Emotional connection is the bond that keeps people together. It is the glue in relationships. Many couples don’t realize that if they are not regularly connecting on an emotional level, the link that keeps them together weakens.
In a previous article, I wrote about what happens to our brains when we feel emotionally disconnected from a partner or spouse. We can feel like our sense of security is threatened, causing us to become fearful. The amygdala, the almond-shaped region in the midbrain, acts as an alarm system, and a sense of panic can set in.
When we don’t get relief by reconnecting to loved ones, this can put us in a hyperaroused emotional state. This, in turn, can cause our stress levels to heighten due to elevated cortisol. Physical and mental health and well-being may suffer if cortisol stays elevated over a long period.
In Dr. John Gottman’s research, he identified an important dynamic that healthy and emotionally intelligent couples exercise: turning toward one another. Turning toward is a subtle or brief positive exchange that helps to deepen a couple’s emotional connection.
When partners turn toward one another, they are practicing what Gottman refers to as “bids.” Bids are attempts to connect using affection, support, humor, or attention. These interactions can be verbal or nonverbal. A person may be aware or unaware of the use of a bid, which may look like any of the following:
- A gentle touch
- A hug or kiss
- A smile
- A kind remark
- A playful gesture
- A word of encouragement
- Sharing a news event
- Saying “I love you”
Bids can result in deeper intimacy, greater romance, passion, and a more satisfying sex life.
Bids can result in deeper intimacy, greater romance, passion, and a more satisfying sex life. Gottman explains that one secret to lasting love among couples is turning toward each other in little ways every day. He found in his research that couples who regularly practice emotionally connecting stay together longer than those who do not.
Couples who don’t practice daily bids can more easily lose their way. When we are not emotionally connecting on a regular basis, our loved ones can feel uncared for or unvalued. The trap of taking a spouse or partner for granted can sneak up, especially if the couple has been together for a long time.
Given our busy and hectic lives, it is understandable how we can lose track of letting a loved one know how much we appreciate them. The risk of emotional disconnection is greater when we feel burdened, overwhelmed, or stressed.
How to Emotionally Connect with Your Partner
Here are two things you can do today to emotionally connect with your partner or spouse:
1. Be intentional about turning toward your partner.
Being intentional and practicing emotional connection every day can make a big difference. You don’t need to wait and plan an expensive vacation to emotionally connect. You can start right now, right where you are.
Here are a couple of suggestions to get you going. If you are near your partner or spouse, try reaching out and holding their hand. If you are not with your partner or spouse, text a sweet message or call and let them know you are thinking about them.
When you practice emotionally connecting every day, it is like putting money in your emotional bank account. You are investing in your relationship. The more you put in, the greater your love will grow. Having a substantial savings account can help in challenging times.
2. Make a list of things you can do to lean in toward your partner.
If this sounds simple, it is.
List the things you can do to turn toward your partner. It can be a mental list or a written list. This might take a little time and effort, especially if you have gotten out of practice. Putting the list in a place you can regularly see it will help you to remember to reach out and connect.
Try this exercise for a month and see how it can begin to reshape your emotional connection and create a deeper bond. Consistency is key; the more often, the better.
If you feel you and your partner or spouse have strayed too far in your emotional connection, you could benefit from the help of a marriage and family therapist. Just because you are experiencing emotional disconnection from your partner doesn’t mean you can’t find your way back; it just may require a little help. Reach out. There is hope.
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. New York, NY: Harmony Books.
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