It sounds so simple, right? Of course you should spend time with your significant other! You might spend a great deal of time together already! But ask yourself this, is it meaningful? Does it allow you and your partner to emotionally connect? John Gottman calls this “putting deposits in the emotional bank account” and this allows you to bounce back after the next big argument. Think back to the last time you and your partner spent time together. Was your partner emotionally “there” for you during the time? Were you emotionally “there” for your partner?
Take watching your favorite TV show together. Sure, you might both laugh at the same time at something funny that happens or you might both relate to what happened in that episode, but do you take the time to connect during or after the show or do you go your separate ways afterwards?
As people get more comfortable in their relationships and routines are in place, the emotional connection could decrease. I’m not saying that you stop spending time together (although you might!), but you may not be as emotionally present for one another as you were when you were first dating. Instead of reading and discussing the news, you may read the news silently. Instead of talking about the TV episode you watched, you may turn the TV off and go to bed.
To rectify this, in a therapy session I have couples identify what they currently do every day to connect with one another or their “rituals of connection” as John Gottman puts it. These can be simple, everyday occurrences such as making breakfast together, cuddling before waking up, greeting each other when you come home from work, or watching the evening news together. If you and your partner cannot think of any ways you connect throughout the day, you can think about what you used to do when you were first dating and why that was special to you. It is helpful to identify what you are currently doing to connect with one another and why it is meaningful to you. That way your partner knows that you value this activity and you keep doing it! Couples often surprise each other during this exercise. Often, one partner finds a great deal of meaning in something when the other had no idea!
Then the couple identifies activities that they would like to do in the future in which they would like their partner to be more emotionally “there” for them. This is an important activity to do. Even if you have been together for 40 years, your partner cannot read your mind! Keep in mind this is not an activity that allows you to criticize your partner for all of the things you are not doing together; it is one that allows you to say “I love you so much, I want your full emotional presence when we do X” or “I love doing this activity and I really want you emotionally there to share it with me.” It also allows you to know ahead of time what activities are important to your partner and which activities they would be hoping you were more emotionally present for. This allows you to prevent a “withdrawal” from the emotional bank account in the future and could even lead to a deposit!
Remember, every interaction can be made into a way to have a deeper emotional connection with your partner. In doing so, this helps keep the friendship strong, which is the foundation of a supportive and healthy relationship.
Happy connecting, everyone!