I teach connection all day every day. It truly is a learned experience. You either learned it from your caregivers, who gave you the fortunate experience of healthy connection, or you had to learn it elsewhere. For some of you, you are starting now (which is a great time to start!).
I experienced connection with my daughter this morning when she said she was sad to go to school because she didn’t want to wear a mask all day. It was a forty-five-second moment of connection when she shared her sadness with me and I responded with 1) validation (“I bet it is really hard to wear your mask all day.”), 2) normalization (“I’m sure a lot of your friends feel that way too”), and 3) physical comfort (I gave her a hug). Just like that, we “connected” and off she went.
Connection is consistent and constant—it’s the state of a relationship—not an event you hold out for twice a year.
The reason my daughter and I can have those quick connections is because we have a secure connection. She knows she can tell me she feels sad and I will respond in a comforting way. She knows this based on history—I’ve encouraged her to share how she feels and responded in a comforting way many times before. It’s a familiar and predictable experience between us. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s uneventful. We will have this type of interaction a million more times this week alone.
As a marriage counselor, I want your relationship with your spouse to feel securely connected. If a relationship is securely connected it looks like this:
Maggie: I’m stressed this morning because I’m afraid I won’t get everything done I need to today.
Sam: (Stops making the kids’ PB&Js for just a brief second and makes eye contact with Maggie) I’m sorry you have so much on your plate. Anything I can do to help? (Bonus points if Sam texts Maggie a few times during the day and calls during his lunch break to check on her.)
That’s it. This entire experience, even with the texts and brief lunch phone call, took about six minutes total. We ALL have six minutes in a day! But this experience made Maggie feel seen, heard, and not alone in her stress. Maggie knows Sam sees what she is going through and cares about her. This is powerful connection!
When I see couples, one of the biggest reasons they cite for not “connecting” with each other is that they are too busy and they don’t have time. I call B.S. on this. We. All. Have. Time. To. Connect.
I’m not talking about building a bonfire where you pass the talking stick around and take turns sharing your life struggles and deepest insecurities for three hours. I’m talking about daily, consistent, constant, brief but powerful ways to do life connected to your partner. I’m talking about small things that happen between you and your partner over and over in a given day that communicate: “I see you; I know what you are going through; I care about what you are going through; I’m here for you.”
Usually when couples say they don’t have time, what they mean is, “We don’t really know how to do daily, consistent connection.” “Great!” I say. “Let’s learn.”