Newspaper Column #17: The Viralness of HIV/AIDs – Part IV: What Causes Emotional Fidelity?

As it appeared in the Botswana Sunday Standard on June 2, 2013

“A relationship does not need the “baggage” we bring to it from our respective pasts.  Yet it serves to remind us
they are there, if we are still carrying them.  Leverage the relationship to work at unloading our baggage together.
The act of doing so clears misunderstandings and brings the two even closer.  Every time.
Conflicts in a relationship are not bad.  90% of the time they are the result of reasons from our pasts.”

In last week’s segment of this column, we concluded it was not as easy for one to enjoy sexual fidelity for oneself till one learns to enjoy “emotional fidelity” with one’s partner.  It is easy to miss this point in the “heat of the moments” but it is hard to ignore this inter-relationship over time.

When emotional fidelity or intimacy is missing between couples, it brings all relationships to an eventual standstill.  It’s usually not just sexual infidelity that causes relationships to crack up.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What is emotional fidelity or intimacy and what does it look like?  What allows a couple to grow it between the two?  Does it happen by accident or is it open to nurturing?  Or does it happen because it is propped up by obligations as a result of the physical relationships that exist between and around them?

Emotional fidelity happens for its own sake and requires effort exclusively on the part of the couple.  Nobody (a child, parents, or wealth) can help do that step for them.  Fortunately or unfortunately.

When I do arrive at this stage of my sessions with participants in understanding the interrelationships between fidelity and prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and I present the question, “What is emotional fidelity or itimacy?”, I get the following responses, each time, without fail:

  1. Trust (that I expect my partner trusts me, or I should be able to trust him)
  2. Care (that my partner cares for me)
  3. Loyalty (that my partner is loyal to me)
  4. Compassion (that my partner shows compassion to me)
  5. Sexual pleasures (that my partner allows me to reach that pleasure for me)
  6. Passion, lust (that I must enjoy these)
  7. Respect (that my partner should respect me)
  8. Love (that my partner should love me)  … we should love each other, but that I’d love him when he shows his love me.
  9. Listens (that my partner listens to me)
  10. …. And so on, more or less in that order.

Interestingly, while the list appears seemingly innocent, take a closer look at it when we include the words that appear in parenthesis.  These are usually not voiced in the first instances.  What do you notice?

We had hoped these emotions would happen for oneself rather than for our partner.  So it would be not be a case by as much of compassion that I present to my partner as much as compassion that I expect my partner shows me.  It is not by as much the respect I accord to my partner, by as much as what I expect my partner to accord to me.  If they do it for me, then I shall do it for them.  Then it becomes mutual.  Otherwise. No!

Yet, relationships thrive, when the attention is on meeting the emotional needs of my partner rather than of myself (and, don’t read this part alone aloud to your partner! (smile).  Read the whole article together, if that is possible).

What are the emotional needs of my partner?  Would they be the same as mine?

Let me present two words here.  “Care” and “Trust”.  Both words describe emotions.  But which word describes best an emotion that when that need is met for her, helps her feel even more so like a woman.  And a man a man.  Both emotions are needed, but which one stands apart for each gender?

Would that emotion be care or trust for a woman?  Most can agree and men are quite clear of it each time, that a woman feels most like a woman is when she sees “her man cares for her”.  Yes, mothers ‘take care of their sons and daughters’.  But when the daughter grows up and she has her own children, and may take “care of her son”, she is happiest when she receives care from her husband or boyfriend.

And a man feels at his best, when he sees that his woman “trusts him”.  Sometimes, as women we do to others what we expect them to do for us.  And so, she may end up ‘taking care of him’, thinking should the more she ‘cares for him’ that more he would ‘take care of her’.

But a man does not need care from his woman.  Otherwise he sees his mother in his woman.  He needs our trust which would allow him to grow and feel more so like a man.  The less he enjoys the trust from his woman, the less he learns to feel like a man.  And therefore “stays as a ‘boy’ to be taken care of”.  This stunts his emotional development as a man.

How can we be sure these are indeed what best describes the emotional needs of the respective genders?  How do we tell?  Think what we notice happen in our own relationships?

Also men and women keep different scoring systems.  When a man does an act of ‘giving’ to his woman, the score he accords for his act depends on the size of the gift.  If say the man takes his woman for a vacation, in his books he has scored a lot of points.

But the woman keeps a different scoring system.  Be it the gift is big or small, she accords one point.  So, if the man brings her 24 roses or 1 rose, to her she accords 1 point for that act of giving he made to her.

So here’s the trick.  Instead of giving her 24 roses (and his book he records 24 points) at one time, bring her one rose but do it 24 times over a period of time.  That will be 24 points in her book.  What does this mean?  What is more important to her is not the size of the gift but rather the consistency in the act of giving.

She could sometimes come across as being ‘expensive’ but all she is trying to do is ‘to make up for the acts of giving that were not done in the past.  Hard as it seems, women can be easy.  We would need to understand the other genders’ emotional needs first for a more cordial relationship.

The physical needs of the two genders may be similar.   We all need warmth, food and shelter.  But when we attempt to cross the relationship into the emotional realm, and attempt to meet the emotional needs of the opposite gender, we meet in the differences, and not in the similarities.

So it is easy to get away by saying “he is not my type” or “she is not my type”.  It is actually truer than we believe it to be.

 “Women mistakenly expect men to react and behave the
way women do, while men continue to misunderstand
what women really need.”
  Dr Gray
– Author of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”

So who would need to start meeting the needs of the other gender first?  Would it be that the woman shows trust in her man first, before he begins to accord care to her.  Or would it be vice-versa?

And then there are five other types of emotional needs that are different for men and women.  What do you think they are?

What do you see is the impact of couples who are able to meet and build emotional intimacy with each other on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country?  What would prevent them from building such levels of intimacies?

These will be the subject of the column’s discussion for next week.  Happy discussing and discovering with your family and friends!

Ms Sheila Damodaran works as a systemic strategy development consultant currently developing her practice with national planning commissions in southern Africa.  She welcomes comments and queries for her programmes at or call DID: 3931518.