The current issue of Psychotherapy Networker, the most widely read publication on marriage counseling, contains recommendations for several techniques that couples should use to “retrain” old, dysfunctional patterns of relating. As I read through them, it was clear to me that adopting the use of some or all of these techniques (which I’ve slightly modified) could enhance the strength of relationships that are fundamentally healthy, as opposed to using them to repair a ruptured connection.
Technique #1: Thoughts: Set aside a few seconds several times a day to think of a positive quality about your partner: the way he laughs at your jokes, the calm she demonstrates when you get ruffled, his skill at fixing things, what a great Mom she is. What you’re thinking about your partner while separated has a huge influence on how you’ll interact when you come together. Relatedly:
Technique #2: Writing: Once a week (perhaps over the weekend) take a couple of minutes to write a couple of sentences about something that your partner did during the week that was pleasing to you. Try to include a couple of visual details to strengthen the imagery and its staying power (e.g. “he was undoing his tie when he complimented me on how well I handled his mother”; “she looked up from the computer and then told me how toned I looked”).
Technique #3: Hugs: Hug your partner tightly (pressing your pelvis and chest against him/her) at least three, but preferably six times a day, and hold the hug for a minimum of five seconds. This close physical contact will increase the chance of raising the level of oxytocin in your system, oxyctocin being the hormone that plays the primary role in bonding. Even if the hugs feel a bit strained and awkward at first, it’s probable that you’ll soon find yourself “getting into” the hugs, and feeling a closer connection with your partner.
Technique #4: Gestures: At three major “transitional” times of the day, (e.g. before getting out of bed in the morning, before leaving the house for work, upon arriving home, right before dinner, or the last thing at night) make some brief, nonverbal acknowledgment of your partner’s importance to you. This could take the form of a touch on the hand, a gaze into the eyes, or a wink.
More globally, Dr. John Gottman ( www.gottman.com ), who has done the most extensive research on relationships ever undertaken, has found that the healthiest relationships are those in which one partner’s “bids*” are met with a positive acknowledgment or response by the other partner. Pay attention to your partner’s bids, and acknowledge or, even better, respond positively whenever you can.
* Gottman defines a “bid” as the fundamental unit of emotional communication. “A bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch — any single expression that says, ‘I want to feel connected to you.’ ” Bids exist not only between romantic partners, but between friends, relatives, and business associates. A romantic bid might take the form of a “come hither” look; the invitation could be denied in a positive way “I wish I were horny,” or in a negative way “I’m too tired for sex.” A fellow worker’s suggestion to have lunch could be responded to with a positive denial (“I wish I had the time” ) or a negative one ( “Who has time for lunch with the workload at this place?”).