Emotional Connection: What Couples Who Stay Together Do Every Day

Two older adults sit on bench outside cabin smiling and talking about something they are looking at on a tabletEmotional 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
  • Listening
  • 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.

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Conclusion

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.

Reference:

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.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Bisignano, PhD, therapist in Palos Verdes Peninsula, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
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  • Mckenna

    Mckenna

    April 25th, 2018 at 9:54 PM

    Yes the longer were together the less we touch and listen, drifting apart. I will try this hope he will to

  • Angela Bisignano

    Angela Bisignano

    April 28th, 2018 at 10:00 AM

    Many couples experience drifting apart. The good news is that you can begin the process of turning back towards one another and deepen your emotional connection. Give it a try; hopefully you may see some change.

  • Vivian

    Vivian

    April 27th, 2018 at 10:56 AM

    Relationships take work!! I try to remember to say something nice to my husband at least once a day, even if we’re not having a good day. Married 33 years!

  • Angela Bisignano

    Angela Bisignano

    April 27th, 2018 at 12:22 PM

    That sounds great! Keep it up for another 33 years!

  • Ruth

    Ruth

    April 27th, 2018 at 8:42 PM

    I love this! It makes so much sense, but to be honest, in my day-to-day I want my husband to gear towards me. Reading this helps me to be more mindful about finding ways for me to ‘bid’. Thank you!!

  • Angela Bisignano

    Angela Bisignano

    May 4th, 2018 at 3:54 PM

    Thank you for taking the time to read the article, Ruth! I am happy to learn that it helps you to be more mindful about finding ways to connect with your husband in your day-to-day. Hopefully, he will become more responsive to your bids and turn towards you, too.

  • Sonja

    Sonja

    September 26th, 2018 at 2:52 PM

    My husband and I have a habit of turning to each other as we wake up and give each other a kiss, and say “good morning beautiful”, without fail. We also make sure we physically embrace by giving each other a kiss and hug before we leave the house- even if it’s only a short errand to go get the paper!

  • Debrah

    Debrah

    September 27th, 2018 at 7:15 AM

    I think that even someone who isn’t normally a demonstrative sort of person needs to make an effort to turn towards their spouse. It’s the ‘work’ that goes into keeping a marriage strong and healthy. By the way, I’m definitely one of those people and we’ve been married for 43 years now.

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