By Dr. Debra Rezendes, HMT Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy
John Gottman, a well-known and well-respected couples researcher, has documented multiple differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Of these differences, healthy relationships, he suggests, have five times more positive interactions than negative interactions. Luckily, this means that we don’t have to have positive interactions all of the time in order to have a healthy relationship. It does, however, draw our focus to the quality of interactions with our partner. What are some ways that we can strengthen positive interactions with our partner?
Aim for moments of physical affection.
Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the world of family therapy, once wrote, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Her quote highlights the power of touch to transform our emotional experiences. Healthy touch plays an important role in solidifying our connection to those we love by releasing oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which reduces stress and increases bonding. Curious what makes a hug unforgettable? According to science, the best hugs last at least 20 seconds.
According to Gottman, partners are often reaching out to each other to get their emotional needs met, and these “bids” are an active ingredient in an intimate relationship. These signals, however, often happen in the micro-moments of connection and can be easily missed if we aren’t present. Pay attention to the ways that your partner makes bids for your attention and show up 100% for your partner in these moments. How can you show your partner that you are attuned and receptive to them in these moments? How can you make your partner feel valued in these moments?
Make one-on-one time a habit.
Anais Nin once wrote, “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source.” Setting aside time to connect each day sends a powerful message that our relationship is a priority and helps to replenish our sacred connection to our partner. But, it isn’t the amount of time that is most important; rather, focus on quality time. The Office of National Statistics reports couples spend about 2.5 hours a day together, but this time usually is spent watching television, eating, and doing housework. Sometimes, when we look at how we are spending our time and what we value, these two parts of our lives don’t align. What is on your to-do list that isn’t a priority? Could you replace this with more one-on-one time with your partner?
Be silly, have fun, and play.
Play is as critical for adults as it is for children. Play is an antidote to stress by releasing endorphins and stimulates our creativity. In relationships, play is a conduit to deeper connection and greater empathy. Find activities that allow you and your partner to experience purposeless fun and pleasure together. As Dr. Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play, writes in his book, Play, “play is the purest expression of love.”
Debra has over ten years of community and clinical work with individuals, children, parents, and families and has been published in the Journal of Happiness Studies and Autism Research and Treatment. She received her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from Eastern University and has gained specialized, intensive training in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and Theraplay. She also has skills in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), strengths-based therapies, self-compassion training, attachment-based therapies, play therapy, and solution-focused therapy.
Dr. Debra Rezendes is a Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working towards licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist in Virginia. She works under the supervision of Marianne S. Coad, MAMFC, LMFT, LPC-S. In the event that clients have any questions or concerns about Debra’s work, her supervisor can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, (703) 657-9721, or 10379-B Democracy Lane, Fairfax, VA 22030.