Why Pseudo-Connection Is Killing Our Relationships
A therapist explains how to build more authentic relationships
Distance is a predictable, automatic response to stress. Dial up the anxiety, and people begin to pull away from each other. It’s the reason you’ve struggled to keep up with friends in pandemic times. Why you might not have the energy to connect with your partner at the end of a long day.
But the emotional distance that waters down our relationships can be much subtler than a lack of communication. As a therapist, I observe how people use a kind of pretend connection to maintain their relationships in tough times. Pseudo-connection is contact that stabilizes a relationship without offering any real emotional contact. In other words, you’re talking without really saying anything.
Pseudo-connection can look like:
- Venting about work.
- Stressing about responsibilities.
- Complaining about the news.
- Gossiping about other people.
- Only talking about your kids.
Pseudo-connection is often more about calming yourself down than connecting with the other person. We all use our relationships to manage anxiety, but too much reliance stifles intimacy and makes us more reactive. Pseudo-connection can also look like talking about anything and everything except yourself. When we gossip about celebrities or complain about our parents to carry a conversation, we never have to share what we think or believe.
So how do you move past pretend connection and towards more authentic, person-to-person relationships?
Authentic connection can look like:
- Thinking out loud about the challenges you’re navigating.
- Sharing your thinking about important issues.
- Sharing moments of joy or success.
- Striving to know the other person’s thinking, beliefs, and experiences.
When stress is high, we are more sensitive to disagreement or disapproval. This makes sharing our thinking and beliefs (or hearing others’) a bit more challenging. Other people’s anxieties are also more contagious, so it’s harder to sit with someone and hear about their struggles. But the willingness to engage with that discomfort, without jumping in to fix their problems, can strengthen any relationship.
We build more authentic relationships when we are willing to let people be in charge of themselves. When we share our own thinking, even when someone might disagree. How have you been relying on pseudo-connections in your relationships recently? Where are the opportunities to share more of yourself, and to be curious about others, instead of relying on gossip or venting?
That’s the paradox of intimacy — the more we treat each other like individuals, the closer we become.