How to Really Connect with Your Partner and Other Human Beings
Here’s how to save your neck and relationships and get much more out of life…
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See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World
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One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that we humans crave connection. Whether it is with other people, our pets or even nature the desire to connect is very much part of our innate wiring. So how ironic it is that the very technologies we’ve created for ourselves to ostensibly “connect” us in ways we’ve never imagined, end up creating a society of highly interactive souls who feel the loss of connection more deeply than ever before.
The Essence of True Connection
This of course begs the question as to what we even mean by connection. I was at a party the other night having a deep conversation about intimacy and connection with a USC professor and author. The friend that accompanied him, a middle-aged woman, happened to be listening in when she finally blurted out: “Connection for me is when I have a stimulating intellectual conversation with someone!” To which her friend looked up at her and dryly said: “That’s just mental masturbation.” You should have seen the look on her face. I found out later she was an attorney –enough said.
So, what is this thing called connection that everyone craves yet seems to have such a hard time achieving? Here’s the distinction I use in my work and research into human intimate behavior:
Connection is an unimpeded and unconditional sharing from the Heart between two human beings.
Obviously this can apply to life partners, friends, family, co-workers and even strangers. And it represents more of a continuum rather than an either or situation. Ideally, the deepest form of connection happens with your life partner. Ideal, but unfortunately far too often this is anything by the case.
Now think about this for a moment. What is required for two people to have an unimpeded and unconditional sharing from their Hearts? Well, the first thing that springs to mind is a willingness to have a Heart that is open, one where most of the armor and barriers we erect to otherwise protect ourselves are take down. This also implies a willingness to be vulnerable which simply means the choice to emotionally feel everything, not just those things that make us feel good. And finally, a willingness to be authentic in the way we show up without pretense and in our communications.
When any two people are open-hearted, vulnerable and authentic with each other, deep connection is inevitable. Every human being, whether consciously aware of it or not, seeks to connect with others in this way.
But there is a price to pay for this genuine sense of connection, isn’t there? And that price is choosing to connect in the face of the inevitable fears that arise from being vulnerable, authentic and open-hearted with another. Fears that are typically centered around judgement, rejection or abandonment which represent the very antithesis of connection. Unfortunately, this is a price that far too few are willing to pay. Which means that most people aren’t willing to genuinely connect with others out of fear that they won’t be connected. Think about how truly insane that sounds.
Sterile Social Interaction
And this is where the perfect storm of social media comes to play. It provides a faux connection with untold others without the risk associated with real human connection. Think of it as the crystal meth for the Heart –it gives you a big initial hit of feel-good “connection” only to come crashing down and crave it more than ever. And within this frenzied spiral of seeking meaning, self-importance and connection via an app or social media site, we only become more blind to what it really takes to connect with others.
I’m not saying social media is bad. It’s just that when it is used as a sterile standby for real human connection it will never, ever serve us. It lulls us into thinking we are in the game of life. Instead we have become mere pawns to those seeking to profit from providing ever more interesting and engaging ways to interact with each other within the safe bubble of the click or swipe.
The only problem is; as many have learned the hard way, this is anything but a safe bubble. Any time you post something to a social media site, deep down inside you are hoping that your contribution to the social graph will at least be acknowledged. And God forbid, not panned or worse, trolled. Let’s not forget the fact that any time you look at someone else’s posts there is a part of you that is secretly comparing yourself to them which is always a zero-sum game. Is it any wonder why so many people are stressed out, frazzled and even depressed from using social media?
The Curse of Nomophobia
Perhaps a more poignant aspect of this almost neurotic need to find connection via social media and other forms of digital interaction is the rise of “Nomophobia”. This is the unofficial term for those exhibiting the fear of being without their mobile device. If you think I’m kidding, here are some of the statistics from a Psychology Today article:
- 66%, or about two in three people, sleep with or next to their smart phones. (Among college students, it’s even higher).
- 34% admitted to answering their cell phone during intimacy with their partner.
- 20% would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from their phone.
- More than half never switch off their phone.
- A full 66% of all adults suffer from “nomophobia.”
Clearly, the need for connection is very powerful for most people. When it is offered in a “risk free” setting such as via mobile devices or social media it can easily become a hole that only grows larger as one attempts to fill it.
Three Step Program to Reconnecting
There is a way out of this quagmire of discontented disconnection, and yes it does require discipline (sorry –most worthwhile things in life do). Think of the following as your 3-Step program back to really connecting with other human beings:
- Acknowledge the Problem – acknowledge the fact that social media / smartphones, email etc. are addictive and provide a false sense of connection. This also means that when you intend to really connect with someone, insist that both of you turn off your phones and avoid other distractions.
- Practice Presence – this simply means when you are with someone, either in person or over the phone, really *be* with that person. Allow no distractions, agendas or monkey-mind chatter to interfere. Think of it as a calm awareness intently observing and receiving the other.
- Practice Feeling Connection – true human connection can be felt in your body, in most cases a warm feeling around the chest and heart region. As you practice what it is like to be vulnerable, authentic and open-hearted pay attention to how your body feels. It will tell you if you are making progress or not. Once you experience this and get better at making it happen consistently, you will never again want to go back to its false cousin.
So, who do you practice with? I’d start with your significant other first and foremost. Then, gradually work your way through friends, family and then eventually even strangers. You will be amazed at how differently the world will appear when you do.
When you make this commitment to be and feel truly connected, you will show up entirely differently to those around you. And, you will find that the rest of the world starts showing up differently for your as well.
Connection is an inside job that always starts with you then spreads out to all those with whom you had the courage to connect. And it can be very viral. This is really the next revolution in social “media” that requires no devices or media whatsoever.
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About the Author
Michael J. Russer is a prostate cancer survivor who was left completely impotent as a result of his treatments. Yet, it was because of his impotence that he and his partner discovered an entirely new approach to emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy that far exceeds anything either experienced prior to when things were working “correctly.” His mission is to help men, women and couples everywhere to achieve extraordinary intimacy on all levels.
He is an international speaker, author and thought leader on the issues of human connection and intimacy. He also speaks pro-bono to Cancer Support Centers and Gilda’s Clubs around the U.S. for cancer survivors and their partners about regaining intimacy in the face of cancer. Go to MichaelRusserLive.com to explore the possibility of having Michael speak at your next event.
Michael is also a champion of the nonprofit men’s work being done by the ManKind Project (MKPUSA.org). He completed the New Warrior Training Adventure in 2012.
iTunes: Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Disconnected World
TEDx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK8f8w7ICng