Clinical psychologist Tim Cavell admits that he sometimes gets tired of couples in his office talking endlessly about the situations causing friction in their relationships.
“It's usually about one partner working too much, disagreement about parenting, meddling in-laws, money concerns, or other really gnarly problems. These conversations seldom fix the problem, so relationship strife continues and partners feel even more hopeless,” Cavell wrote in the Huffington Post.
Instead of focusing on issues and disagreements that will always surface, Cavell suggests that couples consider questions and statements that place value on closeness, such as the following:
• Can we be together, respect each other, laugh together and love each other?
• Do you really hear me and know that I feel so scared or hurt or sad?
• I feel so far away from you right now and I don't want that.
Sometimes affection, rather than discussion, can be just what a couple needs, according to psychologist Suzanne Phillips. When couples take time to create positive closeness in a relationship, solutions to their problems sometimes emerge spontaneously. “Replacing accusation with affection may make for a very different exchange,” Phillips wrote for the website PsychCentral.
Clinical psychologist Wendy Walsh told Yahoo Health that “long-term couples don’t touch enough.” Most married couples “hug for three seconds or less,” according to Walsh. She suggests that couples try hugging for at least 10 seconds to trigger a rush of oxytocin that helps strengthen their bond. Walsh also suggests sleeping closer together, skin to skin if possible.
Another way to foster closeness is to limit technology when interacting with your partner, Walsh wrote, citing a 2014 study from Brigham Young University that found 70 percent of heterosexual women felt smartphones were harming their love relationships. Researchers dubbed this phenomenon “technoference.”
Walsh recommends banning technology use at mealtimes, in the bedroom and during other important interactions. Phillips agrees and also says that if you do answer a text or a phone call during an interaction with your partner, you should explain why.
Let your partner know why you’re attending to your smartphone or laptop, she suggests, whether it’s an important text from your boss or a funny YouTube video. This opens up an “interesting possibility of using technology to invite communication — be it spontaneous discussion, shared annoyance or a just a chance to laugh at something together.”
Marsha Maxwell is an online journalist, writing teacher and PhD student at the University of Utah. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.