How to Bridge Differences in Connecting Emotionally and Physically

Although having a sense of connection to others is a basic drive, if you ask people to describe their experience of feeling connected to another person, you will come up with a large range of responses. Feeling connected is a highly subjective experience and every person has their own version of this experience. When two people in a relationship have significant differences in how they experience connection, it is important for each person to recognize the difference and work to appreciate the others needs.

One popular theory of differences in how we connect is the idea that men feel connection sexually and women need to feel connected emotionally before they can connect physically. While this may be true for many, there are also many women and men who fit into the other sex's assumed category. There are many women who have a hard time connecting emotionally and have a strong need for physical contact to experience any sense of connection.

There are many people who can have an intense sexual experience, but at the same time feel very little connection with the other person. Some of these people have never felt emotional closeness. Others can only experience connection though emotional contact and can not feel connected through physical contact. Those that do not experience emotional connection find the experience of the physical contact as the closest experience they can have of being connected to another person. There are others who feel immediate emotional contact through touch.

Because there are huge variations in how emotions get responded to in each persons history, there is a broad range in our capacities to think about feelings and express them. Similarly there is a broad range in our capacities to relate to the feelings of others.

Many people have grown up in situations in which their feelings were not responded to. When feelings are not related to it is harder to learn to process our emotional experience. Instead of learning to express feelings so that we can feel connected to others through communicating our emotions, we carry our experience in body memories. We hold the emotional tensions of our experience in our muscle memory. Because we can not effectively process our emotions and articulate our feelings, we are more dependent on our bodies and physical expression as a vehicle for connection. If body memories are predominantly traumatic, even this physical connection can become difficult.

Because the way in which emotions are related to influences our relationship to our bodies, children who have had parents that can respond to their feelings, have an easier time integrating their emotions with their physical needs. They do not experience splits between connecting emotionally or physically.

Becoming aware of ourselves and our individual needs in how we can experience connection is a good first step, particularly if we are in a relationship where the other person has different needs. Understanding the subtleties of how the other person can experience connection is equally important.

Expressing our needs and talking about our differences can build a new feeling of connection that can bridge an existing difference. It is much easier to relate to a person who has different needs if we have understood the complexity of their needs in more depth and have received their understanding of our needs.

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