It is well established that the quality of our relationships with others is a key factor to our mental health and overall wellbeing. With this in mind, we can all benefit from reflecting on this important domain of our lives by identifying what inhibits us from enjoying even more intimacy and connection with other people. Of course, the barriers to deeper and more satisfying relationships vary from one individual story to the next, but two helpful themes to consider are habits and shame.
When it comes to habits and daily routine, many of us orient our lives towards efficiency and productivity rather than presence and relationship. This is understandable as the strong current of our hurried, individualistic culture pulls us in these directions. An anxious employee might find that eating lunch in her cubicle allows her to worry less about the unrealistic expectations of her superior, but the practice comes with a significant relational cost. The headphone-wearing college student who lifts weights by himself misses out on the camaraderie of group fitness classes. The person who spends most evenings drinking in isolation certainly is not maximizing their sense of belonging and connectedness. The adjustments needed may be drastic or subtle, but we can all consider how we might form new habits that are more conducive to relating and connecting with others.
Shame is an even more fundamental and pervasive obstacle to intimate relationship. As we hide parts of ourselves from others out of fear of judgment and rejection, we build self-protective but isolating walls between us and the people around us. As many others have noted, vulnerability is an antidote to shame. By voicing our shortcomings or even simply acknowledging our areas of pain to safe people, we deepen our relationships and lighten the heavy burden of carrying these things by ourselves, freeing us to connect with more ease. With less shame on our shoulders, our topics of conversation tend to expand beyond the weather and sports. Practicing vulnerability is an uncomfortable but very worthwhile endeavor as it decreases shame and increases connection.
Taking an hour out of your week to be open with a psychotherapist is an excellent way to begin addressing both the areas of habits and shame that may be keeping you from enjoying more satisfying relationships and a more fulfilling life in general.