Through the stages of marriage, one theme is ever-present: the connection between the partners.
At the very beginning of a relationship, there is always some type of connection – whether that be an immediate locking of the eyes or a more gradual attachment, which grows over months or years.
The newness of relationship connection is like the first signs of spring, with buds barely open and the sounds of birds’ mating songs. It’s exciting!
The pheromones are working their magic, and the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are bringing opulence to every moment the couple spends together. The relationship connection is palpable and builds up each time they laugh together or share a pleasurable experience.
Often this delightful time of being “in love” will last only for a few months. Sad to say, it may take a nosedive as the couple embarks on wedding plans.
There are so many decisions to be made – the vows, the ceremony, the venue, and the reception, the flowers, the food and beverages, the music – without even mentioning the guest list.
Who will sit next to whom? How will the in-laws tolerate one another? Who will feel left out, which friends simply cannot be accommodated?
Wedding plans are perhaps the first crucial test of a couple’s ability to make decisions together and to overcome impasses in the process.
With proper perspective and balance, planning for the wedding can be a crash course in communication and decision making for the couple and their families and friends.
The honeymoon is another opportunity for the couple to fine-tune their skills in connecting with each other. Even though the partners may have lived together beforehand, actually being married puts a different psychological slant on their relationship.
How will they handle their different needs to spend time together versus time apart? What compromises will they make on recreational and relaxing activities during this time?
Perhaps this experience is the first “stopover” on their journey of connectedness. Feeling connected to the other person doesn’t just happen, though.
So, how to strengthen your relationship?
If you want to feel more connected with your partner, it takes many skills as follows:
1. Listening to your partner
If you are feeling a loss of connection in your relationship, try listening to your partner. It truly is one of the effective ways to connect with your partner.
And this is not only using one’s ears – it is listening with one’s whole body!
It is seeing subtle changes in facial expression; hearing differences in volume and in the tone of voice, experiencing the other person’s energy; and knowing when to be still.
2. Asking helpful questions
Open-ended questions, such as, “What is that like for you?” draw the other person out and allow them to express themselves.
This, in turn, builds their self-confidence and strengthens your relationship connection. (Questions which only require a Yes, No answer shut out your partner.)
3. Offering to review a difficult scenario
In order to intensify your relationship connection, you can try helping your partner through a challenging scenario.
A partner can do this by role-playing.
For example, if your spouse is going to be interviewing for a new job or a promotion, you can assist by making a list of likely questions and playing the interviewer’s role.
4. Simply being there at a difficult time
Perhaps your spouse likes to fish, so going fishing is a great idea for sharing your spouse’s energy.
This could prove to be a good break from the challenges that they are facing. Moreover, they would appreciate your thoughtful gesture.
You do not always need words to prove your relationship connection. You can let them know wordlessly that you are there for them in their hard time.
5. Joining in some playful activity
Playing together is simply incomparable in bringing about feelings of closeness and reinforcing your relationship connection.
Factors causing a loss of connection in relationship
The connection is at the heart of every relationship that works. It is even more powerful than the experience of having one another’s back!
This latter expression definitely connotes the ideas of mutual protection and advocacy. It is absolutely vital that the partners offer each other a strong sense of security.
However, let us not forget that security/insecurity is fear-based, while the connection is based on the freedom to be with the other.
In current Western society, the connection is under threat by production-based standards:
Long hours in the workplace
Implicit demand to put the workplace in a prime position in our lives
Electronic devices that siphon off our energy, including emails, news on the internet or mobile device, Facebook and other social media, and so on
Cooking nutritional foods, an enormous demand on our time and energy
Caring for children, including transporting them to all their events
Obligations towards extended family and friends
Household chores; and many other activities that demand our time and attention.
How can we protect the vital relationship connection?
A first go-to is theconcept ofprotected time. This is the time that the couple agrees to devote exclusively to each other. It can vary widely in the amount and timing but must be an “entity” that both agree on and are committed to.
For example, a couple with young children can decide that they will spend protected time each evening for an hour after the children are tucked into bed.
They might spend their time reading to each other, listening to music, giving each other a foot massage, holding hands, or any other mutually satisfying activity. Sitting in silence with very little “chatter” is also a great way to be together sometimes.
Protected time can also take the form of an evening away from the family, including dinner and a musical event. It can as well be a two- or three-day weekend, which includes some of each partner’s favorite activities.
The key again is to make the protected time recurring on a regular basis (for example, a three-day weekend might be once every three or six months, or an evening out might be once per month).
The fact that protected time can be counted on to occur mostly on schedule is quite comforting.
Going the extra step to let your partner know that you are there for them is another way to deepen the connection. So this would include:
Words of heartfelt appreciation
Notes put in a lunchbox or briefcase
One or two texts during the day reminding your partner that you’re thinking of him/her
Note: Limit your texting and calling during work hours for practical reasons and also because it may create anxiety in an already anxious day!
Making a surprise dinner
A surprise of most kinds. Note: If you’re not sure whether they would like your gift or idea, perhaps try some hints first!
Giving your partner the day off from usual household or financial chores
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
I use several different approaches, first and foremost help with communication on all levels, leading to sharing emotions, including hurts, disappointments, and resentments. I also ask each of the couple to rate themselves individually on 12 types of intimacy and then share in a couple meeting. I may also use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help them see in black and white their different approaches to communicating andsolving challenges, and then incorporating some of the "opposites" into their individual style.
It is also important to have one or several individual sessions with the participants to get to know them and their history on a deeper level. In many marriages, post-traumatic stress plays a role in their overreactive communication, so we also deal with that. My approach also takes into consideration any addictions one or both partners suffer from, including both substance and process addictions. In sum, my approach is eclectic -- including Inner Child work, stress reduction, and many other modalities, in addition to those mentioned above.
(Jean E. is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Seaford)