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.

National Article 19: What causes fidelity?

We know what causes infidelity?

But what causes fidelity?  Whatever that causes fidelity, when it is not there, causes infidelity!

So, what causes fidelity?

A couple goes through different stages or types of intimacy during their times together and experience one or more stages in their lifetime.  To the extent the couple moves through the different stages would depend on the time and attention they place on their relationship.  These include with no specific order or preference i.e. being:

  • Sexually intimate with each other (be it where the couple experiences sexual intimacy either regularly, or on an ad-hoc basis)
  • Physically intimate (where the couple moves to live in the same space together)
  • Emotionally intimate (where the couple enjoys a relationship where each helps the other meet their needs emotionally; here the couple has learned to understand each others’ pasts as well as learnt to share and value unique moments together such as dinners, holidays, family events, and so on.)
  • Mentally intimate (where the couple has learned to see the view of the partner not from one’s own perspective but that of the partner’s and in doing so learns to bring their minds together so that they may plan their lives together from the past, present and into the future and not meet their future as contingent (“let’s cross the bridge when we get there”. i.e, there is child born to them and so they need to meet its living and educational expenses, and so on)
  • Spiritually intimate (where each regard the other as their soul-mate and enjoy a celestial or soul mate experience together)

Where do you think sexual fidelity begins to happen for the couple?  Would it be at sexual intimacy or at physical intimacy or when the couple has learned to experience emotional intimacy?

What does sexual fidelity look like?  It includes among other things, a willingness by each person in the relationship to regard his or her partner as:

  • The only sexual partner for life;
  • Where the relationship is not given (as in blood relations), but the couple has chosen to learn to want to be together;
  • The relationship has grown beyond physical intimacy to include (or aspires to include) all or other forms of intimacy between the two and not limited to one or two out of the five;
  • The couple is in the relationship because they ‘want to’ and not because they ‘had to’ (it is an obligation or transaction or choices made by parents or forced to) be in it;
  • The couple regards each’s relationship with the other emotionally (as opposed to physically, materially, mentally) as equals and not assumes either as superior (head of the household) or inferior (submissive) to the other.

Did you say, the above (particularly sexual fidelity) happens when the couple learns to build emotional intimacy?  Yes, you are right!  We know couple who have reached the first two stages in the relationship and have even chosen to marry each other, yet, do not necessarily enjoy sexual fidelity with each other.

So how does emotional intimacy happen?  Does it happen magically or it requires hard work on both sides?  How would they need to work with each other so that they meet the other’s needs emotionally?

The following is something I have found useful as a I work with Dr Gray’s work.  It helps appreciate the level of intimacy that may happen for a couple.

  • What do you notice happening between the two (notice the threads in red)?
  • Does it happen one way or would it need to happen two-ways?
  • Are the needs of the two genders the same?
  • So who starts first?
  • Do these steps happen overnight or do they take time?
  • Do they happen by accident or it helps that both sides of the couple first really appreciate what really ticks the other in (or off)?
  • How would such learning happen?  It is easier if one sees one’s parents do it?  However, should that not be the case, what are the implications for society, the couple and the future?  What could happen differently?

She Needs He Needs
CaringWhen he shows interest in a woman’s feelings and heartfelt concern for her well-being, she begins to trust him more TrustWhen she believes in her man’s abilities and intentions that he is doing his best and that he wants the best for his partner, he is more caring and attentive to her feelings and needs
UnderstandingWhen he listens without judgment but with empathy, the easier it is for her to give her man the acceptance he needs AcceptanceWhen she receives a man without trying to change him, he listens and gives her the understanding she needs
RespectWhen he acknowledges her rights, wishes, and needs, she feels respected.  It is easier for her to give her man the appreciation he deserves AppreciationWhen she acknowledges having received personal benefit and value from a man’s effort and behaviour, he feels appreciated.  He knows his effort is not wasted and is thus encouraged to give more and he respects his partner more.
DevotionWhen he gives priority to a woman’s needs and proudly commits himself to supporting and fulfilling her, the woman thrives and feels adored.  When she feels number one in his life, she admires him. Admiration– When she admires him with wonder, delight and pleased approval, he feels secure enough to devote himself to his woman and adore her.
ValidationWhen he does not object to a woman’s feelings and instead accepts their validity, she truly feels loved and gives the approval the man needs. ApprovalWhen she sees her man as her knight in shining armour and recognizes the good reasons what he does, she signals that he has passed her tests and this becomes easier for him to confirm her feelings.
ReassuranceWhen he repeatedly shows that he cares and devotes himself to his partner (the woman should come to expect sexual fidelity and that the man provides and protects her exclusively), tells a woman that she is continually loved.  He must remember to reassure her again and again.  This moves her to encourage him to be a man bigger than himself. Encouragement– A man primarily needs to be encouraged, understood and if need to see the woman sympathize and he sees her stands by him.  Her encouraging attitude gives hope and courage to a man by expressing confidence in his abilities and character.  When her attitude expresses trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration and approval, it encourages a man to be all that he can be.  This motivates him to give her the loving reassurance she needs.