Bonding is the heart of intimacy

Bonding is the single most important concept for improving a relationship. It’s also the one concept couples often know least about. “Bonding” means a unique combination of physical and emotional intimacy, the linking of touch and emotions. This is the factor most often lacking when couples report “something missing” in their relationship. Couples who experience their marriages as a business arrangement or battlefield are rarely bonded.

Many of us have never experienced this with our partners. Many of us are so busy that we don’t take the time for this kind of mutual nurturing. It is a powerful buffer against the stresses of daily life–and nature’s best remedy for depression. The inability to meet one’s need for bonding is often at the heart of depression, yet people who are depressed rarely know that.

It is as if there is literally a primitive creature part of us whose needs–for security and for nurturing — are so strong that, when they are unmet, the more “civilized” layers or our personality are not able to function effectively. In fact, we now have reason to believe from research findings that bonding is a basic biologically based need–like eating, sleeping and breathing, and it has to be satisfied on a regular periodic basis or we will develop symptoms. It is our creature part that loves–needs–bonding, which not only soothes and delights us but provides a needed sense of comfort, trust, and safety. When our creature self is content and relaxed, when we feel calm, safe, and connected with our partner, our thinking is no longer colored by panic, rage, doubt, or torment and we are far more free to think clearly and creatively.

Bonding or holding each other first, and talking later, is a wonderful strategy for reducing the frequency, intensity, and destructiveness of fights. Very few of us can really think things through when we are upset, and when we try to deal with a heavily emotional situation verbally and “rationally” we often end up saying things we don’t mean and later regret having said. When lying together closely, accepting each other, anger and all, couples are far more likely to lower their defenses and discover the hurt that almost always underlies withdrawal or angry explosions and can avoid letting an upsetting episode escalate and become even more hurtful–to them and to their relationship. In some ways, bonding is often particularly effective with highly verbal individuals for whom words have become an elaborate defense against feelings, a way almost of talking emotions to death.

While bonding may be manifested by such simple gestures of warmth and affection as hugs and kisses, true bonding is much more than gestures. It’s essence lies in total acceptance that the other person is fully there, emotionally with you and for you–open to you–in body, heart and mind–and knowing that your partner has the same trust in you. It’s the ability to share yourself fully, mind and heart, with another human being. It means being open to confiding, not having to repress or deny thoughts or feelings, accepting your partner and cherishing your need and your partner’s need for closeness. True bonding allows you to lower your defenses, to be comfortable with your own vulnerability, knowing you are accepted and loved for what you really are, and don’t have to pretend to be.

There are other more limited forms of bonding. Having a marvelous conversation and feeling a strong connection with someone is a form of feeling bonded. It’s when you combine confiding with physical closeness that you get the intimacy that lies at the heart of love. It’s when people lose this unique combination that they begin to say, “There’s something missing. I’m not happy.”

Bonding is the heart of intimacy. More encompassing and enduring than passion or lust (though at times it may include them), bonding is a source of total bodily pleasure that remains even when sexual capacity is diminished because of illness or age. It’s a closeness that fills both a skin hunger and a need to feel safe in the world, to feel that you can trust another person with your whole being, your laughter, tears, and all. It’s as close as most adults get to the feeling of “creature comfort,” of returning to the womb, to that rare mixture of closeness, warmth, safety, support, comfort, pleasure, and contentment–to the exquisite experience, however temporary, of fusion with another being.

~ Lori Heyman Gordon

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