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Desire for Connection

As I listen to clients and message board members talk about relationships—and I think about them in general—I’m amazed at our differing needs for connection. Recognizing that not everyone has the same desire or capacity for intimacy that we have can only improve relationships and our ability to avoid turning to food when connection falters.

This point came home to me while doing a family therapy session in which two out of three adult brothers lived close to their parents and saw them fairly regularly. All of them were upset that brother #3, living hundreds of miles away, returned to the family home for holidays only. Mind you, this wasn’t a family that needed getting away from: they were pleasant enough and genuinely cared about each other. The third brother, the odd man out in this clan, simply had less need for connection in general than other family members did. There was nothing wrong with them and nothing wrong with him.

Another example shows up regularly in couples therapy when one partner wants to be closer than the other wants to be. This is as true with same-sex couples as with different-sex couples, though females are usually, but not always by any means, more connection-oriented than males. You may recognize this dynamic: partner A wants to cuddle a good deal and partner B is fine with an occasional hug or kiss. Or partner A calls partner B multiple times a day to say hi and check in, while partner B is okay waiting to talk and share the day’s happenings over dinner. Even with friends there are varying levels of desire for connection. Some are happy to stay in touch by email or phone, while others desire a face-to-face every once in a while or on a regular basis.

It’s useful to understand the dynamics of closeness with others and not make them wrong for their desired level of intimacy if it’s different from ours. It’s absolutely vital to match levels when you’re partnering up with someone for life. Rather than push for or pull away from more intimacy, instead simply notice and be curious about differences. Be direct and talk about the subject with an eye toward appreciating how the other person feels about connection and closeness rather trying to change her or him. And be sure to let them know what you want in the intimacy department. Don’t expect them to read your mind. Go into the discussion without an agenda and be open to negotiation.

Most importantly, avoid taking a lack of desired intimacy as confirmation that you’re not lovable and go on to abuse food or your body. Learn how to talk about and manage connectivity differences and you’ll have a better relationship with others and with food.

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