I see this pattern in my practice with couples all the time. They are leading separate lives, and seem too busy to connect. Tension and distance have built up, and couples are seeking simple ways to connect again.
Here are the practices you need to create more love and joy.
“We’re like two train tracks running in parallel out to infinity,” one man said in my office last week. He’s in his mid-thirties, a management coach.
“Yeah,” his partner laughed ruefully. “We can see each other, but never connect. That is why we are here, to create a better connection.”
“We are so busy, just staying ahead of the day to day,” his partner added.
In this case, each person in the couple has plenty of time to work out, to answer emails, and to shop on-line.
So the question is better stated, “Why do we organize our lives so that we don’t connect?” The answer, as my mentor told me, is simple: Fear.
Now, I don’t always know what the fear is. It could be of being hurt, or abandoned, or shamed, or dismissed. It could be simply the fear of opening up to the depths of love in each person’s heart.
The failure to talk about these painful feelings, to ‘clear the air’, compounds the problem of distance. Anger and disappointment begin to build up, and these bad feelings can infect conversations about other topics.
Each person starts to feel fear about starting these conversations, because they don’t know how their partner will react.
In couples sessions, my clients can open up to their fear.. Through the miracle of love and consciousness, usually their partner feels closer to them. Some of the emotional warmth in the relationship has been restored. But this vulnerable, open experience is actually a skill, and it can take some time to learn.
Fortunately, there are other simple ways to experience emotional connection, when distance has built up. These methods are described in more detail in my book A Path for Couples: Ten Practices for Love and Joy.
- Short Meditation: A meditation that you can do for five minutes has these simple instructions. (One of you can read the instructions to the other; soon you can do the practice on your own.“Sit down facing each other, but not touching. Close your eyes, and keep your concentration on your breath, on the actual sensations of the breath, for five minutes. If thoughts arise, just gently let go of the thought, the story, and return to the breath. After five minutes, with your eyes closed, reach out with your hand and find your partner’s hand. Hold it for a few minutes and keep your attention focused on your breath.”(You will find this meditation relaxing and connecting.)
- Appreciations: Couples who feel distant get out of the habit of telling each other how they appreciate each other. Once a day, face each other (sitting or standing), and tell each other one thing that you appreciate about your life together. You can do this twice a day, if you are really brave!There are two levels of appreciation. One is for the ways your partner takes care of you. Another, deeper appreciation means that you communicate what character traits you see in your partner: humor, love, kindness, patience, creativity, etc.
- Intentions: Once a week, sit down together and ask yourselves. What are my intentions for the relationship? Couples often begin their relationship with lofty aspirations and promises and then forget them. Some key intentions in my book:”I am willing to create a safe loving relationship with you.”
“I am willing to have a safe, creative relationship with you.”
You can create other key intentions yourself. “I am willing to listen to you” for example. Say the intentions out loud, and watch your partner smile. Shared intentions inherently bring a feeling of connection and love back.
The common element in these three simple exercises is taking the time to focus on the relationship. You take small steps to create warmth and connection, with purpose, and the distance and isolation start to diminish. Use these simple practices and watch the warmth return to your relationship!
George Taylor has been a licensed marriage and family therapist in California for the past 30 years. His transformational work with couples led to his latest book A Path For Couples: Ten Practices For Love And Joy. You can read more about George on his website www.pathforcouples.com and learn more about the best pathway forward for your relationship.