Sally and Brian* are telling me their goals for couples counseling. They’ve been married for eight years, have two young children, and want “better communication.” Sally explains: “Whenever we talk about anything these days, it turns into an argument. Can you help us?”
Rose and Leah* have generally been happy in their three year relationship, but lately, things have taken a downturn. Leah says, “We just don’t seem to be on the same page about anything.” I ask them to tell me about how they overlap in their day and week. Rose answers. “Actually, not much. We’re both just so busy.”
In most of the couples who come to me, no matter the age and stage of their relationship, I find that the foundational issue is a sense of disconnection from the other – a sense of disconnection that might be both the basis and outcome of a pattern of arguing that goes nowhere, often leading to a deep sense of loneliness in the relationship.
Besides working on the dynamics of a couple’s conflict pattern, I also integrate into my couples counseling sessions techniques and practices for increased connection. Connection is vital to a relationship! Here are my top five tips to connect more with your partner.
1. Be intentional.
Life is busy for most of us – busy with work, children, household chores, exercise, pet care, medical appointments, volunteer activities, you name it. We often rush from activity to activity, and our partner can get pushed down the list of priorities. Be intentional in making time for your partner. Intentionality is key. Without intentionality, this critical time gets lost in the demands of life.
2. Realize that the disconnect in your relationship may have nothing to do with your desire for connection, but may rather be a result of a dysfunctional pattern of interacting.
Most, if not all, couples get into a pattern when in conflict. This pattern may work — you’ll know by how you feel afterwards, connected or disconnected. If it doesn’t work, put on your sleuthing hat and, with your partner, in a calm moment, try to dissect your pattern. Does one of you usually pursue the other for a response? Does one of you usually shut down? Do you both shut down? Do you both escalate? Your pattern may be vastly getting in the way of connecting. I recommend Sue Johnson’s book Hold Me Tight for a more in-depth exploration and explanation of dysfunctional patterns and how to shift them.
3. Assume good intent.
Assume that your partner wants to connect as much as you do – just assume for a moment that the pattern of your fighting is the enemy, not your partner themself. Assume that your partner means well, that you are both on the same page, and act from that assumption. You might be surprised how that shifts things towards greater connection.
4. Brainstorm with your partner small, doable rituals of connection to add to your week.
A kiss and a long hug on parting and rejoining can do wonders for connection. Other ideas include a daily or weekly walk holding hands, a regular check-in with your partner about their day, and a regular date night. Consider setting technology aside during portions of your day. We all have work emails to catch up on, social media to be a part of, work in general to do on the computer. Maybe dinner is technology-free, or time in the car, or an hour before bed-time. Brainstorm things that are doable, then commit to doing them for a week or two. I tell my clients, “You won’t know until you try. Try these things, even if they may seem awkward at first. Try them for a while, then decide together if they help your relationship.”
5. Consider seeing a couples therapist for more support.
Couples usually arrive on my couch feeling somewhat negative about their relationship, often stuck in their pattern, wanting something different. Couples counseling can and does shift relationships towards increased connection. Don’t wait until the disconnection is so great that you disengage completely from the relationship. Based on decades of research, marriage expert John Gottman observed that most couples wait “seven years too late” to seek counseling.
Connection is important. We all want it, we all seek it in our relationships. Are you as connected as you’d like to be with your partner?
*not their real names