When I first met Jack and Sally I asked if they were close. She said, “No, I haven’t been close to Jack for two or three years.” He looked shocked when he said, “I had no idea. I knew we were having problems. But I thought you were o.k. with me.” Since their kids were born, these two had been on a treadmill with the demands of children, school, work and family consuming their time. When they stopped to think about it, the only time they did talk was when they came to see me.
These two are not alone. Many of us live in a world in which our time is at a premium. The list of things-to-do is long and the tasks are difficult. The relationship with our partner seems to be the last thing on our list. Too often, couples are simply not “present” for each other.
Jules Toner, a philosopher, points out that there are various levels of presence or dimensions in love. One level is physical presence. For love to blossom, people, in general, need to be physically near each other. There are instances of long-distance love between people who have never met. But it is rare. In fact, most long-distance relationships fail. Couples need to physically be present for the love to maintain and grow.
Another level is cognitive presence. This means that a person needs to be aware of the beloved. One needs to focus on him or her. Lisa complained that Bob spent a lot of time at a demanding job. Then he came home and cut the grass or spent time with the kids. Then he often went out on calls with the local fire department. Then he would help anyone who asked for his assistance. Bob had a lot of irons in the fire. He was paying attention to a lot of important priorities. But not much energy seemed to be left for Lisa.
Sally, in the situation in the beginning part of this article, spent a lot of time taking care of the kids, carting them around to practices and school event, helping the school with various projects, cleaning and cooking. At the end of the day, she would collapse and crave a little time for herself. She did not seem to have much energy left to focus on Jack.
The third dimension is emotional presence, which has two different aspects. Part of this presence is inherent in love. Each of the partners feels the other’s pain, happiness and sorrow, as if it were their own. It can’t be faked. You either have it or you don’t. If your partner suffers a setback at work, you feel it as if it were your own setback. If she has a success, it is as if it were your success. This simply describes an important part, if not the essence, of love.
The second aspect is what you do with this response. To put it simply, emotional presence also means listening to your partner, thinking and feeling something, and then telling your partner your response.
Too often couples ignore this process. A number of things can get in the way and block emotional presence:
- Trying to talk their partner out of feeling bad.
- Attempting to solve their problem.
- Not knowing how important it is to share your response.
- Feeling afraid to feel.
- Feeling afraid to express a feeling.
- Feeling too vulnerable.
- Not knowing what you feel.
How can you be closer to your partner?
- Analyze how much time to truly spend with your mate.
- When you are in their physical presence, notice how much you pay attention to their actions and words.
- Observe yourself to see how you respond to your partner.
- Notice what you are holding back.
- Then make a plan to correct anything and everything which stands in the way.
This is not rocket science. All the barriers can be overcome. The plan of action can be completed. In fact it is essential that you and your partner achieve emotional presence. This is what relationships are made of. This sharing makes you best friends with each other and bonds you for life.
Copyright by Joseph Dragun, Ph.D.