Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist
In our counselling practice, we've worked with many couples who express feeling disconnected in their relationship and who long to feel more emotionally “in tune” with one another. Disconnection in a relationship can result from many factors (e.g., lack of quality time with your partner; lack of emotional communication; life stressors, such as raising children, financial pressures, incompatible schedules, etc.) and the experience of being disconnected can produce many complex emotions (e.g., sadness, loneliness, resentment, anger, etc.) in both partners. If you feel disconnected in your relationship, a therapist can help facilitate meaningful conversations about your experience in order to help you and your partner more fully understand how disconnection came to exist between you. A therapist can also help you and your partner begin to move closer, towards feelings of greater connectedness, by learning to be vulnerable with one another.
There are also many things you can do on your own, outside the context of therapy conversations, to increase feelings of connection in your relationship:
1. Create rituals for connection: Whether it’s eating breakfast together each morning before you start your days, always kissing each other “hello” and “goodbye”, going to the market together every Sunday morning, or spending 15 minutes each night talking to one another about your days/hopes for tomorrow, creating rituals for connection – special activities that you establish will occur regularly in your relationship – can help increase and maintain feelings of connectedness with your partner.
2. Make time for fun and friendship: In the book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, authors John Gottman (Ph.D.) and Nan Silver write about the importance of friendship for increasing relationship satisfaction and providing a buffer against “negative sentiment override”, which occurs when events that take place in the context of the relationship are immediately perceived through a negative lens. It’s important to make fun a priority in your romantic relationship. What do you enjoy? Are you foodies? Try planning a progressive dinner, where you eat your appetizer, main course, and dessert all at different restaurants. Are you art lovers? Try checking out a local art exhibit, or create your own art by taking a painting workshop. The options are truly endless! Sometimes couples tell us that it’s not fun or romantic if they have to schedule time to be together – they’re under the impression that fun and romance only happen out of spontaneity, which just isn’t true! Remember when you first started dating? You were probably planning everything – when to see each other, what to wear, what to talk about, etc. And it was fun, wasn’t it? Spontaneity is great when it happens…but when you’re busy, spontaneous moments can be few and far between. It’s much more likely that you will connect as a couple if you’ve planned to do so.
3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable: Brené Brown (Ph.D., LMSW) is a professor and researcher of vulnerability. In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”, Brené writes:
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection”.
Vulnerability is the key to connection. By opening up to your partner emotionally, sharing your deepest hopes, dreams, and fears, you create an opportunity for profound connectedness. Sometimes, partners struggle to open up to one another; they are unsure of how to communicate their feelings, or they’re unsure of how to respond to one another with gentleness when they do begin to open up. This is an area where couple therapy can be helpful.
4. Spend time apart: It might seem counter-intuitive, but spending time away from your romantic partner for individual activities, or to spend time with friends without your partner, can help to increase feelings of connectedness in your relationship, so long as there is time for being a couple too! By nurturing your sense of individuality and making time for activities away from your partner to do the things that you enjoy and that fulfill you, you can then use the energy that you gain from these individual activities to enhance your couple relationship and keep it more interesting – it will give you more topics to discuss when you’re together! It’s important to find the right balance for your unique relationship between time spent as a couple, and time spent individually, as this will look differently for everyone.