Craving deeper connection in your relationships?
The pleasure of developing a deep, personal, emotional connection needn’t arise from romance or a sibling bond. Sometimes its arousal can surprise you; it can happen on a massage table.
Please, let me explain.
For many years, I worked as a regional business development executive who mentored junior managers and salespeople. My formula for success included penchants for small talk, manipulating numbers, identifying people’s needs, and exploiting them. (Whoa, whoa, whoa—don’t go there with the word “exploit”—it simply means “to make full use of and derive benefit from.”) Appropriate exploitation is a good thing.
I was good at what I did—award-winning, in fact—but a dissatisfaction accompanied my success. There was no space for genuine connection. My professional life was rife with the shallow communication of business-oriented conversations and guarded personal vulnerabilities. Fulfilling key performance indicators in the board room is a poor recipe for meaningful connection.
After 18 years, I left Corporate America to create a livelihood where I could bring my spirit to my work. I trained in yoga and massage therapy, opened a retreat for therapeutic massage, and began teaching yoga locally. I quickly amassed a wonderful clientele, many of whom I continue to see regularly for 20 years now.
I do not exaggerate when I say the relationships I’ve developed with these clients are some of my most cherished. There is something special about a dimly-lit room, aromatherapy in the air, a person lying on a table, ready to receive, and another with hands eager to give. As our time unfolds, life stories are shared, vulnerabilities revealed, dreams are given voice, disappointments uttered, and frustrations revealed. There is give and take, a dance of genuine communication that delves deep into our shared human experience. A head-to-head frequently melds into a heart-to-heart and, over time, a client-therapist relationship becomes a deep friendship.
The years spent as a massage therapist have taught me some things about the importance of vulnerability in relationships. Research professor and author, Brené Brown, has studied, and written books about vulnerability.
Here’s what she says:
“Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It’s that unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control. We can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you’re willing to be.”
Being courageous enough to be vulnerable in a relationship takes trust and trust is something we must invest in.
If I generalize my experience in the massage room to my broader life experience, here are six things I’ve learned about deepening my relationships.
The cornerstone to a meaningful relationship is trust, and trust takes time. Our cultural norm is to keep communication quick and shallow.
“How are you doing?”
“Fine, thank you.”
We rush from place to place, task to task, never pausing for true connection. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll miss something if we slow down, but I’m convinced that we miss the truly sweet moments when we’re rushed.
Slow down. Allow yourself time to connect.
When someone asks me questions about my life, I feel valued. When I feel valued, I open up more easily.
When I ask questions of others, I begin to learn about their passions, who they are, and what drives them. I learn about pieces of their life that are similar to mine and through these similarities, connections are made.
When someone is sharing a part of themselves with us, it’s important to listen carefully.
Once again, our rushed lifestyle gets us into trouble. Rushing often causes us to “half listen” or “wrongly listen.” Sometimes we are so anxious to add our own two cents that we fail to truly hear what is being said.
Honor the person you’re talking with enough to slow down and truly hear what is being said.
Practice the Art of Empathy
Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine ourselves in their place. Empathy helps us feel more deeply connected to other people.
To feel connected to others is important for our own well-being, as well as theirs. Empathy is at the heart of human relationships and helps us to feel valued, loved, and cared for.
Empathy doesn’t always come naturally for everyone, but we can practice flexing our empathy muscles by slowing down, listening, and trying to imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes.
Be Brave Enough to Be Vulnerable
As Brené Brown teaches us, vulnerability takes courage. Exposing our weaknesses takes a special kind of bravery. But if we are always perceived to be strong, capable, invulnerable in every situation, others may feel intimidated and withdraw.
Expressing our fears, our unguarded tenderness, can open us into deeper relationships—making room for a kindred connection to occur.
Go ahead, dress yourself up to courage, and dare to be vulnerable.
Acknowledge and Express Your Gratitude
So, you’ve slowed down, asked questions, and listened carefully. You’ve become skilled at being empathetic and learned vulnerability can be the most courageous thing you can do. Your relationships are deepening in a way that you had only dreamed of.
Go ahead. Sink into the acknowledgment of your gratitude for investing in deepening your connections. Tell your friend how grateful you are for them and what you share. You’ve tossed shallowness by the wayside.
“You’re in the deep end—far from the shallow now.” ~ Lady Gaga