Recently, a friend confided to me that it sometimes upsets her that her husband barely calls or meets his parents and that his parents rarely visit their own parents in the old age home where they stay. That’s considered OK in his family. I asked her as to why this upsets her and she said that having lost both her parents at a young age, she always wanted to be part of a ‘close’ family set up and that it’s one of the things most important to her in life. When it’s not the case, she tends to feel bad and gets emotional about it. Fair enough. But what got me thinking was, in the face of a core need not being met, what is it that attracted her initially to her husband. Obviously it wasn’t a compatibility borne out of a similar need for emotional intimacy in close relationships.
The need for emotional intimacy can vary from one person to another. How much do you need?
Of course, she’s not alone in the way she feels. In the past, i’ve struggled to make sense of why my some of own family members seemed very distant at times when i really needed them around. They were trying to help in their own way (as unhelpful as it may have been) or in some cases simply did not know what to do to support or understand, if not relate, with me. Yes, i’ll be frank, sometimes it was because they did not know how important intimacy is for relationships to prosper. Over the years, I’ve refused to accept that some relationships are not meant to be close. I kept pushing for more till i got exhausted. Eventually over time, i began to appreciate those relationships for what they were rather than what i wanted them to be. We all have relationships that range from sharing a fantastic equation to just something surface level and casual. The sheer range is what adds colour to our lives and makes us aware of and appreciate the ones that are special. I suspect most people have had some differences with close family and friends with regards to the amount of emotional intimacy they need in the relationship. Sometimes it’s a lot more than they need, sometimes it’s nearly not enough. All of us have an inherent need for at least some level of emotional intimacy – except for those with extreme psychological disorders. Only the level varies with different people.
There are a lot of reasons why someone may not feel comfortable with showing intimacy in relationships. You feel comfortable with the idea of a healthy level of emotional intimacy only if you have been parented to not view it as something awkward or unnecessary. Two people in a family can have different emotional needs too. It also depends on childhood experiences, past baggage, personality differences. Sometimes, it’s partly genetic. Unfair i know, but we all have to play with the cards we’re dealt with. Not everyone can understand your needs in that way. Mostly it’s because they can’t understand themselves or their own needs.
People who are meant to be part of your inner circle, will find a way in because of, and not in spite of.
This is not to let people who aren’t comfortable with emotional intimacy off the hook easily. i think it’s important to understand that by accepting their inability to engage on an emotional level, you’re not letting go of your needs. A lot of people feel guilty for voicing out their needs. They see folks around them and no one else seems to be complaining. If you’re the type of person who needs more emotional connection than what you’re getting, chances are at times you would have felt like you’re the problem. I can assure you that nothing is wrong with you. You’re perfectly entitled to your needs which are in turn based on your values. Be glad that you have recognised that you need intimacy. People who cannot offer emotional intimacy by extension also cannot offer any empathy when needed. They can certainly sympathise but don’t expect them to put themselves in another person’s shoes and relate.
We need to understand that emotional intimacy cannot be forced or manufactured. It’s either there or it’s not. Don’t beat your head trying to make someone understand. They will not because our needs are strongly linked to our values.You have to accept that some people are emotionally unintelligent. You may be going through hell but if they don’t understand the concept of emotional intimacy, then you drop hints all you want, it won’t make any difference.
Real intimacy cannot be established if your values are too different from theirs.
Fear not. There are things you can still do to have smoother relationships, same values or not. First of all, we need to understand that it’s nearly impossible to find someone with near identical values to ours in every sphere of life, not to mention that would be a tad boring as well. So all we can wish for really are for core values to match, at least with the people closest to us or those we cannot avoid the company of.
Figure out how much of a relationship you need with them. Your next course of action will depend on your answer. I’m afraid if you intend to pursue a relationship then better be prepared for them to disappoint you every time. You can continue to piss in the wind but it will stress you out. It might be difficult to figure out in the beginning but it’ll be worth it in the end.
There is an exception though. In romantic relationships, make sure that your partner has the same level of emotional needs. Your values must match in this context. as you’ll be spending most of your time with this person than anyone else. Just be aware that sometimes with a couple, the values are the same which is what attracted them to each other in the first place, and only the expression of those values differs. However if they don’t match then consider therapy as it’s something not to be dismissed if it’s important to you.
Minimising contact always helps. What the point in engaging with someone and getting triggered every time? If it’s someone who can’t really avoid like close family members, then set heavy boundaries. Only interact with them if it’s really necessary. Often they don’t realise but they will try to make the relationship on their terms. You may need to resist and be firm. Do whatever it takes to feel comfortable and don’t feel guilty.Enforcing boundaries requires consistency. Once they get the message, your relationship with them should improve.
Take the focus off them. Gotta be said that because of their emotional make up they’re not spending their time thinking about their relationship with you. So focus on something worthy of your time and energy. You might find that even if that doesn’t bring you closeness at least it will help you avoid conflict.
Stop being an over giver and consequently feeling bitter! Sometimes, we try to be the ‘bigger’ person. Why? because we want to set an example for the perfect relationship template and hope they’ll get inspired by that. Well, nothing happens except you over extending yourself and you start to feel used. You cannot change yourself in order to have a close relationship with them. If you think, just by being nice ( which often means catering to their needs only) you can improve the equation, think again. Is it even real or simply done to achieve a goal? Anything with an agenda does not work.
Just live your life as per your values and let the chips fall where they may. End of the day, it can certainly seem like there are more people in this world who are not comfortable with emotional intimacy in relationships than those who are. Whether or not, that’s the case is anybody’s guess. But just be sure that someone who’s emotionally healthy will have no problems showing and wanting emotional intimacy in their close relationships. Just like you can’t expect them to change, you also can’t spend your entire life suppressing your needs in order to fit in. So choose your tribe wisely.