I have been married for a few years and I increasingly feel a distance between me and my husband. I grew up with divorced parents and really don’t want my marriage to end like that but I have no idea what to do to improve things. I don’t want to lose him, but every time I try to talk to him about my feelings, he tells me things like I am overreacting and there is nothing wrong. Do you have any ideas that I could use to strengthen my connection to my partner?
This is an important question and one that often doesn’t get asked until many couples reach a point of no return. Statistically we have one of the highest fail rates at relationships in the world. About half of first marriages fail in the U.S., as do two thirds of second marriages and three quarters of third marriages. We fail in large part because we enter into relationships with poor skills for maintaining them and highly unrealistic expectations. The initial biological attraction that initiates most relationships is not a solid foundation to build a long term committed partnership. Rather than learning about the significant qualities of the other, biological and sexual attraction can blind us to who we partner with.
Our idea of romantic courtship and our attachment to the fairy tale happy endings is unique to western culture. Other cultures take a different view of choosing and building a long term partnership with more than half of the marriages on this planet arranged by parents or matchmakers whose primary goals are family harmony and long term suitability. Statistically these arranged partnerships fare better than the romance inspired relationships here. Following are the four primary areas where arranged marriages fare better and some ideas about what to do to build these in your own relationship.
Commitment: Most arranged marriages begin with a strong commitment to a shared concept of the relationship they are agreeing to. Current western norms and the ease with which people can dissolve marriages start most marriages here at a disadvantage. Our one foot out the door tendency in our relationships creates a dynamic where people interpret each others behavior with more negativity, which cripples the exchanges between partners, often without them even being aware. One way to combat the commitment issue is to practice trust exercises together. Try falling backwards into each others arms and notice how it feels both to catch someone and be caught. Talk about the experience and use it as a metaphor to catch each other in daily life.
Communication: Developing the skills to listen and be heard are some of the most essential relationship skills we can master in our lifetime. It is truly remarkable the number of topics that matter to us that we won’t discuss. Some of this lack of communication comes from a lacking emotional intelligence. This is an easy and effective way to start. Learn what fear, sadness, joy and anger feels like in your body and use a simple I feel _______when you say, do____________. Go back and forth and familiarize yourself with your own feelings as a foundation for learning more about your partners. Another fun game to try is for each partner to write down a feeling or thought they want to convey and then use any form of wordless communication to convey that feeling to your partner. Take turns learning to read each other’s mind.
Accomodation: Relationships require that both people be willing to acknowledge and accommodate the other person’s needs. People feel closer and have stronger bonds with partners who demonstrate kindness and thoughtfulness to them, even if only in small details. Learning the art of compromise that does not create resentment but cultivates a real feeling of give and take is one of the foundations of a strong partnership. A fun game to grow the awareness of your similarities and quirks is called monkey love, where one partner imitates the other partner for 5-10 minutes at a time. Watching and mirroring their body movements links you across space and can surprise you about what you learn about how it feels to live in the other person’s body.
Vulnerability: Developing a vulnerable and open heart between partners is the fertilizer for intimate relationships. Feeling safe to disclose your fears and secrets to the person you are most deeply connected to conveys trust and should inspire them to want to do the same. Frequently, a couple’s sexual problems are linked to one partner not being able to feel safe and vulnerable with their partner. A good warm up for both physical intimacy and just to increase feeling of connection is an exercise called soul gazing where you look into each other’s eyes for 1-2 minutes. Another exercise to experiment with is stretching the physical and emotional boundaries by standing four feel apart and slowly moving in to each other. At about 18″ , personal space starts to melt together. Feel how much an inch can change how you feel about someone.