Have you lost the wonderful feelings of love and intimacy you had at the beginning of your relationship? It’s never too late to reclaim them, but first you need to understand why they are gone. Emotional intimacy is essential for sustaining love in a committed relationship, but do you have trouble giving and receiving love? Discover what fears might be in the way of this for you.
Think back to times you felt ‘in love.’ Aside from chemistry, what was it that drew you to the other person? Usually, my clients say things like:
- We talked for hours on our first date.
- We felt an immediate connection with each other, like we’ve always known each other.
- At the beginning of our relationship, we could talk about everything
What these people are talking about is that they felt emotionally connected with each other. Love flourished because of their emotional intimacy. If they hadn’t felt this emotional connection and intimacy, they likely wouldn’t have fallen in love with each other. Even if they were physically attracted, this ‘in love’ feeling wouldn’t have lasted long without the emotional intimacy.
Then what happens for these emotionally connected couples?
Often, after a relatively short time, underlying fears of rejection and engulfment surface and the individuals in the relationship start trying to have control over not being rejected or controlled by each other – which generally means that they are not as open and vulnerable with each other as they were at the beginning of their relationship.
Richard wrote me the following:
“My wife and I are separated. She said she lost her emotional connection to me. We may go to couples counseling to help understand what that means and how we do that. I am trying to understand what emotional connection means because emotional intimacy is synonymous with love to her.”
What Richard is saying is that he and his wife did feel emotionally connected with each other at the beginning of their relationship, or they wouldn’t have move forward with their relationship. But somewhere along the way, one or both of them stopped sharing their heart and soul, and they become disconnected from each other.
So what is emotional intimacy? We feel emotionally intimate with each other when we feel safe to share our feelings – our painful and joyful feelings, our fears and our love. Emotional intimacy flourishes when we feel free to keep our heart open and spontaneously express ourselves with each other. The safer we feel to be fully ourselves with each other, the more our emotional intimacy and feelings of love grow.
However, in order to share our feelings, we have to be aware of them. From what Richard is asking, it seems that he is, or has become, unaware of his feelings.
This is a big problem for many people. If you grew up in a family where feelings were judged, or where your painful feelings were too big to manage due to various forms of abuse or neglect, then you likely learned to suppress your feelings.
For Richard to emotionally connect with his wife, he needs to learn to emotionally connect with himself. And this takes practice – the practice of Step One of Inner Bonding.
If Richard were to diligently practice Step One of Inner Bonding – staying present in his body – he would start to become more aware of his feelings. And if he were then to open to learning from his feelings, which is Step Two of Inner Bonding, and then explore in Step Three what his feelings are telling him regarding whether he is loving himself or abandoning himself, he would then be able to share his feelings with his wife, as well as be interested in her feelings.
This is what creates emotional intimacy, and this is essential to sustaining love and passion in committed relationships.
We cannot emotionally connect with each other from our heads. We can have intellectual conversations from our head, but emotional intimacy comes from sharing our heart and soul with each other. Your heart opens naturally when you move into an intent to learn about your own feelings and those of your partner. If you want your love to flourish and sustain, then start practicing Inner Bonding!
Even if you’ve lost your connection with each other in your relationship, you can rediscover love and intimacy!
My client, Camille, started working with me because Donald, her husband of 14 years, had just expressed to her that he wanted to end their relationship. Camille, who was terrified of being alone, was panicked. Within a few minutes of speaking with her in a Zoom session, I understood exactly the underlying cause of their relationship problems.
Camille came from a family where she experienced much neglect, resulting in a deep abandonment fear. In her family, Camille had learned to be a caretaker, giving herself up and taking care of everyone else’s feelings and needs. She had learned to put her own feelings in a closet, hoping that if she took care of everyone else, someone would care about her. As an adult, she continued in this pattern, taking care of her husband and children but completely neglecting herself. Underneath her caretaking, Camille, was a taker, and as a result of her neediness, she was often very angry at Donald and her children when they didn’t listen to her or approve of her.
As I’ve frequently pointed out, people often end up treating us the way we treat ourselves. Because Camille was treating herself as if she was unimportant, Donald and her children also treated her as if she was unimportant. Because Camille didn’t listen to herself, Donald and her children didn’t listen to her. Her fury at Donald and her children for not seeing her or listening to her further alienated them from her. Donald had reached the point where he was no longer willing to be at the other end of Camille’s anger.
Rather than take emotional responsibility for her own well being, Camille was making Donald and her children emotionally responsible for her. She was abandoning herself, just as her parents had abandoned her, and was expecting Donald to give her what she never received from her parents.
Donald was also not taking emotional responsibility. He was also somewhat of a caretaker, and he had spent much of their marriage trying to make Camille happy while ignoring his own feelings and needs. He vacillated between compliance and resistance. When he complied, Camille felt better but he felt terrible from the sense of loss of himself. When he resisted, Camille felt rejected and became enraged. Donald ended up feeling like he was a victim of Camille. He blamed her for his misery and felt he had no alternative but to leave.
