I was catching up with one of my professional colleagues the other day after not having seen her in several weeks. She recently started a new position and we were discussing work life balance when she remarked, “I often feel like my husband and I are two ships passing each other in the night.” Between the demands of their careers, social obligations, and raising a child, she voiced feeling disconnected from her husband. There was a sadness in her tone and a longing for connection and intimacy with the man with whom she has chosen to raise a child and share a life.
I’ve seen this time and time again in my practice: life seems to get in the way of couples connecting with one another. When I talk about this with couples in session, both parties often talk about how lonely and disengaged they feel from the other. In a world where technology has made it easier to connect with people across great distance, I have found that we have forgotten how to connect with those closest to us, namely, our spouses/partners. Most of the couples I work with have no idea how to reestablish that connection and are often overwhelmed at the prospect; at a loss as to where to begin.
Begin with something small, something easy, and something reasonable that you can do daily. Like all other living, breathing things, that invisible-but-ever-present thing between you and your spouse/partner (your relationship), requires nurturing and routine, daily care. While it might feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, you will likely find that, with daily practice, your efforts to reconnect with your partner will feel more natural.
Here are my top-three quick suggestions for connecting with your spouse/partner within the chaos of everyday life.
The Six-Second Kiss
Think back to the last time you greeted your partner hello or goodbye. Are you in the habit of giving him or her a quick peck on the cheek or lips as you rush out of the door to get to work or to get to the kitchen to start dinner? This small behavior sends a very powerful message that something else in your life is more important than your relationship and your partner. A six-second kiss promotes intimacy and attunement with your partner; as John Gottman likes to say, “a six-second kiss is a kiss with potential.” While science has been unable to identify exactly why we kiss, we do know that kissing can lower our cortisol levels (the stress hormone); release oxytocin (the hormone associated with bonding and connection); and release dopamine (a ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain). A quick peck on the lips or cheek isn’t going to produce those positive effects!
Turn off your cellphone and be present
The Today Show recently did a segment on “Phubbing,” or “partner phone snubbing” which was based on a research study conducted by Baylor University. The researchers wanted to find out how often people are distracted by their cell phones when they are with their partners and whether this behavior had any effect on the their relationships. Not surprisingly, almost half of the respondents reported feeling “phubbed” and almost a quarter said it negatively impacted the relationship with increased conflict and decreased relationship satisfaction. Again, turning your attention away from your partner to your cellphone sends the message that something else is more important than your partner. So, ditch the screen time and put in some face-to-face time with your partner
Think about a typical day with your partner; how often do you say, “Thank you for _________?” Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued in their relationships. I have yet to meet a couple where someone has said, “my partner appreciates me too much” or “I really wish my partner would notice fewer of the things I contribute to our relationship.” Renown couple’s therapists and researchers, Dr. John and Julie Gottman, have been researching marriages for decades. They have found that relationships with the highest rates of satisfying, intact marriages have a high ratio of positive to negative interactions (5:1) and therefore, teach couples how to express and demonstrate gratitude. Make a commitment to say to your partner, “thank you for _____” at least once a day.
Make a commitment to yourself and to your relationship to implement my three quick suggestions to re-connect with your partner for the next two weeks and see what happens! While these suggestions won’t eliminate the chaos of every day life, they may act as a lighthouse, so to speak, for your and your partner’s relationship as they continue to navigate toward a safe, more stable shore.