Last month we explored loneliness and its dramatic rise globally in all age groups. In a society that’s more connected than ever before, how can that be?
Social media, the internet and mobile phones have provided more access to people and information than any other time in history. We have the world at our fingertips. We have an increasing circle of “friends,” we can interact expressing “likes,” posting well wishes or opinions with words, symbols or video clips expressing our thoughts.
Facebook has 2.27 billion active monthly users (third Q for 2018); 1.49 billion active daily. About 68 percent of US adults use Facebook. The average number of friends is 338, and 83 percent of parents on Facebook are friends with their children. Users generate four million likes every minute and, in a month, the average user likes ten posts, makes four comments and clicks on eight ads.
Instagram has taken photography to new heights. More pictures are now taken every two minutes than were made during the entire 1800s. It’s also estimated that ten percent of all photos ever taken were snapped; in the last 12 months, over 40 billion photos have been shared with 3.5 billion likes every day.
Texting has become a preferred method of communication. Five billion people globally send and receive text messages; that’s 65 percent of the world’s population. Two hundred ninety-two million people in North America use text messages; that’s 80 percent of the population. The open rate is 98 percent, and researchers predict that six billion people will send and receive text messages by 2025.
More than ever before, often in real time, we know what people are doing, where they are, and what they’re eating, but we don’t “know” them, and they don’t “know” us. We aren’t emotionally connecting; we aren’t bonding. Bonding defined by Merriam- Webster is the formation of a close relationship (as between a mother and child or between a person and an animal) especially through frequent or constant association.
Bonding is a biological need
In 1944, in the United States, an experiment was conducted on 40 newborn infants to determine whether individuals could thrive alone on basic physiological needs without affection. Twenty newborn infants were housed in a particular facility where they had caregivers who would go in to feed them, bathe them and change their diapers, but they would do nothing else. The caregivers had been instructed not to look at or touch the babies more than what was necessary, never communicating with them. All their physical needs were attended to, and the environment was kept sterile, none of the babies becoming ill.
The experiment was halted after four months, by which time, at least half of the babies had died at that point. At least two more died even after being rescued and brought into a more natural familial environment. There was no physiological cause for the babies’ deaths; they were all physically very healthy. Before each baby died, there was a period where they would stop verbalizing and trying to engage with their caregivers – generally, stop moving, nor cry or even change expression – death would follow shortly. The babies who had “given up” before being rescued, died in the same manner, even though they had been removed from the experimental conditions.
The conclusion was that nurturing is a very vital need in humans. While this was taking place, in a separate facility, the second group of twenty newborn infants were raised with all their basic physiological needs provided and the addition of affection from the caregivers. This time, however, the outcome was as expected, no deaths encountered.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow wrote a paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” outlining a hierarchy of physiological needs that are vital to our survival: food, water, air and shelter. But now we know that we need emotional bonding to survive and thrive. As proven in the above case study, bonding is a biological need just like food, water, air and shelter.
So how do we bond?
Initially, in a romantic relationship bonding comes easily; we spend hours talking, revealing who we are, our thoughts and dreams, but sustaining it requires us to be intentional. Relationships begin with long, blissful conversations. We center our schedules around opportunities to be together, energy is abundant, then joyfully, and with high expectations, we marry. Time passes, reality sets in, and the demands of life and children take over. What began with bliss becomes bleak and mundane.
How do we sustain emotional connectedness?
When men feel disconnected, they will usually seek physical connectedness through sex. When women feel disconnected, they often find a connection through talk and sharing of feelings. The difficulty is men typically don’t want to “talk” or share feelings if they don’t feel physically connected (sex) and women don’t want to physically connect (sex) if they don’t feel emotionally connected through “talk.”
So, how do we stay bonded? First, we have to commit to creating focused time, and minimally, we need three basics to open the door for emotional bonding: eye-to-eye contact, close physical proximity, and a sense of emotional and physical safety. When we experience sustained eye-to-eye contact, we’re physically close, and we trust we can confide our thoughts, feelings and experiences with no fear of physical harm, we will bond. We will experience a sense of emotional intimacy. Without this, we will become disconnected.
What does God say about establishing emotional intimacy?
“…serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
We’ve explored emotional bonding and intimacy in our relationship with our spouse. What about emotional intimacy with our Savior? Are you meeting with Him? Are we mentally eye to eye with Him? Do we have focused, uninterrupted time with Him? Is there a sense of emotional and physical safety with Him? Our relationship with Him is our primary relationship, and everything in our marriage will flow out of our relationship to Him. Psalm 139 should be our cry for emotional bonding and intimacy with Him. He “knows” us and loves us completely. Do you know Him?
If not, I encourage you to set aside 90 minutes this month and go to a house of worship. Easter is a season of new beginnings, of forgiveness, of a restored and resurrected life with Him.
Lisa May is the Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida etc. She can be reached at [email protected]ethelife.org or by mail at 5110 N. Federal Hwy. Suite 102, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308.