I ended up working with both Camille and Donald. Through working with Inner Bonding, Camille learned to attend to her abandonment feelings herself, rather than go after Donald or her children when these feelings came up. She learned that, rather than being selfish by making Donald responsible for making her feel safe and worthy, she was being self-responsible when she took responsibility for her own feelings of safety, worth, lovability, happiness and joy. She learned that when she embraced the responsibility of listening to and taking responsibility for her own feelings, she no longer felt abandoned or angry.
Donald learned that he had another option besides compliance or resistance. He learned to take responsibility for his own feelings by telling Camille his truth when she yelled at him or blamed him. Instead of being a victim, he learned to stand up for himself and disengage when Camille was angry. He learned to say, “I don’t like being yelled at, and I don’t like being with you when you are angry at me. Let me know when you are ready to be kind,” and then go do his own Inner Bonding process or do something fun for himself.
At first, Donald was reluctant to say this to Camille. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her his truth. He felt his truth was harsh and that he would be unloving if he said these things. However, when he was willing to take the risk of speaking his truth, he found that Camille was actually grateful to receive the truth. Rather than getting angry and hurt, she appreciated his honesty, and told him that he was helping her to learn and grow by telling her his truth.
Donald ended up not leaving. Over a period of a year of practicing Inner Bonding, their relationship completely changed. In fact, he and Camille have achieved a new level of love and intimacy in their relationship, beyond what they had when they first fell in love. They have learned how to sustain love.
Sometimes, people are afraid to open their heart to love.
Jillian asked me this question:
“I really want to learn how to love my boyfriend, who has been showing care and love toward me. However I have fears of being taken advantage of and of being subjected to his unloving behaviors. So I feel very tight at my chest when these fears come up and I act out unlovingly. Is it possible to learn how to love him in the presence of these fears, or do I need to ‘get rid of’ these fears first before I can really love someone?”
Jillian’s fear of being taken advantage of and of being at the other end of her boyfriend’s unloving behavior results from her inner child not trusting that she knows how to show up as a loving adult for herself. If she had a well-developed spiritually connected loving adult self, devoted to loving herself, she wouldn’t allow herself to be taken advantage of, and she wouldn’t take personally others’ unloving behavior.
When we are focused on loving ourselves, we feel safe inside and are able to keep our heart open to loving others.
So I said to Jillian
“These fears won’t go away until you learn and practice Inner Bonding, which is what develops your loving adult self. It’s not about getting rid of the fears, but of learning to love yourself, which is what will resolve your fears. Instead of focusing on loving your boyfriend, focus on learning to love yourself. When you know how to fill yourself with love and take loving care of yourself around your boyfriend and others, your fears will naturally go away. And until you learn to love yourself and fill yourself with love to share, you have no love to share with your boyfriend.”
We all have a choice each moment between fear and love. Our ego wounded self always chooses fear, so when our intent is to control and avoid, we activate the false beliefs that cause our fear. When our intent is to love ourselves and others, our heart opens to the love, wisdom and guidance of spirit coming through us.
Love is who we are in our essence, and love is what God is, so when our intent is to learn about loving ourselves, we become open to experiencing the love that is God and the truth that is always available to us from our spiritual guidance. The more you are able to operate from your spiritually connected loving adult, the easier time you will have sustaining love.
The fact that Jillian’s chest tightened when her fears came up is her inner guidance, which we call her inner child, letting her know that her wounded self is in charge, telling her programmed lies. Her wounded self is telling her that she shouldn’t love because she will get hurt by being taking advantage of and treated unlovingly, and the more she thinks these negative thoughts, the more she manifests them. So if her boyfriend responds unlovingly – from his own fears – to her unloving behavior that results from her choice to protect herself from being hurt, her wounded self might then say, “See! I told you not to open your heart! I told you that you would get hurt!” She has brought about the very thing she fears with her own unloving behavior.
If Jillian develops her loving adult self and her boyfriend were to act unlovingly, she would be able to say to herself, “He must be having a hard time today, so we will send him compassion. And if he wants help, we will help him. But if he stays closed and continues to treat us unlovingly, we will lovingly disengage until he is back into an open loving place.”
Jillian wouldn’t get hurt because she wouldn’t take his behavior personally and she would take loving care of any lonely feelings she has when he is disconnected from her. These skills are a necessary aspect of sustaining love.
Part of sustaining love is learning how to cultivate love in your heart. The Dalai Lama said that,
“The goal is to cultivate in our hearts the concern a dedicated mother feels for her child, and then focus it on more and more people and living beings. This is a heartfelt, powerful love.
“Such feelings give us a true understanding of human rights that is not grounded just in legal terms, but rooted deeply in the heart.”
What a wonderful world we would have if we all cultivated in our hearts the love most of us feel for our children or others’ children. But we also need to take this same love we have for our own or others’ children and bring it to the child within us. My experience is that if we take that love and focus it more and more on others and not also on ourselves, then we become needy of others giving us what we are not giving to ourselves.
