to us for connection. If we can put down distractions (ahem…phones), we are much more likely to notice and be able to respond favorably and enjoy a shared moment with our loved one.
Taking a moment to connect, even in the midst of our busy lives, is crucial. Being attentive to our loved one now means they will continue to come back to us in the future for more connection. That connection (and trust that you’ll usually be paying attention) is a great way to care for your relationship, and in turn, yourself.
Noticing and responding to our loved ones may seem so basic that it almost doesn’t seem worth mentioning, but for the health and growth of our relationships, it is the sun. We can endure some cloudy days, but to lose the sun entirely would be the death of our gardens. Regularly shining on your relationships is a necessary component to their vigor and longevity. And don’t forget to water, too!