In my experience, for relationships to really work, connections have to exist and develop on multiple levels. The extent to which these connections deepen and mature over time is likely to have a big bearing on the level of fulfillment the parties experience within the relationship.
During my years of active practice as therapist, I worked with many couples. With the notable exception of situations in which abuse of some type was present, it was always a bit disheartening to witness the unraveling of a relationship. Therapists are bound to see more than their fair share of relationship failures because all too often couples make the decision to seek therapy at a time when their relationship has already deteriorated beyond the point of easy repair. Whether the relationships were eventually salvaged or dissolved, one thing always stood out to me as the factor making the real difference: connection.
The types and degrees of interpersonal connections that can exist within a relationship vary. There are connections at the purely physical or “chemistry” level. Then there are connections that exist on primarily an intellectual level, an emotional level, or even a “practical” or lifestyle-based level. The relative strength of the many different types of connections can make all the difference in the quality of a relationship, possibly even determining whether the relationship will endure and be an instrument of fulfillment for both parties or eventually fail. The quality of connection (i.e. level of depth) on any dimension matters, too. Connections at a purely superficial level are generally short-lived, although they can be intense.
It probably comes as no surprise that many couples report that the strongest connection they felt at the onset of their relationship was the on the physical level. While physical attraction and passion can be important aspects of any relationship, the initial “chemistry” can also be one of the reasons the relationship fails in the end, especially when it dominates over any of the other kinds of connections upon which a healthy relationship depends. An overly-intense physical component to a relationship can often lead to distorted perceptions. For example, one partner might “over-idealize” the other, ascribing attributes to them they don’t actually have. They might also overlook potentially problematic attributes as well as the lack of connection at other levels crucial to the survival of a relationship. Blindness to important dimensions of a relationship doesn’t always come from physical infatuation. For example, one partner in the relationship can be so lacking in self-esteem and so overwhelmed by the apparent recognition and approval they seem to be getting from the other partner that they allow the intensity of their emotional connection to overrule their better judgment about other aspects of the relationship.
In my experience, for relationships to really work, connections have to exist and develop on multiple levels. The extent to which these connections deepen and mature over time is likely to have a big bearing on the level of fulfillment the parties experience within the relationship. That’s why it’s a good idea at the very outset of a relationship to ask oneself some key questions, the answers to which could make all the difference with respect to that relationship’s future. Some of the more important questions include:
- How do I connect with this person on an intellectual level?
- Do we have similar ideas about things? Do we think about the world in similar ways? Are we intellectual equals? Do I really understand them and do they really understand me?
- How do I connect with this person on an emotional level?
- Can I confide my deepest feelings to her? Does she show respect for those feelings? Do I feel safe when I’m emotionally “exposed”? Is he emotionally stable? Does she know how to modulate and regulate her emotions?
- How do we connect at the psychological level?
- Do we “get” each other, our quirks, our idiosyncrasies, our “issues”? Do we respect each other’s unique personality characteristics? Can we live with our differences? Do we share the same sense of humor? Do we really honor, respect, and enjoy the kind of persons we are?
- How do we connect on the spiritual plane?
- Do we share the same core values? Do we respect one another’s beliefs? Do any of our attitudes, ways of thinking, or values pose a challenge to liking, accepting, or respecting one another?
- How do I connect with this person on the level of communication?
- Does he hear me when I’m expressing concern? Do I always feel like she is keeping things from me? Is there always room for dialogue or does every discussion soon become a fight?
- How do we connect on the practical aspects of living together?
- Can we be comfortable with the things each of us likes or prefers? Do we share enough of the same interests to spend quality time together? Do we have enough regard for our different interests that we can afford each other private space? Are our most ingrained habits compatible and endurable or are they so distasteful and irritating that they constantly grate on us?
- How deeply and meaningfully do we connect?
- Do we really touch one another, feel one another, experience one another on a level that makes us feel fully valued and embraced?
Connecting on as many levels as possible and with proper balance is key to developing the degree of intimacy any relationship needs to survive and blossom. True intimacy is the time-tested glue for any relationship. Intimacy demands that we not only connect with one another but that we do it often, with sincerity and depth, and on more than just one level. The emotional baggage we bring with us into a relationship (as well as some of our personality traits) can affect our capacity for intimacy. Various stresses, fears, distractions, etc. can also interfere with establishing the connections necessary to foster intimacy. There are times when we really have to work at the process of connecting. In the end, it’s always the connections we establish and maintain that holds our relationships together and deepens the regard we have for those we love. If we want relationships that satisfy — relationships that nurture, help us grow, and ultimately bring us joy — we simply have to connect.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by