What can you do right now to make your relationship more romantic?
You could get your wife a diamond necklace. Or maybe you could buy her the Mercedes dream car she’s always wanted.
Sounds like a good idea, right?
But let’s suppose that you haven’t asked your wife a question in five years, so you fail at Love Maps.
Or while you are out on a double date with friends and your wife starts telling a story, you say, “that’s a good story, but you always tell it wrong. Let me tell it.”
So you fail at showing her fondness and admiration.
Later that night she excitedly plops down next to you on the couch and shows you a picture of a romantic getaway in Italy.
“Isn’t this romantic?”
You respond, “will you be quiet? I’m trying to read here!”
So you fail at turning towards her when she tries to connect with you.
Now reconsider that necklace and new car.
Is that going to rekindle the romance?
I don’t think so.
She’ll probably throw the necklace on the ground and use the new Mercedes to drive over it a few times for good measure.
The Micro-Moments of Love
Culture has distorted what makes passion sizzle in a marriage. Advertisements convey the message that a romantic getaway or expensive jewelry is the way to a woman’s heart, but I find the dull moments of relationships are the most significant of all.
There is profound drama in the micro-moments of love. The time when Jack and Susan have dinner together and talk about their days rather than watch TV in silence. Or how Kevin and Kris tenderly touch each other as they pass in the kitchen.
Love is cultivated during the grind of everyday life. It’s the seemingly meaningless little moments of connection that are the most meaningful of all.
In relationships people offer what Dr. John Gottman calls a “bid” for each other’s attention, affection, or support. This can be as insignificant as “please cut the carrots” to something as significant as helping a partner deal with the struggles of an aging parent.
In these moments, we have a choice to turn towards our partner or away from them. If we turn towards our partner, we build trust, emotional connection, and a passionate sex life.
As loopy as it may sound, the passion of romance is enhanced in the supermarket. In the seemingly unrelated relationship question, “do we need milk?” The reply, “I can’t remember. I’ll grab some just in case,” makes a world of difference rather than apathetically shrugging your shoulders.
Dr. John Gottman discovered that couples who divorced an average of 6 years after their wedding turned toward each other 33% of the time in his lab, while the couples who were together after 6 years turned toward each other 86% of the time. That’s a big difference.
The #1 things couples fight about is not about money or in-laws or sex. According to Dr. Gottman, most arguments in relationships are about a failure to connect emotionally.
The Emotional Bank Account
Every time you and your partner turn towards each other, you make a deposit into what Dr. John Gottman calls the Emotional Bank Account. Every connected moment in your relationship builds up a savings of love that can be used during hard times.
If a couple has more positive deposits than negative, they are less likely to distrust each other during hard times. But if their Emotional Bank Account is in debt of disconnection, then trust and intimacy erode away.
Here are three steps to reconnect when you feel disconnected from your partner by investing in your Emotional Bank Account:
1. Accept Bids for Connection
Dr. Gottman says that “couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice.”
The first step to feeling more connected with your partner is to recognize how vital these micro-moments are. This is important not only for the trust in your marriage, but for romance and intimacy as well.
The simple shift of not taking everyday interactions for granted can do wonders for a marriage. Helping out with work around the house is likely to do far more for your relationship than a two week vacation in Tahiti.
Sometimes we miss bids because our partner says it in a negative way. For example, Kim says to her husband, “it never occurs to you to empty the dishwasher, does it?”
James doesn’t hear her bid (“please unload the dishwasher”). Instead, he hears criticism, the first of the Four Horsemen. It’s not surprising when he replies in a defensive manner.
If James would have said, “oh, you’re right. I’m sorry,” and then emptied the dishwasher, he would have scored brownie points and maybe even a sheepish smile from his wife as she realized her tone was unnecessary.
Before you reply defensively to your partner, pause for a second and look for the bid in their words. If you feel bids are constantly wrapped in criticism in your relationship, I’d recommend reading page 162 in The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.
2. Understand Each Other’s Love Maps
Often times couples assume their partner feels heard and known. The secret to understanding your partner comes not from mind reading, but rather through the hard work of putting your partner in a position where they can share openly and honestly.
Do you know your partner’s worries and stresses at the moment? What are their hopes and aspirations? What are their goals this year? Are they different from last year?
The key to understanding each other is to:
- Ask questions
- Remember the answers
- Keep asking questions
Getting to know your spouse better and sharing your inner self is a lifelong process. Your partner’s favorite movie might not be the same as it was five years ago.
The better the questions, the larger the emotional investment both of you make. If you want ideas for relationship enhancing questions, go here.
3. Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect
Remember when the man interrupted his wife and told her story? Do you think that was building affection and respect in the relationship?
We all have personality flaws. Instead of focusing on your partner’s inadequacies, learn to accept them.
And when you can, express what you cherish about your partner. The idea is to catch your partner doing something right and say, “thanks for doing that. I noticed you unloaded the dishwasher and I really appreciate it.”
Each time you do this, your partner feels emotional connection. As a result, you invest you emotional profits into your relationship’s Emotional Bank Account.
Love is not built on the big vacations or expensive gifts. Often it is the seemingly insignificant moments of connection that are the most significant of all.
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