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Distressed couples are couples that, in some way, have fallen away from each other. The emotional connection that infused life and vitality into their relationship has weakened and in some cases, severed completely. Attachment theory/research shows that emotional connection — that subjective sense that our spouse/partner is emotionally “there” for us — is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship.
Emotional security and a strong connection go hand-in-hand; when our connection to our spouse/partner is solid, our relationship insecurities and doubts are quieted. We feel more emotionally centered and resilient in these moments.
Connection doesn’t just feel good…it transforms us
Research shows that an emotionally attuned caregiver helps the infant and child self-regulate her/his emotional/internal world. In these moments, the child learns how to self-soothe when s/he is upset or anxious. A stronger, more confident self emerges from these relationship moments.
From these early experiences we also learn the powerful lesson about the trustworthiness of others — others can be counted on to celebrate our victories as well as offer comfort and support when needed.
We internalize the experience that it is safe to turn toward others in times of need.
Isn’t this what we do for each other in our marriage/relationship?
But couples shouldn’t leave the fate of their relationship to chance. Love isn’t enough to keep a marriage healthy. When we are proactive and take steps to nurture our emotional connection, we make it much more likely that our relationship will navigate the inevitable twists and turns down the road.
4 ways to create connecting moments
1) Receive each other
What does it mean to receive each other?
When we open ourselves up to another, we listen without the distracting noise of pretense or agenda. We allow ourselves to be impacted by our spouse/partner — a process of letting go to what is unfolding between us.
The truth is, listening (true listening) is difficult. So much can get in the way by the time we (in the role of listener) process our spouse’s/partner’s message. As the listener, our expectations, fears, and biases all distort what is heard. These distortions can be very subtle or they can be epic. In these moments we’re not truly receiving the other.
And remember, it’s not up to us (in the role of listener) to decide whether we are truly understanding what is going on for our partner. It’s up to our partner to let us know if this is the case. And when the other feels heard/understood, it will be obvious to both speaker and listener that true listening has occurred.
2) Honor your truth
What does it mean to honor your truth?
When we honor our truth, we act in accordance with our values, passions and desires. Authenticity wins out over duplicity. In these moments we invite the other to see who we really are, not some disingenuous version of ourselves.
This is easier said than done.
For many of us this is a work in progress. But it’s well worth the time and effort. Our relationships benefit when this occurs. Our spouses/partners will feel more secure when they know they are dealing with something very real and authentic. It can be incredibly frustrating to reach out to someone who claims genuineness while hiding behind a mask.
3) Practice Tact
What does it mean to be tactful?
When we’re tactful, we take our partner’s feelings into consideration. We take the additional step to think about the impact our words and decisions have on him/her. This is important, especially for those of us who are trying to honor our deepest truths by authentically relating to others.
To be authentic doesn’t mean abandoning the concerns and feelings of others. I’ve had clients say that they needed to be “more real” with their partner, and sometimes what that led to, unfortunately, was them being unkind in their relationships (though that wasn’t always their intention).
Our truth should not demean or disrespect others. We may speak truths that have significant emotional repercussions, but even these truths can be delivered in a thoughtful manner. Consideration is key.
4) Nurture a mindset of rediscovery
What does it mean to rediscover our spouse/partner?
One of the joys of marriage is the familiarity that couples grow into as their relationship matures. It’s comforting knowing each other in ways that no one else does. The “you know me better than anyone else” experience feeds connection. It deepens it. It nurtures trust and emotional safety (which are essential for emotional connection).
But for some couples, the comfort that comes with familiarity and predictability can also make a marriage/relationship feel a bit “ho-hum.” As one wife shared, “Nothing’s really wrong, it’s just that things are feeling a little stale between us…”
For these couples, setting out on a new mini-adventure can help infuse life into their union. But just as important as doing things together in order to deepen emotional intimacy is the willingness to experience each other anew. To nurture a mindset of mutual curiosity about each other’s passions, hopes, dreams and fears.
The process of rediscovery arises out of a worldview that we are continuously evolving as individuals rather than remaining static beings. This allows you to look for the new, the different, and the emerging within each other. This shift in mindset takes vigilance and must be practiced.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. There are many ways to create connecting moments with your partner. As you work toward creating a stronger emotional connection, take small, doable steps. Grand gestures tend to be harder to sustain, and inherently, they don’t offer a greater depth of interpersonal connection anyway.
Small connecting moments are often the most powerful as they accumulate over time. So set the intention that you’re going to build a stronger marriage/relationship by making connecting moments a regular part of your union.
Until next time,
Richard Nicastro, PhD
Psychologist & Couples Counselor
For more information about Dr. Nicastro, click psychologist Georgetown, Texas
(Featured image courtesy of Xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)