We all have a fundamental human need for love and connection.
When most of us talk about whether we're "getting our needs met," we're usually talking about our marriage or partnership, but fulfillment comes through all types of caring relationships. The ancient Greeks named at least six types, including romantic, friendship, and parental love.
You need different types of closeness. You also need different degrees of closeness.
In his own six-part naming of relationships, developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld describes how the capacity for relationship grows and deepens over the first years of life (if development is on track). As parents, we witness and cultivate this development in our children.
First, children attach through the senses. They are physically close, where they can touch and smell and see us.
Next is sameness. They mirror our actions and mimic our language.
Then comes belonging and loyalty. Our children experience being part of our family, and know we take their side.
Significance comes next. Children feel that they matter to us, and that they're special.
After significance is love. They give us their hearts, and feel emotionally close to us.
Finally, the deepest attachment is through being known. Our children share their innermost selves and tell us their secrets.
These ways of being connected to us are the same ways our children come to connect with others and are the same ways we connect as adults. When we're hoping to get our needs met, these are the needs.
Considering whether our relationship needs are met, it seems natural to examine whether we're receiving enough love and caring to satisfy our longing. But as adults — particularly as parents — we have far fewer opportunities to receive caring than we do to provide it. The good news is that our longing for connection is also fed by giving our caring.
You can connect via the senses seeking someone's company, or by providing your presence.
You can connect through sameness by emulating, or by modeling.
You can seek inclusion, or make someone welcome.
You can be cherished, and you can cherish.
You can be be loved, and you can love.
You can seek to be known, and you can come to know someone deeply.
This is not the martyrdom of mothering in which everyone's needs come before your own. This is a claiming of the dignity and power and gratification of offering love.
Most of us have experienced the feeling of warmth and well-being that comes from a hug. When we feel the desire for that warmth, we can go looking for someone to hug us. Or we can remember that the closeness and connection of a hug is ours whether we receive the hug or we give it.