I love what The Dalai Lama says here, but too often religious and spiritual people forget that giving to others without filling ourselves with love first can create many problems. When we ignore our own feelings and needs and instead focus on giving to others, we may have a big empty hole inside that pulls on others for love. When this is the case, the people we are giving to often don’t feel loved – they feel pulled on instead.
Many of the people I work with tell me that they can’t love themselves because they don’t know how.
It’s interesting to me that many people feel they know how to love an actual child, but they often ask me, “How do I love myself?”
The real issue is not so much ‘how’ but intent. Even if it is very important to you to be a loving parent to your child, you will probably not do a perfect job – whatever that is – but your intent to be loving will motivate you to continue to learn about being a loving parent. You will learn from your mistakes and you will likely not give up and give your child away for adoption. You might read about the ‘how’ and keep practicing so that you feel better and better about your parenting skills.
It’s exactly the same for inner parenting. When we first start, we don’t know what we are doing. But if we are to cultivate our heart and reach a place within where we can give our heartfelt, powerful love to others, which is what’s needed to sustain love, we need to take that same depth of parental love and bring it within.
There is truly nothing more fulfilling than offering others our heartfelt, powerful love. To have that quality of love, we need to open to learning about loving ourselves with our guidance, and learn to take loving action for ourselves. This is what creates the heartfelt powerful love that we can then offer to others.
You might want to think about what may be keeping you from loving yourself and sharing your love with your loved ones.
Sometimes the issue is that it might be hard for you to receive love.
For example, Lindsay said to me,
“I can’t receive love. Physically, not even a kiss or stroke of kindness. I was never told ‘you’re awesome, great job, you’re beautiful, you can do anything.’ Therefore it’s hard for me to receive love and feel worthy.”
“Lindsay,” I said, “it’s very hard to grow up with no love. You are certainly not alone in this experience. Growing up without any physical affection or emotional support is a very sad and lonely thing.
However, your conclusion – that you can’t receive love because you weren’t loved – isn’t accurate. I work with many people who were not only not loved, but who were very badly abused, and yet they are still capable of giving and receiving love.
Many of my clients believe that their past determines their present.
Do you see yourself as a victim of your childhood? Do you believe that your current inability to give and receive love and feel worthy is caused by what your childhood caregivers did, rather than by how you are currently treating yourself? This is a major false belief.
While low self-worth generally starts as a child, the fact that it may continue now is because of your own self-abandonment.
You have the opportunity right now to learn to love and value the little child within you who is desperate for love – for your love. You will not feel worthy of love, nor be able to give and receive love from others, until you decide to learn to be the loving parent to yourself that you never had.
You will not be able to open to and trust others’ love until you become a trustworthy loving adult to the child within you. Only when you learn to love and value yourself will you be able to open your heart to others and risk being hurt. There is no way to sustain love in a relationship with becoming a trustworthy loving adult with yourself and with others.
It’s true that opening our heart to love can lead to hurt.
Our heart can be hurt by others’ unloving behavior toward us, or by someone we love dying. The only way we can fully risk loving with an open heart is to know that we can manage the pain of heartbreak, grief, and helplessness concerning others’ unloving behavior and over painful events.
I said to Lindsay, “It is not that you can’t receive love but that you won’t. You are choosing to protect yourself against pain rather than choosing to love yourself and share your love with others.
“You do not have to remain a victim. Even though you experienced a lot of heartbreak and helplessness as a child, you can heal. If you want to be able to give and receive love now, you need to be willing to learn, as an adult, how to compassionately feel those painful feelings and learn to manage them, rather than continue to avoid them.”
It takes courage to be willing to risk our deeper existential pain, but to fully give and receive love and sustain love, we need to know that we can manage the heartbreak of loss – that we have a strong connection with our spiritual guidance who will be here to comfort us through loss, and that we have a strong loving adult self and we want to take responsibility for all of our feelings.
We are able to sustain love with others when we have done the inner work to feel whole within.
So what does it mean to feel whole?
We feel whole when we feel:
- Full inside rather than empty
- When we feel peaceful rather than anxious
- When we feel worthy and lovable rather than unworthy and unlovable
- When we are generous rather than greedy
- When we are loving rather than needy
- When we feel joyful rather than miserable
- When we feel oneness rather than separateness
- When we feel inwardly powerful rather than victimized
- When we feel secure rather than insecure
- When we feel faith rather than fear
- When we are giving rather than self-absorbed
We get to wholeness through learning to love ourselves through connection with our spiritual guidance. Being loving with ourselves and others leads to wholeness, which leads to being able to sustain love.
It is very possible to sustain, or reclaim, deep and joyous love in a long-term relationship when each person does their inner work of becoming whole and capable of love. If two people are disconnected but still feel some love for each other, I hope you are each willing to do your inner work to learn to reclaim and sustain your love.
Resources at http://www.innerbonding.com.
Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”
Heal your relationship with Dr. Margaret’s 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.
Learn to connect with your spiritual Guidance with Unlocking Your Inner Wisdom, A 30-Day at-home Experience with Dr. Margaret Paul.