The Importance of Connection

For many years the debate between whether we are products of our nature or of our experiences with primary people in our life (nurture), went back and forth with each faction offering “proof” of its claim. It is becoming clearer, as brain studies evolve and attachment research takes hold, that both nature and nurture are essential and important in the development of a person. What most “experts” are saying now is that nature needs nurture which means that the outcome of our genetic makeup and biological inclinations at birth is very much determined by our life experiences, mostly our experiences in interaction with primary “others.”

It is evident that the experience we call “connection” is essential to the development of a healthy personality and life. This experience is difficult to define in precise terms because, though it has biological and psychological features to it, it has qualities that many would prefer to call spiritual. It incorporates a sense of oneness with another person wherein there is a sensation of being truly and deeply “seen” and accepted.

Without this experience early in life, the brain is in danger of failing to develop the capacity to productively manage feelings and social inter-actions. Interpersonal neurobiologist, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., says in his book Parenting from the Inside Out: “Early in life, infants need connections to caregivers in order to organize their brain’s function in the moment, and to allow it to develop properly over time.”

It is a mistake to assume that this need is only one of childhood. Our ability to thrive and function in an effective and healthy way depends upon the ongoing experience of connection with at least one other human being. It is in our nature and necessary that we seek close connections and that we learn to communicate and interact in ways that enrich and sustain these close encounters of the human kind.

The Art of Connection

If we listen closely to ourselves, we know that at the core of our purpose and agenda in a committed relationship is the desire for connection. For most of us, there has been little modeling for how we are to achieve this elusive prize.

Communication is, of course, central to any plan designed to achieve connection. It is essential that we listen carefully for what our partner is, or may not clearly be, saying with their words or actions. In the process we call Dialogue, we paraphrase or reflect back what we hear our partner saying so that they, as the expert in their own reality, can clarify what they mean to express. This can be a very tedious process, and it can seem to take "too much" time. In the long run, however, it actually saves a lot of the time we spend in conflict and misunderstanding.

It takes more than communication, however, to achieve connection. We also need to experience each other as friends. This can seem very simplistic, but impressive research by John Gottman has demonstrated how central friendship is in determining the longevity of our committed relationships. It is imperative that we learn how to listen within ourselves to the simple “wants” beneath our complaints so that we can convert them into non-demanding requests. It is crucial that we express openly our love and affection and cherish each other in public and in private. What a wonderful experience it is to sit with a group of friends and hear our partner tell everyone of their love and appreciation for us!

To be generous with each other in sharing the burdens of everyday life and to be grateful for the gifts, small or large, that come with being together are the cream on this cake we call connection.