Are You Leaning on your “Emotionships” While You’re Struggling?

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported nearly a month ago that, although we were only several weeks into lockdown at that point, their offices were experiencing a barrage of calls…

Unhappy married couples pushed to the brink by quarantine were trying to secure a spot in line for when the courts reopened. 

The president of that AAML says this is happening all over the country…

And, of course, as we’ve talked about, more and more people are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, as loneliness or cramped quarters take their toll on the public.

There’s no one reason a marriage ends… or depression sets in… or allostatic load becomes overwhelming. 

So there is no one solution.

In fact, a solution might be as multifaceted as the stuff of the “emotionship” theory – the idea that different emotional needs can be better fulfilled by delegating their care to specific people who are better suited to address them than others. 

It is the antithesis of the post-war nuclear concept of family life – who should be privy to your private thoughts and feelings, which often dictated how wide your circle of confidants could be. It also disavows the notion of “the one”, which strains romantic partnerships by expecting significant others to be lovers, friends, financial advisors, supporters, inspirers, comforters, motivators, organizers, hustlers, and de facto dates to things that interest you

To understand this theory, start here: No one’s inner child ever grows up

There’s a little kid still in there – confused, hurt, wanting to be shown love, and wanting to show love. Now remember the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Why does it take a village? Why is it important to “diversify our relationship portfolio,” to adult-ify the concept? Why should we spread our needs across the many and relieve the burden on the few?

You Probably Baked this Into Your Life Already

When you’re sad, is there someone you think to call right away – someone who’ll be ready with a joke (if that’s how you cope), or a ready ear, or twin tears? What about when something great happens at work, and you know exactly which friend will appreciate the subtle ways you made yourself indispensable and secured that promotion? What about when you’ve gotten into an argument with your partner… and you know which person in your life will either fan the flames of your righteous rage, or help you find culpability for your part in the disagreement so that you can move past it?

It’s entirely likely that you’re already performing “emotionship” delegation, whether consciously or unconsciously. You instinctively know who will fulfill your needs in the ways that you either want or need.

Deliberately designing emotionships into the shape of your life can be incredibly beneficial in several ways…

  • You reduce strain on individual members of your support network by requiring less of them.
  • You improve personal feelings regarding those members by playing to their strengths instead of judging them for their poor performance in areas of weakness.
  • You bolster existing relationships by delving deeper into areas of commonality, previously obfuscated by too much noise.
  • You get to focus on the things you love about the people you love, instead of the areas where you feel they aren’t meeting your standards.

The Dynamic 21st Century Human Being

Today, more than ever, we are set upon by interests. It’s almost oppressive, the number of things we can, should, want to, have to care about. Or maybe it’s thrilling – depends on how you think about it!

But the thought that we should expect any one, or two or three, people to meet us at every ripple of interest, every professional advancement, every trauma reaction… well, it isn’t sustainable.

And if it’s unsustainable and unfulfilling for you… it’s likely that the people in your life don’t feel that you are meeting their every need.

That’s because we aren’t supposed to! 

When human beings lived in more communal settings – actual communes, smaller towns, more family members to a household – responsibilities, social activities, and even romance were divided amongst the group.

And it’s even more crucial that we split ourselves and our networks now. 

Feeling isolated and unable to connect is plain bad for our health. It causes undue strain on our nervous systems and raises our blood pressure while lowering our mental capabilities – among other things.

If you’re feeling like the people in your house aren’t getting you or that you’re not receiving the kind of time and attention socially that you need, consider the possibility that you are right and that it’s no one’s fault.

Frustrated at how lackluster and unhealthy your family meals are turning out? Consult your friend who’s bonkers about nutrition! Feeling disconnected from your spirituality? Call up your aunt who’s never wavered in her faith. Just finished a wonderful book but it isn’t your partner’s genre? Write your bibliophile buddy an email gushing about your latest library addition.

We can all be a million things to a million people – and they can do the same for us.
Relieve some of the pressure on your immediate quarantine pals… and encourage them to do the same. Give emotionships a spotlight.

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.