September is here. The kids are back in school. Life is resuming its rhythm of work, school, and activities busyness. Is there room in all that busyness to maintain a relationship? Is the busyness sucking the life out of your relationship?
There are only so many things you can do to be less busy. The new standard is to be fit, eat healthy, be sexy, have well educated children who know how to do lots of things, and be successful on top of all that. Maybe all those things aren’t on your list of things to do or be but there are a million and one ways to neglect your relationship until you are both so fed up you are fighting all the time or you both feel so neglected you feel there is nothing to fight about anymore.
One of our society’s epidemics right now is loneliness. People are having a hard time making connections for several reasons including the fast pace of our lives and technology becoming more of a focus rather than people making it difficult to connect. Connection used to be necessary and natural for survival but has become almost arbitrary and even unnecessary for many things.
Our brains however were wired for connection. Our emotional or limbic system is designed to be calmed by another person’s limbic system through touch and eye contact. We have mirror neurons that help us to feel empathy for someone else’s suffering and thereby we both feel less alone. How can we reconnect?
First, going back to basics is important. Simplify your life as much as possible. While doing things does make the world go around, we also need time to just be. To relax, slow down, and notice the world around us. This might sound easy, but it takes intention and practice. Luckily, it can be done anywhere and anytime. Take some deep breaths. Notice how the wind feels on your skin. Pay attention to how your food tastes. Smell the wonderful scents of fall. Drive around and enjoy the colors or a sunset. Listen to the leaves rustle. You might think this does not sound like connection, but it is connection with yourself and the world around you.
Next, in your relationship, make sure you are spending intentional time together. Look at each other and as you share about your day, feel with each other. Try to avoid the need to fix the problem of your partner. Try not to judge or make assumptions about what they should have done or what they could do better. Just be with them. Dr. Daniel Seigel, an interpersonal neurobiologist (he studies how brains connect with each other), stated, “When we attune with others we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another. This resonance is at the heart of the important sense of “feeling felt” that emerges in close relationships. Children need attunement to feel secure and to develop well, and throughout our lives we need attunement to feel close and connected." This doesn’t need hours a day dedicated to it. We are wired for it therefore taking 10-15 minutes a day to just attune with our partner can help to feel more connected.
Finally, move your relationship to the top of the list. It can feel logical to put the kids first or work first but the problem is that letting work and kids come before your relationship will stifle it. No, that is not permission to quit your job, abandon your kids, and run off to a deserted island to live a fantasy life with your partner. It is permission however to put the relationship first. Plan alone time. Plan sex (that doesn’t mean it is boring and you can’t have any spontaneity). Put the kids to bed and lock your bedroom door (that’s right, lock yourself in). Plan whatever length of getaways you can (an hour, afternoon, day, weekend, week). It is important for the children to see that you value and cherish your relationship. This creates security for them and you.
Remember that relationships are living things that need nurturing too. If they are neglected, they will wilt and fade away.
I have complied a list of fun websites and apps that you can use to stay connected when you aren’t together.
The Gottman Institute - https://www.gottman.com/
Date Ideas - http://thirtydollardatenight.com/love-relationships/category/date-ideas-lists/
Couple Meditation – https://www.mindfulcouples.com/2012/09/27/couple-meditation/
Eye gazing - https://www.mindfulcouples.com/product/eye-gazing-meditation/
5 Love Languages
Gottman Love Map Card Deck
Raft – Couples calendar map
Icebreak – Questions/answers reconnection
Happy Couple – Love Quiz
Couple – Relationship App – Private messaging and calendar sharing