Are you a doer? Are you feeling closed in by all the “stay at home” and “shelter in place” orders to mitigate the Coronavirus pandemic? Are you someone who has pooh-poohed things like feelings in favor of being productive and getting things done?

Are you now in close quarters with someone, perhaps a spouse or partner, who you try to help by giving them advice or solutions they’re not asking for and resent receiving? Furthermore, do they frustrate you when they have told you that they just want you to listen?

Guess what? Here is your golden opportunity to achieve something that you may have been too busy to achieve – at least after the honeymoon wore off.  That something is closeness.

Before you gag on that notion, would it surprise you to know that in my decades of coaching and before that doing psychotherapy with individuals and couples, when a spouse or partner finally got fed up when their desire for intimacy was continually minimized or even ridiculed and left their spouse, that their highly productive spouse plummeted.

Apparently, the closeness seeking partner had been not just an emotional object of ridicule, but an emotional stabilizer for their partner.

Still not getting it? Still thinking, “That would never happen to me?”

Imagine that you couldn’t get on the Internet or check your cryptocurrency account for a month.  Or horror of horrors, imagine you were stuck on a cruise ship because of a Covid-19 outbreak and had limited internet connectivity to land.

That’s the way you may have been making a partner or spouse feel who wanted to be in an intimate relationship with you which they thought they had when you pursued them and before the adventure for you went away. But instead they had to settle for an emotionally empty, transaction driven arrangement and worse, one in which they were often made to feel silly or stupid.

If you don’t like what it would feel like to be cut off from your Internet connectivity or money accounts, don’t make your partner or spouse feel that way for being cut off from you.

Why is connecting so important?

Connecting, and I mean emotionally connecting, is what turns a house into a home.  Without it, a house is not a home.

There’s also a neuroscience reason for why emotionally connecting matters. Emotional connectivity triggers the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and oxytocin counteracts high cortisol, the stress hormone. When this occurs, cortisol goes down and our minds calm down.

Giving people advice or solutions when they they want to connect emotionally and then becoming frustrated when they push back increases stress and cortisol in both them and you. What they really want is to “feel felt,” which is something high achievers don’t understand or get.

Hopefully what follows will help.

So here’s your challenge in close quarters if you’re a high achiever but closeness avoider.

Tell your partner, “I have something to ask you and I would like your undivided attention. When would be a good time to get it?”

If they become anxious say to them, “No, it’s not about money or having an affair or wanting a divorce or having cancer. It’s just something I’d like to ask you when I can get your undivided attention.”

BTW, that will get their undivided attention.

Then when you’re with you partner look them squarely in the eye and say to them, “At my absolute worst how awful am I capable of making you feel about yourself or so lonely that you’ve even thought of why the hell you’re still with me?’

If you’re fortunate, they may begin to tear up, because you’ve just uncorked feelings they’ve had bottled up for a long time and would be deathly afraid to be so vulnerable and express to you.

They may even be tempted to look away because you just surprised them with possibly the most intimate moment they’ve ever had with you.

If that happens say, “Please, look at me. I didn’t know it was so bad and to be honest, I didn’t even want to know.  But I want to know now, because you don’t deserve that. You deserve a relationship and not merely an arrangement and I am going to fix it. And I am sorry.”

A WARNING!  Make sure you don’t do the above, if you don’t get it and if you don’t mean it.

BTW a good test to see if the above even registers is to watch this rendition of A House is Not a Home from the television show Glee, to see if it hits a nerve with you… any nerve. You’ll have to be patient because the song doesn’t start until midway.


  • Mark Goulston, M.D.

    Author, speaker, podcast host, psychiatrist

    Dr. Mark Goulston is the inventor and developer of Surgical Empathy an approach that helps people to break their attachments to counterproductive modes of functioning and frees them to connect with more productive and healthier alternatives. He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews people on the wakeup calls that changed who they are and made them better human beings and at being human and the host of the LinkedIn Live show, "No Strings Attached." He is a Founding Member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally. He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment and happiness. Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston's expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations including being a boots on the ground suicide prevention specialist and serving as an advisor in the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author or co-author of nine books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.