Continuing my series on the emotional life, this is a post on the importance of emotional reciprocation. This is actually one the most fundamental human skills but most people have trouble doing it in at least one situation or role.
The principle here is that expression is the fundamental building block of relationship. If you do not express it, it is as if it never happened. If you are happy and you don’t express it, then people will think you were not. If you are thankful and you don’t express it, then people will think you are not thankful. Human beings require this kind of feedback in order to know what is going on. God created us as a closed system with a body and a mouth to express our ideas rather than just spirit beings where everything is transparent. This means that in order to have relationship you have to express.
This expression must be done in the “virtuous cycle.” Let me explain. You give me a gift. I say thank you. You say “I was glad to.” This three step process is what creates connection. If anyone one of these steps is missing, the connection fails.
- Initation: You gave me the gift
- Response: I say thank you
- Affirmation: I say I was glad to give the gift.
If you do not initiate, then nothing will happen. We will just sit around together feeling unconnected. You have to reach out. This is an important step, but most people understand this at least in theory, though many don’t actually do it in practice.
The more subtle step is next: Response. If I fail to respond, then you will feel rejected. I have to affirm the fact that I liked your initiation. If I do not do this, you will be less likely to reciprocate. I rejected you. I trained you not to initiate. This is why if you want to receive the person but not what they want to give, you have to find a way to still send acceptance. This is why in the world of giving you would never dream of rebuffing the gift. You would be telling the person you reject them. Or if you have to reject you must counter-balance with something else. For example, I invite you out to dinner. If you can’t come, you have to invite me back. Or schedule a rain-date. If you just flat say no, you are shutting down the relationship. At the very least, you have to make a large emotional display about how much you really really wanted to come. This tells me that you accept my initiation in spirit.
The cycle is not yet complete however. You receiving me is not enough to make us feel connected. I have to then affirm you back. This affirms the relationship. Thank you for thanking me. I had a great time. Nothing but positive feelings here. You are sharing in the positivity of the experience.
When this cycle is completed both of you feel connected. The more often you complete this cycle together, the closer you feel together. If you complete the cycle enough you move into
Have you have had a relationship where you just knew you were on the same page? Where you know there is nothing negative between you? This is abiding connection. You experience this after the need for communication has been surpasses. Things like thanking and affirming become a formality and even a distraction. You are operating out of deep reserves of shared connection.
What’s funny about this zone is that it only works if you are both truly in it. I know that we are connected. You know that we are connected. I know that you know, and you know that I know. It’s kind of like when you belay onto a rope for a dangerous climb. You confirm to each other that the rope is secure and then you begin to put weight on it.
This zone is hard to stay in. You can easily fall out if one of you starts to doubt that you are connected. This is the zone we should seek in all of our relationships. With friends, with God and even in the bedroom. When you have this level of connection, there is a deep sense of fulfillment and together that we were all created for.
How do I get there?
A lot of time together will not do it. Though that can help give background, what really matters is that when you are together you are building and building these cycles of virtuous connection. Where each time you are together, you never break the cycle. There is always initiation, acceptance and affirmation. Even when you don’t agree, you have to keep building this. You have to always be acting from a heart that says “I want a closer relationship with you.”
Now of course that means you can’t just do it with anyone. It’s something you build with people you really trust and want to be close to. People who share your values. As you build this, you get to really trust what you know about each other and begin to act on it. I know that John would like it if I X therefore I will and won’t have to ask. This feeling that you know the permission is there — sometimes called “refrigerator rights” is a reflection of the kind of abiding connection I’m talking about and that we should strive for.