February 2016

Healthy Couple Relationships

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner…time for the frantic scramble for roses, a dinner reservation, and/or the perfect card to symbolize the relationship we have with our significant other! There may be nothing more confusing or mysterious in life than the human experience of love. Philosophers, psychologists, theologians, poets, singers, and developmental researchers down through the centuries have all tried to define the essence of love. Some have called it a “passing madness”! Others insist that it can be quantified and measured in nothing less than a laboratory setting!

We now have a new science of love pioneered by Dr. Susan Johnson at the University of Ottawa. She has discovered that adult love is rooted in the innate need we all have for attachment and connection, not unlike the bond that forms between a parent and infant. This need for contact and comfort is ‘wired’ into us. The healthy couple relationship really depends on whether or not we can safely and reliably connect emotionally with our partner (e.g., Can I count on him/her to be there for me, and can I consistently turn to, feel responded to, and remain connected to that person?). The building blocks for this ‘safe haven’ are not sound finances, similar values, good love-making, or shared time together, as important as these may be. Rather, the core ingredient is emotion (e.g., Are you accessible to me, responsive to me, and can you stay engaged with me emotionally, through all that life brings our way?).

I like marriage researcher John Gottman’s 5 strategies for nurturing this type of essential connection in the couple relationship:

  • Partings. Say good-bye to your partner every time you leave, and learn one thing that is happening in his/her life that day.
  • Reunions. Be sure to engage in a 20-minute stress-reducing conversation with your partner at the end of every day. My wife and I call this ‘happy hour’, but it can take whatever form or name you choose! The important thing is the ‘connecting time'.
  • Appreciation. Find some way, every day, to communicate genuine appreciation or a compliment to your partner.
  • Affection. Kiss, hold, hug, touch your partner in some meaningful way every day...touch connects in the spaces that words leave blank!
  • Weekly Date. Plan a weekly date for just the two of you, apart from your regular routine, family, and friends. Plan a dinner out, movie ‘in’, or an activity you’d like to try. Make a list, take turns planning the date, make it happen! Dating is what got us started so why would we not want to make it a fundamental part of what keeps us going?!

Beyond Valentine’s Day, the cards, roses, and dinners, let’s find ways to nurture the emotional attachment in a healthy couple relationship.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!!