I believe that deep down, all of us,
whether we are male or female,
have simultaneous needs for
connection and autonomy.

In our relationships,
the other is always holding
a precious part of ourselves,
and reflecting it back to us,
for our mutual benefit.

Men Need Connection Too!

By Michael Neuert, November 26, 2023

But what surprised me most, is when I began to have more understanding of Angela’s feelings and needs, I realized that deep down, I was also feeling alone. Autonomy and connection can seem like opposite needs, but really they are just two sides of the same coin.

Men Need Connection Too!

I recently took a day off for myself, to go to the ocean and do some hiking. No phones, emails, clients, home repairs, etc. Just me and the ocean. I felt so rejuvenated, that when I got home that night, I excitedly announced to my dear wife Angela: My time on my own today felt so good, I’m going to do this every Tuesday!

But Angela seemed quiet and distant. After I asked, she explained that a part of her was feeling hurt because I was declaring a unilateral decision about my own need for space (which she wholeheartedly supported), but a part of her at times was wanting more connection in our relationship, not less.

So when Angela said, sometimes I wish we had more connection time, a part inside me started thinking: Why are you always needing connection? You are supposed to be here for me! How dare you tell me what to do! Don’t you see that I need more alone time to relax and recharge?

In that moment, I was triggered, and my nervous system was overwhelmed with these kinds of judgments. In IFS (Internal Family Systems), this is what we call “being blended with a part.” I would eventually tune into a very wounded and angry infant part of me that was furious – it was like he was saying to my mother when I was little: How dare YOU have needs? YOU should be here to meet MY needs. I’m tired of meeting YOUR needs, take care of ME!

Unfortunately, I was temporarily “blended” with the pain and rage of this young part inside me. Thus I was neither present enough to hear Angela’s needs, nor to find practical ways to soothe my own hurt parts. Instead, I interpreted her dissatisfaction as meaning that she was against my needs for autonomy, and that she was trying to control me. And a part of her was thinking that I was ignoring her needs for deeper connection and intimacy, and not hearing that at that moment she was feeling lonely and needing some care and closeness.

Holding Onto Ourselves While We Hear the Feelings and Needs of Others

But fortunately, Angela wasn’t completely triggered. She still had some sense of her deep self, what in IFS we call “Self” energy. She was able to say to me: I also really want your needs for autonomy and relaxation to get met, Michael.

And I slowly began to realize that Angela was not trying to control me. She was not saying, don’t you dare go out and have your own alone time Michael. She was just trying to let me know that she was feeling hurt because my declaration was reminding her that in that moment, she was feeling a lack of intimacy with me, and wanting more companionship time, not less.

So as we each began to tune into our own feelings, it became easier for both of us to acknowledge and get curious about the other person’s distress and needs. Finally, I could begin to hear that she had valid concerns, in that moment, about feeling lonely and abandoned, and that she had important needs for closeness, affection, sharing and intimacy.

But what surprised me most, was when I began to experience more care and understanding for Angela’s truth about her own feelings and needs, I realized that deep down, I was also feeling alone. I was not experiencing the world like it was supporting me. I was experiencing my life as if everything was pulling on me, demanding more from me. And now it made sense, I was even interpreting Angela’s needs as another demand. I was not feeling connected to life, but rather, I was feeling alone too.

Then immediately everything melted. Underneath my obvious need for my own space and autonomy, I became aware of an aching “part” in my chest, that was feeling quite scared and lost. Yes I did need personal time to recover a sense of my own space and autonomy. But underneath that, I had a very strong need for intimacy and connection also.

Masculine Versus Feminine Energies

It is not unusual for both people in a relationship to have similar needs (for example in this case connection) but opposite strategies to meet those needs. When faced with challenges, it is not unusual for the person playing the more masculine role in the relationship to try to soothe themselves by separating and getting space, while at the same time the person playing the feminine role may want to soothe themselves by connecting and making contact.

Here I say “masculine role” and “feminine role,” because although it often is the man who is in the masculine role, and the woman who is in the feminine role, it does not have to be that way. These roles are reversed in many loving relationships – and can even shift periodically within the same couple. And of course, this dynamic plays out in same sex couples as well, where one person typically tends more towards autonomy needs, and the other towards connection needs.

The Magic of Everyone Getting Their Needs Met

As a man, I find that when I get more connected to myself inside, I also start to get curious and feel more care for the needs of my partner. I start to move into a more abundant type of consciousness. I begin to feel the magic of “I don’t know how we are going to solve this, but I really want everyone’s needs to get met here.”

One of the most effective “tools” that Angela and I use in our relationship, is when we feel triggered by the other, we try to actively get into a mindset where we can recognize and validate the feelings and needs of the other, as well as our own. It often feels tricky, because our preferred strategies can seem so opposite and conflicting in the moment, but we really try to hold the energy of both of us getting our needs met.

In this example, our “both/and” approach to our needs helped us realize that although we spend a lot of time together, it is often doing task-oriented things like taxes or cleaning up the house, and not being very intimate. Therefore, we took steps to better meet both of our needs – to schedule more intimate connection time for us as a couple, as well as to give me more permission to take personal time on my own.

Autonomy and Connection are Two Sides of the Same Coin

To most of us in relationships, autonomy and connection can seem like opposite needs – one person needs space, the other needs connection. But really, they are just two sides of the same coin. They are not opposites, but rather, they complement each other. They are both necessary, simultaneously.

In my work, this is a common thing I see with many of my male clients. They are trying to find their own space, because deep inside, they feel overwhelmed by their own unresolved feelings, and by the feelings and needs of others. They are trying to get a sense of their own “Self” back. When men say that they need to get away, they often mean that they just need to get connected with themselves first. Then they can connect with others.

In my masculine role, I have a need for deep connection too (as well as for autonomy and private time). And similarly, while my partner may often be in a more feminine energy, and yearn for connection and intimacy, she also has big needs for autonomy and her own alone time. In healthy relationships, women need autonomy too!

The Beauty of Being Triggered in Our Relationships

Now when I think back to that recent time when we were triggered, I feel so grateful, because it helped me to get more in touch with my own need for connection. It helped me meet and care for the young parts inside of me, that are afraid of losing my own sense of self – they are afraid of intimacy and connection, yet want it so desperately!

I believe that deep down, all of us, whether we are male or female, have simultaneous needs for connection and autonomy. Yes, sometimes our strategies for getting our needs met – and which particular need is prominent in the moment – will differ between us. But in our relationships, especially when things get difficult, the other is always holding a precious part of ourselves, and reflecting it back to us, for our mutual benefit.


New: MONDAY NIGHT MEN’S GROUP – In Person, Drop-In. Every First and Third Monday.

Downtown Sebastopol. All men are welcome. 6:30-8:30 PM on the first and third Mondays of every month. Click here for more info about this group.

Scroll to Top