This week’s contributing author is Nikita Coulombe, a fine artist and writer. Nikita is the co-author along with Dr. Philip Zimbardo of the acclaimed books, Demise of Guys, and Man (Dis)Connected. She’s also passionate about painting, and focuses on surface pattern design and textile design.
Happy Couples, Meaningful Lives: 10 Ways to Become a More Connected Loving Spouse
Build and maintain trust; stay in touch mentally. During “sliding door moments,” where you have the option to either have a conversation and resolve an issue with your partner, or distract yourself with the TV, a book, or running an errand, make the choice to move towards your partner and engage with their concerns, rather than move away from them. Turning this into a habit will build your partner’s trust and faith in you.[i]
Build and maintain intimacy; stay in touch physically. Relationships often become “touchless” (void of meaningful touch, affection, or physical intimacy) long before they become “sexless” (minimal to no sexual activity). Touch is an incredibly important need for humans beings, yet it is quite common in our society today to get so busy with work, school, kids, and all the running around that we overlook our partners and go whole days without having physical contact with them. To bridge the gap in your relationship if this is happening, start by examining your own expectations around touch. Does touch always have to lead to something sexual or can you just touch your partner because it feels good? Can you receive touch from your partner without it feeling like something must happen sexually because they touched you? Often, couples stop touching because they attach an expectation to the touch, there is an established pattern of touch leading to other behaviors that has become too predictable or limiting, or one person does not like the way the other person touches. Slowing down, checking in with your partner, and re-learning their needs will increase your sense of closeness.[ii]
Support each other’s hopes and dreams: stay in touch spiritually. Do you know what your significant other’s goals are? What have they secretly wanted to do or be since they were young – how do their lives differ from that now? Ask them to share with you what they felt their lives would be like. Ask them what’s most important to them. You want to keep each other grounded and realistic, but if there’s a way to move in the direction of their goals you can also be their biggest backer.
Listen. There’s an old story about a man who for many years would give his wife the heel of the bread. One day his wife asked him why he gave her the worst part of the bread, and he replied “I’ve always given it to you because it’s my favorite part.” Recognize that you are two individuals in one relationship. Just because you have gotten along for a long time and agreed on things, doesn’t mean that you know why the other person agrees. Asking them why they believe what they believe is important, especially so you can have more context for instances where you don’t agree.
Be solution-oriented when you don’t see eye-to-eye. During disagreements, instead of arguing, consider the pros and cons of something together. Try to see what’s happening from a third party perspective, as someone who wants the best for everyone. Some couples suppress their honest feelings in order to avoid conflict but it is possible to be honest, open, and express negative feelings without fighting.[iii]
Don’t say anything you can’t take back. It takes 5 compliments to neutralize a negative comment. We tend to readily remember the hurtful things a person has said. It’s better to use restraint when you’re upset and feel like calling your significant other a name. Happy couples report a higher ratio of positive to negative interactions than unhappy couples.[iv]
Think like you’re an 80-year-old couple. What memories do you think the 80-year-old you will remember or cherish looking back on your life, particularly with regards to the moment you are in now? What would you have wanted to do differently – is it possible for you to do those things now? What’s holding you back?
Say “thank you” often. Think about how good it feels when someone notices or appreciates something you’ve done. Let your partner know what you love about being in a relationship with them, and what they bring to it. Thank them for the day-to-day things they do (i.e. “thank you for taking out the trash,” “thank you for getting the oil changed”). Doing so will let your partner know you notice them and acknowledge their efforts.
Understand and appreciate how your partner wants to connect. Men and women must both become experts in their partner’s way of feeling connected to them – whether through hearing certain words, being touched a certain way, or sharing a common hobby – and embrace it even if they don’t fully “get” it.[v]
Always consider their needs. Remember, ALL of your partner’s needs and ways of feeling loved are worth considering, even if you don’t intend to meet them. When you are listening to our partner’s needs, before you decide if you want to or can accommodate them, try to really get what it is they are wanting and why. How will getting this make them feel? Many needs can be validated with more than one approach, so perhaps you can find another way or compromise if initially their need cannot be met. It’s all about helping your partner feel seen, heard, and understood.
[i] Gottman, J (2011, October). How to Build Trust. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from Greater Good Science Center: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/gg_live/science_meaningful_life_videos/speaker/john_gottman/how_to_build_trust/.
[ii] Rankin, K (2014, December 16). Living Like Roommates: How Did We Get Here? Retrieved July 3, 2015, from BetterSexEd: http://bettersexed.org/2014/12/16/living-like-roommates-how-did-we-get-here/.
[iii] Gray, J (2008). Why Mars and Venus Collide: Improving Relationships by Understanding How Men and Women Cope Differently with Stress. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
[iv] Poulsen, S (2008). A Fine Balance: The Magic Ratio to a Healthy Relationship. Retrieved July 2, 2015, from Purdue University. Purdue Extension: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/CFS/CFS-744-W.pdf.
[v] Weiner-Davis, M (2014, April 30). The Sex-Starved Marriage. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from TEDx: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/The-Sex-Starved-Marriage-Michele.