- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

It seems like every time I turn around, someone is talking with me about how much they crave intimacy in their marriage, but they have no earthly idea how to go about getting what they want and need.

I recently heard Sue Johnson, author of “Hold Me Tight,” speak on this very topic. Her words were profound and thought-provoking.

According to Mrs. Johnson, the director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa, intimacy - the need to be held and to be soothed while staying in the loving arms of another - goes from the cradle to the grave. We are all born with this vulnerability, and one of the very real issues of your most meaningful love relationships is how you deal with it. Do you deal with it in a way that pulls people close or pushes them away?

Interestingly, one of the most distressing things Mrs. Johnson said she sees as a therapist is when she asks a client if they could imagine asking their partner for the deep reassurance they need. The response is usually, “No I couldn’t do that because I am not supposed to feel that way. That means I am not acting like an adult, that I am immature, weak and have some kind of problem.”

How sad. Based on the latest research, this statement could not be further from the truth. How in the world are we to connect and create intimacy with the person we love if we can’t talk about what we need?

Whether it is out loud or only to themselves, people young and old alike are constantly asking questions such as:

Do you love me?

Do I matter to you?

Will you come when I call?

Am I valued and accepted by you?

Of great concern to Mrs. Johnson is the fact that more and more people are living in couple relationships in isolation, putting enormous pressure on the spouse to meet all these emotional needs. As emotional isolation is more the order of the day, we are building societies in a way that has nothing to do with how we are wired.

Over time, society has sent the message that there is something wrong with needing other people. Yet Mrs. Johnson says research consistently shows it is in our DNA to need someone to depend on, a lover, one who can offer reliable emotional comfort. Bonding emotionally is all about our innate need for safe emotional connection.

The very best modeling you can do for your children is having a great love relationship with your spouse. In doing so, your parenting skills and ability to connect with your children goes up exponentially.

If you find yourself in a relationship where there is no emotional intimacy, there is hope. Here are a few suggestions for establishing or re-establishing emotional connectedness in marriage:

• Put down the electronics. While most consider them a blessing, they can be a curse when it comes to emotional intimacy in your marriage. Put away your cell phone, iPod and computers.

• Attend marriage enrichment classes that will help you turn your relationship around.

• Intentionally set time aside to be alone together to communicate about your lives, your feelings and your deepest needs.

• Read a book like “Hold Me Tight.”

• Seek help from a marriage-friendly counselor.

• Don’t give up. Emotional connection takes time and a willingness from both people to take risks and responsibility for their part in reconnecting.

“Love is the greatest source of strength we have,” Mrs. Johnson says. “Sex, money and kids are what people say they fight about the most. What they are really fighting about is the desire to connect on a deeper level to manage some of these differences in a constructive manner.

“The drive to emotionally attach is as basic to life, heath and happiness as the drives for food, shelter or sex,” she says. “We need emotional attachments with a few irreplaceable others to be physically and mentally healthy to survive.”

In the end, if we don’t work to create this vital emotional connectivity, we are missing the boat in our marriage, which will impact our children, and, ultimately, society.

Julie Baumgardner is executive director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at [email protected]

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